STEM Elements

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 7.06.59 AM.pngOne of our most popular regional events is the “STEM and Digital Technologies” workshop we offer. Teachers have a day to explore both the pedagogy of STEM and get hands on with a range of technologies, from Sphero SPRK+, to low tech gear like popsical sticks and ping pong balls! You can see a Twitter moment here which gives you a small window into the action!

This week I’ve been updating some of the material we share on the day and I’ve adjusted this graphic of the ‘STEM Elements’, based on based on the book, “STEM Lesson Essentials, Grades 3-8” by Jo Anne Vasquez, Cary Sneider, Michael Comer. STEM ELEMENTS (1)


These elements are a great way to make the important aspects of STEM stand out for teachers and I also encourage them to use these four elements as a planning guide when they’re preparing to engage students in STEM. When we have an empty box it forces us to fill it in! It’s a helpful way to help us engrain this thinking when we are starting out and a good technique to foster new pedagogies into our school culture.

STEM ELEMENTS planning (1).png

Here are some images from the workshop ran last Wednesday. If you’d like to host a regional STEM event at your school, or have me work exclusively with your staff, contact me here on Twitter or use the contact widget on this page.


Being ‘Tech Multi-Lingual’

For the last 2 years I’ve been a full time digital learning specialist. That’s a long winded way of saying I’m a technology coach in schools. It’s the culmination of having a growing interest in technology while I was a teacher, that expanded from being the school IT lead teacher, to facilitating a cluster of schools, then being full time in an itinerant role in my local city and finally, now, working full time for Using Technology Better, an international training company.

teh-1For most of this journey, especially while working in schools, you are usually locked into one technology ecosystem. Schools either adopt one platform or another and mostly since teachers (on the whole) struggle to keep up with technology as it is and the last thing we need is people on different devices confusing things. It’s also easier for the IT department or person to manage. (Let’s be honest…that’s usually the reason.)

tech pic.jpgSo I’ve spent most of my time in the Apple world, using Google and later on, Chrome Books. I dabled with Samsung phones (I loved my first S4 and the camera it had at the time) but have mostly used iPhones and Macbooks for the last 8 years. But if you saw my desk at moment – it’s a range of Apple, Microsoft and Chrome Books. And I would use most of this gear on a daily basis!

I remember a conversation with a colleague of mine, about 3 years ago. She was starting to work as a digital learning consultant and I asked which platform she used. Her reply took me back. She said they had to be ‘device agnostic.’ It just sounded plain weird! In those days you were either a PC or a Mac person. And you still hear comments like that now. I know people who won’t go near a kind of device cause it’s not from ‘their tribe’ regardless of whether it might have merit or value for what they’re trying to do.

So now, my role is to help schools learn to get the most out of whatever platform they are using. I’m currently preparing to train teachers in the Office 365 environment with Onenote and Microsoft Classroom – and these tools are amazing! I’m super impressed with the way that OneNote structures their notebooks and tabs, and connects with digital ink (the stylus and the drawing function) in a way that is so familiar to every teacher, for marking and editing student work for example.snip_20170107114317

I think, my main point here is that schools and teachers would benefit so much if the people making the decisions about what tech they use had an open mind to the range of options out there! And maybe, in the next few years we will see schools being open to having ‘the right tool for the right job’ with a range of different devices being used across the school. The days of, ‘We’re a Mac school’ or ‘We’re a Google school’ could be a thing of the past as we become ‘Tech Multi-Lingual.’

BUT –  I think I know the reasons why schools go in one direction or the other. BYOD programmes that let students bring any kind of device into classrooms with teachers who aren’t prepared for the range of tech is a recipe for disaster. What I’m advocating and talking about is a shifting world where we increasingly live and work in a shared tech space. Not most but many of us are realising the benefits of it and I think schools will shortly follow suit.

Are you seeing this in your schools?


Teacher Learner Term 3

This term I learnt how to snowboard.

6a9f8d3d3ee6e3b4d105da46921a9a55In 2010 I wrote a post about how we all need to make the shift from ‘teacher expert’ to ‘teacher learner.’ Sadly, this is one of the main things holding many of us back from helping our students make the shift into being ready for today’s world. Many of us have a teaching mentality that is fixed and not geared for growth and when we realise that we can’t be the holder of all knowledge and expertise then we open ourselves up to be vulnerable in front of our students. We become more able to be change agents in every way.

This term I decided to learn how to snowboard. I’ve been a skier since I was about 8. My family would have the occasional winter trip up the mountain and I kept the ski trips up into my teens with my friends when I left home and then with school trips since I’ve moved to the South Island.

This year, however, I took the chance to learn a whole new discipline when my wife and I took our kids to Cardrona for the first time. If I’m going to be on the learners slopes, I thought, I might as well learn something new alongside them.

So, a family day out, 2 school trips and a day with some friends later and I have had 4 days this season getting to grips with standing sideways, making ‘toe turns’ and actually cracking a rib (I think… at least it REALLY hurts when I sneeze and I have trouble rolling over in bed). BUT it was worth it.

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 9.25.29 pmOne of the greatest outcomes of this adventure has been the chance to show my class how much I’ve failed. I showed them this short clip of me crashing a few times and I was amazed at how interested they were. It’s easy to forget how important it is for other learners to see us failing and to keep on trying. I really like this poster for getting this message across, too.

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 9.30.42 pm

Below is a video I put together using our new school Gopro camera. We’ve decided to buy this to create a new version of our ‘What I did at school’ video we first made 3 years ago. This snowboarding day out with some friends was my chance to get to grips with the camera’s ‘ins and outs.’ There are quite a few tricks to using it, as it turns out. The music is from American Authors, ‘Best Day of my Life.’

I wonder what I’ll learn to do next term?

Learner Poster =

Fail Poster =

So you’re Team Teaching now, are you?

Screen Shot 2014-08-03 at 10.16.23 pmOur school has been working in Team Teaching pairs now for the best part of a year. It’s been so successful and beneficial across the board that we couldn’t imagine going back to teaching alone. We are also really pleased to see that this approach to a school structure is catching on all over the country and we’re having quite a few schools visiting to see what all the fuss is about.

Of course we’re not claiming to invent the idea of working with other teachers – my first introduction came from Jo Fothergill, a teacher from New Zealand, who spoke about her team teaching aspirations at an Educamp we hosted at our school in 2012. But we are very proud at our school of developing a whole school culture that has embraced Team Teaching as a crucial part of our shared pedagogy and learning programme.

So – why is there so much push back? I’m going to start a short series of posts that will ‘unpack’ (one of my favourite words, apparently) some of the reasons why TT gets so much resistance and also what makes it work at our school!


‘Engage, Empower and Enlighten’ Presentation

This is the presentation for a workshop I’m taking tonight with some Home Educators in Southland. It’s exciting to sharing with a ‘different’ crowd and one outside of my normal environment – people involved in schools. But, it’s also exciting to be sharing at tonight because our own children are taught at home and I’m sharing some links and sites that have been created by my own kids!

Please dig into the presentation and engage with the links. Most of the images are linked to the actual sites and resources that I share. This is a presentation I’m sure I’ll adapt and use a few times more!

The Power to Act – Agency

Well – my word for the year (ownership) is growing some really long arms and legs! Here are some of those ‘limbs’ and the impact they are having on our learners.
This video, by Derek Wenmoth, explains some terminology for me around the concept of ‘student agency.’ He explains agency as the ‘power to act’ and it has really captured my attention as we build our active learning approach at our school.

In this video, Derek explains how student agency involves 3 dynamics and I’ve added some implications for our classrooms.

1. The initiative – self regulation of the student.

  • this describes exactly what we are trying to do – engage the learner to be more and more independent and self starting.

2. The relationship is inter-dependent – mediates and is mediated by the socio cultural context of the classroom.

  • the importance of a collaborative culture is key here. How we work together, give and seek peer feedback and create an environment where students want to learn together is incredibly important.

3. An awareness of responsibility of the learner’s own actions and the impact on the environment and on others.

  • our learner licenses approach is working really well in facilitating the right amount of support for each learner and I’m wondering how we can use it better to have student’s mentoring / supporting and encouraging others learning behaviours.

I can see how this terminology is going to catch on as some shared vocabulary for our school. Especially with the parents. Interestingly – one thing I have learnt to do, when talking about this with parents is to emphasise the ‘active learning’ aspect rather than ‘independent learning’ as the latter has overtones of teachers trying to take a back seat to the process.

So – here are 2 aspects of our programme that we have recently invested in across our school to help develop the agency of our students. While not exhaustive, they both form some important pillars to help empower our learners.

Solo Taxonomy

One of our teacher only days this term was spent working with Pam Hook, exploring the ways to incorporate the Solo Taxonomy approach in our classrooms. Solo is an assessment method that involves students, at all stages of the learning journey, to help them see where their understanding is and what to work on next. Pam, @arti_choke, has a knack for explaining the approach in a way that makes sense for people and has developed some fantastic resources for teachers to use with their learners.

She is always very generous with her resources on her site and we have already started using the hexagons, thinking maps and assessment matrix tools. My goal for our class is to be able to use the assessment icons and levels to be able to understand and articulate how well they have grasped a skill or idea and what they should next. This should give us some important vocabulary to use during those crucial learning conversations.

e.g, “How well do I know how to use syllables to decode words? Well, my understanding is at ‘multi-structural’ but I need to understand when and why to use them when I read – that will move my understanding to the ‘relational’ level.”

Learning Pathways and Self Selected Workshops

Last week our Senior Teachers travelled to Dunedin to visit St Clair School and we were hosted by @msbeenz (Claire Buist) AP and teacher, and her team. We have been hugely influenced by Claire’s approach with empowering students to self assess their progress using Goal Sheets and then booking workshops with the teacher. We were very impressed to hear their journey with this approach last year and to see the development of this approach with her team this year.

Our Senior Team has begun to adopt this approach, with our own spin, and combined it within our team teaching approach which will have, I can already see, the following benefits.

  • increased student agency
  • increased quality and quantity of learning conversations to help guide and support the learner.
  • more active and engaged learners!
One of the areas to explore from our visit is how to best develop the home-school connection and whether our current ‘homework’ programme is the best approach. I’m expecting that the ability for the learner to engage with their next steps is something that could and should be able to continue outside of school hours. So, there is enormous potential for our use of google apps, Ultranet and our other online tools carry on this journey.
Here are 2 other links to some docs we sent home for parents that explain how our learning programme has developed so far. This ‘coalition’ between school and home is something we are always looking to grow and the conversations these documents have continued has been crucial to the learning culture we are developing in the school.
We are certainly in the midst of some exciting times and it feels like the pieces of the ‘Active Learning’ approach are falling into place. And when we combine all this with an increasing access to the learning tools we need (10 Chrome books arrived this afternoon!) then the road ahead just keeps getting more and more exciting. 
I hope our learners are starting to feel excited as well. I’m thinking it may be time for some student voice!

Teaching Kids to be Brave and Kind

I thought I’d pass on this article on the Momastry blog. It’s written by Glennon Doyle Melton and really resonated with me this week. From the look of the 1400 odd comments underneath it has for others, too.

The idea that an educator’s role is to simply raise achievement standards would rankle even the numbest teacher. There are so many things we do in our classes that can make or break children’s futures – it makes me baulk at the weight of that responsibility and to be honest, there have been times in my shortish career where I would admit that I’ve missed the wood for the trees.

This recount of a parent and their description of the efforts they take to look out for the lonely children in their class is inspirational and incredible challenging! But the line that stands out for me the most is right at the end.

Isn’t that what it’s all about. Do we teach children how to read and write? Yes. But we should also shape and inspire them to be resilient, to go outside their comfort zones and to move from being ego centric to thinking of others.
So, what does this mean for me? It means that when I have photocopying to quickly grab before the bell goes and a student comes to talk with me and make a connection before the start of the day… I will stop and listen and gift her some of my time. It sounds easy but with the pressures of teaching I can assure you that if my priorities are not right, it’s not.
There are lots of little things we can do to make every student feel accepted, safe, cared for and valuable. Lots of small things. And small things, I’m finding, add up to be big things.
Have we missed the point of teaching sometimes? Is it all about technology, innovative practice and passion? No. I wonder if it’s about helping kids be brave and kind. I also think that we need to model that to them, too. 

Tips for ICT momentum in schools

I was asked the following question on twitter today..

…so I thought I’d post some things that have helped (or not helped) our school and the schools I have worked in. These are also quotes I’ve picked up along the way that help guide our school when making decisions.

1.  Sell the vision first!

There’s a great story about a man giving advice to someone who wants to build a boat with his family. He tells the man, “Don’t go out first and buy the wood, nails and hammers and give them a boat building book. Make them dream of being at sea and yearn for the open waves.”

If we sell the vision of what elearning can do for our students and their learning – and the importance of being connected and engaged in today’s world – then the boat building will happen so much easier. We have to believe why something is important first before engaging the how and what.

I also love this line that I read on twitter last week.

 “If you find change hard to swallow, try irrelevance!”

2. It starts from the top

This is where the funding and the allocation of time comes from. When the leader of a school is passionate then the staff will be also – in time. It’s too easy for a Principal or Lead Teacher to hand the task of elearning integration leadership onto another teacher but if they aren’t modeling best practise (using a paper diary and calendar, being afraid of your laptop and even stating to your staff that you’re a bit past it and don’t have the time to change – examples I’ve witnessed all too often) you will end up with mixed messages.

Way to go, killing that momentum!

3.  Feed the hungry!

I wrote about this here and got the quote from Stuart Hale at a conference. Too often we spread the technology around a school in a desire to be equatible. What can drive momentum is giving those teachers who are eager the tools to develop and model effective practise to others.

I’ve also written about the ‘Peloton Model’ of change – here in a blog post from last year. I still hold that this is the best way to effect change in your school.

4. Have you tried to Google it?

One of the best ways for teachers to overcome hurdles and learn new skills is to figure it out for themselves. Isn’t this the ultimate goal we have for our students? We want them to be life long, independent learners.

So when I hear a teacher say, ‘Oh I tried that and it didn’t work.’ or even worse, ‘I need to have some more PD on that programme before I’ll feel comfortable using it in class!’ I often wonder if they have made the shift from being a ‘teacher expert’ to being a ‘teacher learner!’ I also wrote about that here.

I understand that sometimes we need that PD and getting advice from those more experienced than us. BUT there is also a case for raising our expectations for teachers and asking them if they have tried to solve that problem themselves, or even teaching them to trawl the ever increasing ocean of videos, forums and blog posts.

Check this site out – It makes a video of you doing what others could have done when they ask a question. Sarcastic but also in a staff meeting could be worth a giggle with a hard hitting lesson!

5. i/etips!

I’ve been in schools and know of schools that run regular sharing, teaching sessions on ipad apps, movie tips and online sites that can help teachers in class. These can be run by your staff who have some experience in an area and could be over breakfast, lunch or even around a refreshing beverage on the weekend. There’s nothing like having teachers teaching teachers and learning from each other.

6. Get out there!

Lastly – my advice would be to send your staff to conferences and other schools who are moving in the direction you want to go (you could even skype other teachers and their classes). It’s so easy these days to never leave our school boundaries and I’m a big believer that the best PD you can do is actually visiting other schools and talking with other teachers. It’s all about cross pollination and sharing our journeys with other staff. 

So those are my big 6. If you have any other tips it’d be great to have you comment below. I’m sure there are lots of other gems of advice out there!

The Peloton Model of Change

There’s a lot of dialogue going on about how our schools need to change and has been for some time. I have some posts here about this but my thoughts of the last while have been about how? The challenge for schools is around developing a whole new culture of learning and how to achieve it.
One way to gain some forward movement is to adopt a model for change based on the cycling peloton – a bunch of riders who band together in a race. I believe this analogy can be used as a model to radically transform your school.

Peloton is a french word that means ‘little ball’ or platoon and is used to describe the pack of riders that form a main bunch. It can often be part of a cyclists strategy to use the peloton as a form of saving energy during the race that they can use later on. Here are five ways a peloton can help us achieve some amazing momentum in changing our schools.
1. The riders in the front do most of the work.
Cyclists who ride at the front of the bunch take the full force of the wind ahead. They have to work hard and put in some amazing effort but they’re also the ones who get an amazing sense of satisfaction from their work.
The teachers who are in the front are often asked, ‘Where do you find the time to do all of this?’ They will usually reply that it doesn’t feel like extra work because it’s their passion!
2. The riders in the back of the bunch take the draft.
The riders who take the draft don’t have to make much effort to keep up but they benefit from the work from the leaders. They are ‘drafted’ along – but importantly, in the right direction.


Teachers who may not be driven to innovate and explore new methods of teaching still benefit from the actions of their colleagues. They will often start using new methods of teaching and learning, once they have seen them in action from the teacher next door.
3. The peloton uses the strength of the group to catch up the breakaways with collective speed.
There is incredible momentum when the group works together, driving the lead riders on to a long term, sustainable forward force.

Leaders can see change in their schools by resourcing and supporting the innovative teachers in their school. This can be in the form of equipment, release time, leadership positions and simple encouragement. When we give support to these leaders in these ways we also validate the methods and direction for our schools in a way that all teachers recognise.
We could be giving 20 minutes of each staff meeting to have them showcasing some innovative teaching practise in their class. Other teachers will start to ask, ‘Why are some teachers being given equipment?’ Or, ‘Why did she get promoted?’ We can all put two and two together.
So – do we want to see change in our schools? I’d suggest that we identify our lead riders and resource them to drive our schools in the right direction.
Two practical ideas…

– Could you invest in a couple of classrooms with more digital tools than normal – call it a pilot project. I think sometimes we spread our technology really thin across a school to gain a sense of ‘equality’ when really we’re giving resources to teachers ‘riding in the middle’ who might not use it.
– Could you start sending some staff members to conferences (give them some extra release time) in the knowledge that they will pedal even harder when they return and drive your school further?
(Photo right bottom –, Old Shoe Woman)

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Leaders should Lead and not just Manage.

One blog I’d recommend following is Derek Wenmoth’s. In a recent post he recalled a session he was in with Scott McLeod about adapting to the new digital era we are in. (Incidentally, I knew McLeod was in the country because I read a random article in the Southland Times about his ideas – no local reference, just there it was.)

The message that came through at the end of this session was this strong challenge –

Leaders lead! They don’t follow. They aren’t simply reactive (to government policy, constraints of policy, funding etc). They lead. They are compelled by a vision of what can be, and work with the resources available to them to achieve that. – Scott McLeod (Derek’s summation)

This challenge, he writes, was in response to the talk of barriers to this adaptation – those Ministry policies, mandates, lack of funding and so on. And I’m standing on my metaphorical chair, waving a flag to his next statement. Derek goes on to say that it’s time for leaders to have some courage start taking risks and be okay about failing. – They should lead and not just manage.
Last Night of the Proms Flag Waving
What are some things I’d suggest that school leaders could be doing to lead? Here are three ideas.
1. Know where you are going.
What is the direction and goal of your school in the next five years? Having a vision for the future takes time, thought and being connected to the right people to appear. There is a massive conversation taking place all over the world and online about the future of education and it’s a dialogue that is too good to miss.
2. Start identifying those who will follow in your school and community.
This video captures the idea that it’s the first few who follow who will start the movement. Who is on your staff, BOT and in your community that have the potential to support and carry out any initiatives you put in place.
3. Be willing to make a decision and make mistakes.
It’s very easy for leaders to put decisions off. Especially when we are talking about technology , for example, and you are told to, ‘Wait until November when there is a new model coming out!’ I like this saying
You don’t have to get it right. You just have to get it going.
We can learn a lot from the student led inquiry model about the process of change and mistakes are only problems if we don’t learn from them!
Also – the danger of collaborative leadership styles is that we wait for everyone to get on board before we act. I’m not sure that school’s have any more time to wait!
There you go – I’m sure there are more ideas. Do you have anything to add?
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