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.

 

Listen to the Learning Chatter

If you’re like me then you love using technology to engage and motivate learning in your classroom. One of the ‘hits’ you often have to take when you do this is being labelled as a ‘teacher into toys.’ It’s frustrating to hear since you know and have seen the difference they can make for your learners.

img_2650One of the ways you can show others the benefits of these ‘toys’ is to record some of the conversations that your students are having during activities. I’ve started to call this;

  • LEARNING CHATTER = the language and conversations of learning in action.

Here’s a video of some sound bites I captured with one group at a recent Sphero SPRK+ demo hour I took at a local Primary School. Listen for the subject based vocab, the design thinking and collaboration here.

 

Book Creator Comic Tips

This week I’ve been making some comics with a class in the Book photoCreator app. It’s part of a bigger ‘app-smash’ we’re working on by combining the comic with the Explain Everything app to make an animated video.

Here are some tips to creating a comic with backgrounds, characters, and layered objects to give your comics a super professional look!

background

1. Insert a background into each panel.

The new updated Book Creator has a great comic layout with loads of comic like features. Elements such as stickers, comic looking fonts and text functions and PANELS! These are one of my ‘go-tos’ for students adding photos into a page. When they click the photo or camera icon within a panel the app fits the photo perfectly inside it.

When adding a background image for your comic strip, use this approach to give each panel the right backdrop. You can use the same image and zoom in or out for each panel using the 2 finger pinch and stretch.

 

transparent2. Use the ‘transparent’ option when searching for character images.

Students can search and save the right character images on a Google search by finding and using a ‘long press’ on the image to ‘Save image.’ This will appear in their camera roll for use later.

BUT, if you want to use images that can be layered without a background attached to the actual image (it will look like the character is cut out) then use the ‘Search tools > Color > Transparent’ function to search for PNG files. These will have a grey and white checkered background when opened and these save as PNGs for you to add to your comics.

 

3. Add your characters with the + icon.character

When you’re adding the characters you will need to use the + button at the top right of the screen, rather than the camera and photo function inside the panel. If you use that function then the character will replace the background of the panel. The + button process will let you move the character over top or inside the panel as needed.

 


layering4. Layer the objects using the ‘move forward and back’ section.

The last step is to work on getting your characters, stickers, speech bubbles and other elements to be layered in the right way. The default order is that the last thing added will go to the top…but to change this order simply select the element, click on the ‘I’ (or inspector) and use the ‘Move forward and back’ function. This lets you order the elements how YOU want them.

 

And here’s the finished product of all of these tweeks. It’s incredible what students can create using a few techniques and the greatest thing is seeing the sense of accomplishment and pride at what they’ve achieved – as well as the chance to consolidate and deepen their understanding of new learning.

img_1453

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!

 

Solo Stations and Student Agency

Within our team teaching programme we’re looking at how we can create as many opportunities for students to learn at their own pace and with the right learning goals. This, in itself, is quite a huge ask when you’re talking about 58 students and counting. 
One of our favourite tools for learners to know where their understanding is, and what to work on next, is the Solo Taxonomy model. The Solo levels are, and framed for a math’s learning goal, in a nut-shell;
Pre  Structural – I’m just starting out.
Uni Structural – I know one thing about the goal.
Multi Structural – I know three or more things about the goal but I’m not sure when or why to use them and I sometimes make mistakes.
Relational – I know three or more things about the goal and I know when and. Why to use them.
Extended Abstracted – I can teach others how to do this and I can use this goal to apply to other goals.
This year we’ve started using the Solo Taxonomy (See Pam Hook’s site for more info) to create differentiated stations within our math’s workshops. Here’s how we put the levels to use;
When we first run a workshop we work with materials and take the whole group through the learning intention and use buddies to share our ideas and work through a few problems. At the end of session we share our understanding of where our learning is at. We talk about what each Solo Level would look like and then share our understanding using hand signals. You can see some examples of the symbols here.
The next time we run the workshop we meet as a large group and quickly remind ourselves of the goal and how it works with a couple of examples. Then we show the symbols our learning is at the moment (we’re trying not to say, ‘I am….’ because it’s not US that are multi structural but our learning). This is usually quite varied with students at all stages of understanding.
Then we talk about the different stations around the room. We make sure that everyone knows where they are, what they will be doing at each station and how the will know when they can progress to the next station.
At each station we have card signs for each Solo Level that are shown in the pictures. Here’s how each station works.

1. At the Pre-Structural / Uni-structural station the students work mostly with the teacher and are scaffolded through examples with materials and lots of prompting and questioning. The focus here is helping them see some concrete solutions and touching, moving and talking with their thinking buddy.

2. The Multi-structural station has a set of written equations with at least example of how to set out the thinking involved with solving the problem. Students work with a little prompting from the teacher checking in on them occasionally and their learning is written into their books for easy reference for them and the teacher.
3. Lastly, the Relational and Extended Abstract station is where the students can have a chance to confirm that they have a solid grasp of the goal and to check and little holes they have in their understanding. We give them a word problem with the maths within it and they have to read the problem, write down the maths equation or solution to the problem and then create an ‘artifact’ of the learning that will help others learn. So far these have been posters, instructional videos like Showme or Doodle Cast Pro. 
There are three things that impress me during these workshops;

  • The students are (mostly) incredible honest about their understanding. It’s very obvious when someone is at the wrong place and their peers are very quick to help them out when they are, either with redirection or peer tutoring. For the odd one or two who constantly over estimate their understanding it’s very easy to quickly check in with them once the stations start.

  • This approach allows them to move stations when they think they are ready and is always done with some guiding from the teacher. Once they think they are ready to move they check with the teacher and we talk about why they think they are ready. It’s wonderfully fluid with some learners moving very quickly and others taking 2 or more workshops to consolidate and really gain some depth to their learning. I have seen learners move from Pre Structural to Extended Abstract in one workshop and it gives them a real tangible way to view their progress.
  • These Solo Stations make the learning visible! We can all see where our thinking is working at, where we are moving to next (literally and figuratively) and as a teacher I have a quick snapshot of where this group is currently at.

I should also mention that we run learning programmes where students are guided to make their own choices about the goals and workshops they attend. In a workshop we could have students who have been working on a goal for 2 weeks and others who arrived for the first time. The Solo Stations approach allow us to make the learning M and M – ‘meaningful and manageable.’

Our next step is to move this approach and adapt the pedagogy to other learning areas. There are advantages for workshops to remain as a large group and I’m thinking that we could set up the stations later at the end of a reading or writing workshop.
Are you catering for different learning levels and learning paces in your programme? We’d love to hear how you’re doing that. 

Popplet Criteria

One of the principles of quality learning we push with our students is knowing what success looks like. We do this in quite a few ways but having a success criteria is pretty up there.

This week our classes are publishing their short stories on Comiclife, one of the student’s favourite ways to publish and share their work. This criteria below was created using Popplet. I love this tool for the following reasons.

1. You can create visually stunning posters in less time than it takes to shake a stick.

2. You can import images, links and video as well as text.

3. It is interactive but also adaptable to be static – you can export or take a screenshot and print this into a great poster for the wall.

This embeded version lets the user move it around, zoom in and out and, if there are videos they can be played within the window, too.

So far this term we have created two different posters of criteria that students can refer back to; this one and one for creating a great instructional video on Doodle Cast Pro (a great video making app). My hope is that we will create a wall of criteria that will help guide the student to success for a whole range of publishing / sharing tools they can choose.

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!

Showme – Connecting any time, anywhere.

My teacher inquiry this year is to provide the parents of my class as many opportunities to be a part of the learning with my students. I suppose I ‘m trying to widen our learning community beyond being just my students and I’m assuming that this will help them achieve – so far it definitely has!

One of the things I’ve been doing is to give the students access to teaching from home – not from a worksheet but through interactive games and videos.

This isn’t anything radical but, like any good elearning practice, the effectiveness is enhanced when teaching pedagogies and media are mashed into a workable system. One that is student centred and personalised.

An example of this is our basic facts blog. Here the students are working through a series of steps on a basic facts ladder (designed by advisersplus in the Hawkes Bay) using some links to interactive games – and some videos created on a great ipad app called showme.


Showme has been a fantastic way to record some teaching steps for a particular skill that the student can access at any time. Some parents have told me that THEY”VE found them helpful when they’ve tried to help their child master a particular skill.

Here’s a video explaining more about how it came about and the impact it’s having in classrooms across the world.


There are lots of uses for this great little app. I’ve used to remind students on our classblog about the scientific method – really helpful when they’re working in groups and unsure about a step in their experiment, and last year my students became quite handy in making their own showmes to explain and demonstrate their learning about all kinds of things we were doing in class.

Here’s a showme that I made to explain how to find fractions of a whole number. The small group I was working with was able to show their parents at home and consolidate their learning even more.


How are you providing opportunities for your students and parents to continue the learning?

Teachers and teamwork

Many of us are nervous about the talk of teaching incentives and performance pay. In Australia there are moves towards teaching excellence payments – described below from the linked article.
“Under the Rewards for Great Teachers initiative, teachers who become certified at the highest level of the standards will be rewarded with $7500 for Highly Accomplished teachers and $10,000 for teachers who achieve the Lead Teacher level.” http://www.deewr.gov.au/
Its all making for interesting staffroom discussion! The main fear that I hear from other teachers is the impact this will have on what makes our profession so strong – collegiality.
Teachers are usually amazing at sharing and supporting each other. If we are competing for excellence payments, what incentive do we have to encourage the teacher next door? Will we want to share the latest technique or strategy we’ve been working on with each other if we’re vying for the same reward?

It’s a valid concern. Like this video of supportive ants shows – it’s when we work together that we are at our best. I’m trusting that our colleagues will always hold on to what makes us strong!