Let them loose – they’ll surprise you.

We help schools develop their STEM learning development with their students and teachers and one of my favourite activities is the ‘Artbot’ design challenge. It’s super low tech with simple circuitry and coloured felts and uses mostly vibration as a mechanism to drive the cup across paper to create some ‘art.’

artbot-operationMost of the time students will create something that resembles this image, especially if you frame this as a research exercise where they can research what an Artbot is.

But, given the time and space to ideate, design and redesign, students will often come up with stunning designs, completely out of the box. These students yesterday created a hand held rotating mechanism. Brilliant. I’d never seen that before.

See what happens when we allow them that time and freedom to imagine, to create, to explore. That’s what people were made to do. We were created to create.

Image above –cdn.sciencebuddies.com


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.


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!

Ownership – Self Directed Guidance

My Teacher Inquiry Goal this year is to provide an increase of student ownership in our
classroom. I mention ‘our’ because at our school we teach in teams of 2 (3 if you include our release teacher). At the moment I would describe our learning programme as…

 ‘Using individual learning pathways through a process of guided goal setting. We co-construct our learning goals and help students select goals that lead to a flipped learning / workshop based programme within an inquiry context.’

Wow. It sounds like a mouth-full so to break down the teacher jargon we simply;

  • Use our curriculum to help the students set their goals
  • They use these goals to select their workshops
  • They can learn before, during and after these workshops at their own pace and time
  • The learning they are doing always helps them gain the skills and understands to move ahead with our overall inquiry.

If this sounds like a lot of hard work and with the potential for chaos…then YES! I have to admit that at times my finely tuned ‘teacher chaos radar’ is pinging off bright flashing lights. BUT, the benefits we are seeing in engagement, achievement, motivation and learning dispositions (the ability to learn and take ownership over learning) is huge.

However, one of the reflections I am making from watching what is happening, and talking with the students, is how to help guide the students to be making the best decisions for their learning in a way that both gives structure and support to those that need it, as well as giving the opportunity for those increased ‘agency’ for those who are ready. Basically, how do I give ‘just the right amount of cage’ for each learner? We are very good, or better, at differentiating the learning for our students but what about differentiation in terms of the guidance and structure we put in place to help the learning happen.

This term we have added some management structures which to help students do just that. Our question was, ‘What can we do to help the students be in the right place at the right time and go where they need to go to access the learning that is right for them?’

Here are 3 things we have set up with some thoughts on their effectiveness so far.

1. Student Calendars and Timetables.

Since last term we have create a class timetable on a Google Calendar and embedded that into our Ultranet Class Page. The embedding aspect has some teething problems by-passing our domain restrictions (it reads ‘busy’) but we also have it showing on a wide screen TV on the wall. Teachers and students can see what is coming up next, especially the workshops that are happening next door and it even has a function as a planning sharing tool for release teachers who access the workshop notes through the event details.

This week we’ve started giving each student a paper timetable that we record their workshops on and it also includes an overall picture of events and changes that happen in a lively, colourful school. It’s early days with this one but the majority are learning a lot about self management and reading tables and have even started colour coding the learning areas and what they’re working on.

There is increased accountability with this timetable as well because we can quickly see if they have booked themselves in for 2 maths and reading workshops. Thanks to @fuse11 and the team of teachers at Russel St School in Palmerston North for this idea.

2. Workshop Selection Tables

We’ve made a Google doc for each set of workshops for the week. There is a designated ‘Mother Ship’ imac we have set up to a large screen where the students can move their names from one workshop to the next. The names are an image from comiclife and they are easy to move withon the table – no deleting and typing, just click and drag.

It’s been a great way to keep a record of who has attended which workshop and the students check in on the screen often.

3. Ako Hubs

This was an idea we borrowed from @msbeenz  and her classroom. It’s a buddy system that gives each learner someone to ask, question and help make great learning decisions. We start our day in these hubs and often throughout the day. They change their hubs each week and have different people to work with often.

We started working in hubs of threes but with the number of students in our room we found it easier to move to pairs. This has lessoned the likely hood that one of the students were left out of the conversation, too. We’re finding this a great accountability tool where one student will quickly let us know that their Ako buddy has not picked a maths workshop, or has lost their timetable. We’re also really pleased with the modeling that is going on from the student’s with high agency for those still learning.

Next Steps?

For a digitally minded teacher it’s been an interesting transition this year to having so much paper as a part of our programme. The students have their goals, timetables and books – all paper. For us at the moment it just makes access to all of these things instant and easy. There is no logging in, opening up etc and we have a very ‘the right tool for the right job’ attitude to what we do.

BUT, in saying that,  I’m really aware that some students would prefer to have a digital version of these tools, just like I would! One student has shown me his ipod Google Calendar and how it’s synched with our class calendar. He’s really keen to start using this as his timetable and add his calendar over the top. This could be our next step! It’s all about choice as there are lots of children who prefer the tangible version.

(Cartoon from http://www.usabilityprofessionals.org/uxmagazine/rubes-cartoon-i-roll/)

What’s your Dream Class?

If you could run a dream classroom programme… what would it look like? Imagine an unlimited budget and the freedom to follow your own pedagogical path! This was a provoking thought I’ve come across lately and I thought I’d share a glimpse into what I think would make a great 2013 with my students!

1.  1-1 iPads

Student with an ipad

The first crucial cornerstone of my dream classroom would be an ipad in every pairs of hands. With a 1-1 ratio there would be no waiting, rotations, logging in and out and all the problems that sharing technology. I’d choose an ipad for the following reasons;
  – the targeted learning apps for each student,
  – the camera, voice recording features,
  – the mobility and flexibility of use,
  – the icloud range of apps,
  – a shared community of devices, linked with apple TV.

‘Typical!’ you say. Give them all an ipad and they’ll learn? No – but with their own device ready to go when they need it my students would be able to truly run with the learning pedagogy I would utilise in numbers 2-3!

2.  Student Centred Learning

This is where the pedagogy kicks in. I always strive to have every student learning at their ‘ultimate next step’ and there are a variety of ways I could do this (and we are always discovering new methods every year).
 – a student driven curriculum that involved them in the planning process. I’d like to have every student owning a google doc of their curriculum criteria, for example, where they could add evidence of their achievement throughout the year.

 – learning sites, interactives, apps, and activities that are targeted and customised to teach the student in their style, at their pace and at their level. An example of this is a site called Math Whizz which guides a student to their ‘maths age’ and works them through a wide range of maths categories at their own pace. When they succeed they move on and when they need help it provides it for them!

3. Reflective Tools!

There are loads of reflective tools that capture the learning journey for each individual. This could involve audio, video and written reflections on their digital blogs and eportfolio. I’d use the apps like Evernote, Showme, Notability and lots more to scaffold students into sharing, looking back and planning their next steps.

I’d also use Edublogs as our eportfolio platform. A main eportfolio space for journaling and posting learning progress on this ipad app would make a student’s ipad their first port of call for capturing, creating, sharing, commenting and reflecting – all just a glimpse of the  potential for eportfolios.

4.  Cloud Based Learning

When a student has a device to call on they can both upload and download their learning to their own online storage spaces. For creating and sharing docs I would have every student using the Google Suite of apps, combined and managed through Google Dashboard – a teacher tool that collates and manages student accounts  and files in a collective space.

5.  Flexible Learning Spaces

I like to create learning areas where students have the freedom to sit, lie, crouch, stand and lean i a way that helps them learn. If they are focussed, thinking and learning then I’m happy. My ideal class would have a range of furniture and spaces to suite everyone at every time and for every task. I’ve used tents, a bottle bivy, couches and the regular tables and chairs of different heights. I would use these again and more! (image from Furnware.com, case study of Whangaparoa School, NZ)

So! These are a few of more ideas – what have I missed out? I bet you have some dreams of your own…

Dream Image: Attribution Some rights reserved by Melody Campbell
Ipad image:  Attribution Some rights reserved By flickingerbrad

Bottle Bivy Beginnings!

Today we started out bottle bivy project! Here’s a sneak preview of the ‘gawker’ (timelapse video) I’m planning to make with the class once the making is over.

We’re also asking for each student to bring a gold coin donation to help with the costs of the glue gun sticks – the build take over 60 to get the job done. Thanks to everyone who’s brought bottles into school. We couldn’t have started without your help and team work!

Project Based Learning

This video, spotlighted by @web20classroom on this blogpost, made by commoncraft (who make some amazing explanation videos – well worth using as a model for students to try their own) explains what ‘Project Based Learning’ is. If you think broadly then it sums up what Inquiry Learning is..in a round about way.

One of the reasons I like about this video is that it emphasises the fact that students are still having their knowledge based broadened. It’s about the content being discovered and reinforced within a meaningful context.
The process goes something like
– have a problem
– ask questions
– seek answers
– devise solutions
– put solutions into action
What do you think? Would this be a good explaination of what inquiry really is for those of us who are always getting conflicting, vague messages?

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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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