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?


3 Ways to get the most out of your Sphero robots in the classroom!

Last week I was helping the Macgear team demonstrate the Sphero SPRK (Schools, Parent, Robots and Kids) robots to educators at the NZ Ulearn Conference in Rotorua. Here’s a short vid I made that shows some of the snippets of what we were up to for the 2 days.

We use these robots in our STEM workshops with teachers and they’re one of my favourite STEM tools to use; I’ll explain why in a later post. Here’s a link to our upcoming events page where you can see the dates and venues of some STEM workshop days coming up. (Let me know if your schools would be interested in hosting!)

Here are 3 ways to make sure you’re getting ‘learning bang’ for your buck with your Sphero.

1.The teacher is ALWAYS key!

Just like every learning situation, the role of the teacher is paramount. And not in a central, dominant way but as a facilitator, driver, connector and coach. The learning that happens is always best done in discover mode, where the learners are working things out, solving their own problems and making their own ‘cognitive links.’ It’s the teacher, however, who has a crucial part to play to;

a) Frame the activity – create the motivating problem or scenario,

b) Help redirect and scaffold the learner towards some learning outcomes,

c) Provide the framework for reflection and to help students make connections with what they’ve learned – and the space to share those with others.

2. Use a great learning app, like The Lightning Lab

This app – The Lightning Lab, is a great app to use with the Sphero SPRK, partly because of the community you can connect with. Students can download other people’s programmes and build on top, or alternatively, create their own programme and become Sphero authors by uploading to the community themselves!

SPRK Lightning Lab App – IOS Android, Chrome OS.

The community section also has activities and lessons that teachers and students have written and shared within the app – it’s a great way to share learning experiences and get ideas for your next activity. An even better idea is to have students create a learning experience (around a concept such as angles, gravity, friction etc) and share with others through the app!

3. Combine the digital with the material world…like a boss!

I love seeing the digital world interact with the material – afterall, that’s reality! When we scaffold experiences like the one in the video, where we make a craft that will move across the water, and include a coded programme for the Sphero to automate the craft, we are connecting so many areas of the curriculum and AMPLIFYING the learning. Who doesn’t like getting hands on with things!


Those are my three tips! Do you have any other ideas or things you know work with your Spheros? Leave a comment below or retweet this link in Twitter with an idea to share.

The Power of Video

Screen Shot 2014-08-09 at 3.13.34 pmThis week I facilitated 2 sessions at the Mediamash Workshop day in Winton. This was a teacher/student day for everyone to learn alongside each other – a powerful theme for the day in itself!

My sessions were looking at the potential for videos as a powerful tool in the learning process. In our class we recognise 3 things:

1. Today’s learners are incredible visual in the way they like to learn.
2. Outside the school environment, we often use video to learn things – from gaming walk throughs, to instructional videos for building and fixing things. So why not at school?
3. Videos can be used at lots of different stages in the learning process.

In the slides below you’ll see some examples for how we use videos before, during and after which are just ways to describe the steps our students take in our learning pathways.

The before part of the process is where flipped learning emerges. Many times this year we have had students come to a learning workshop having watched a video we provided in the pathway with a much deeper understanding of the concept or skill we are looking at. This allows us to practise, or fill in the gaps they have.
During in this sense indicates the workshops that happen with a teacher and after is where the student goes away to consolidate, clarify or create their own videos.

Make sure you click on the images and links to access the movies and sites.

**Above image sourced from


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!

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. 

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

Maths Symposium Presentation

Tomorrow I’m presenting a breakout at the Southland Math’s Symposium. The workshop brief I wrote was;

ICTs and Maths – understanding the potential for the tools to take your math’s programme to another level!
Today’s ICTs are making a big impact on the way we teach and learn. This workshop will explore some ideas for making the maximum influence with your student’s and their achievement. We will look at different tools through the lenses of the SAMR model of technology integration and see how they have the potential to revolutionise our teaching practice.
That’s a pretty lofty goal, I know! But why not aim for the stars. Here’s the presentation.

If you were in the workshop – my apologies for going overtime – mostly because we missed the last few slides! There I promote some amazing resources for more links and tools and mostly because I didn’t have time for my Twitter promotion – my best bit. If you’re not on twitter and connecting with other like minded, passionate educators then… you are seriously missing out.

(But that’s another workshop…)

This is the Hexagons brainstorm* (See Pam Hook’s site for more info on this great tool) we made before we started. We had a quick look at the kinds of tools we are using, and saw some of the barriers / frustrations. 
Slow connectivity was a major theme… interesting!
*I’ve uploaded the image into skitch and added the categories.

My Word for the Year!

With a new year ahead our staff have decided to have one word – one word to reflect on and set our teacher inquiry goals towards. My word for this year is…

For the last 7 out of 9 years as a teacher I have been pretty passionate about developing young people as independent learners. I first saw this in action with a legendary teacher next door who I hold in VERY high regard to this day. She was, and still is, a master at shaping and inspiring children to take more responsibility for everything they did. And BOY did they ever. Even when their learning went pear shaped they somehow all had an internal drive and resolve to be better next time. Isn’t this what we want for all of our students?

Over the holidays I found this chart, from the site that was the challenge and inspiration for this year’s word. Not only was it the first time I had heard of anything beyond ‘Pedagogy’ in the classroom but I was also incredibly challenged about the practice I foster in my class. It also gives me 2 more words to throw around when I want to sound smart.

It seems to me that one of the differences between a teacher led approach and a self determining one are found in the answer to, ‘Who owns the learning?’ It also seems to me that if a student is going to be truly motivated then they will have found ownership of it, whether they have prompted it or not.

So, the drive for me this year is to develop new approaches that will scaffold and assist students to make progress towards truly owning their learning. I’m becoming fully aware of two possible tensions.

1. Maintaining a balance between being ‘the teacher’ and ‘a coach.’ 

There is a great debate amongst teachers about how much knowledge you should be passing on to students and how much you should be leaving them to discover for themselves. Are we the sage on the stage or the guide on the side. I am a great believer that there are things that students simply don’t know- and they usually don’t know that they don’t know. This year I’m going to be searching for the balance or the sweet spot between these 2 approaches.

2. Inspiring parents and their children that this is possible.

I believe that every child has a certain amount of potential to take ownership of their learning – at 9 and 10 years of age. I know a great many students who are in our class this year who already do just that. I also know that many children are more ready to reach this potential in a few years time. What I will be working at is demonstrating to parents that I have the systems and support in place to meet every child where they are. If they need more support then we will have that for them. In the posts to come I’ll be sharing some of the systems that have worked in the past and also some of the initiatives we are working on.

But here are a few of the things we’ll be working on.

  • Holding reading / writing / maths groups as self selected workshops for students working across curriculum levels but with a common learning goal.
  • Developing eportfolios and reflective journals using Ultranet and Google Apps / Hapara.
  • Visiting forward thinking schools and classrooms using similar learning andragogy.
  • Integrating student passion projects into our weekly learning programmes.
Bring on 2014!