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!

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

How to Reflect..better

My class is working on how we can reflect on our learning. We’ve often talked why it’s a good thing to stop and reflect before after and especially during a process. Now I think it’s time for us all to explore ‘how’ we can do it.

This prezi, by Peter Pappas, shows how we can deppend our reflection by using blooms to really examine what’s happening / happened. It’s well worth the time to flick through all the thoughts and media that’s involved – I love a good prezi!
One breakthrough moment I’ve had from viewing the prezi is that I could post some reflective questions for students to answer – based on some aspects of blooms. I could, for example, ask three questions. One question on understanding, one on analysing and the final one on evaluating. Scaffolding IS important for every learner, especially when we are learning to do something for the first time.

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I’ve also created a poster on an easy to remember slogan to help students write or narrate a reflection. We’ll be brainstorming all the different ways we can reflect on our blogs – writing posts, taking photos or even using voicethread and photobooth to record video or our voice.

Improving our teaching practice

Ever since I started training as a teacher I realised there was lots for me to learn. Now that I’ve been teaching for a while I’ve realised that I didn’t know the half of it! Any teacher who thinks they know it all – or even feels satisfied with their own practice – probably looks like this guy!

There’s a saying I started using a while ago (and have probably used on this blog a few times over the last three years) and repeat often – ‘Every teacher has a veneer of confidence covering a sea of insecurity!’ Every time I use it with another teacher I see a wry smile of familiarity with a touch of relief thrown in that says, ‘Oh, …I’m not the only one!’ We feel insecure, I think, because teaching is such an art with so many constantly moving variables… many of which are out of our control. But – many aren’t, which is why we are always learning and striving to be our best – or should be.
This year our ICT cluster has begun a journey of using the Teacher Inquiry Model to improve the use of eLearning and ICT in our classrooms. The focus is the area of student learning we would like to see developed with improved outcomes while the strategies are the tools / practises or techniques we will use to achieve those outcomes. The shift that many teachers are making this term is seeing an ICT tool as the strategy, not the focus. So, podcasting becomes a strategy to improve my focus of engaging reluctant writers rather than wanting to use podcasting in my class and seeing how it benefit the students writing. This has been an important part of the process and many teachers are beginning some amazing projects – from yes, podcasting to blogging and all sorts of other ‘mashups’ of technology that are looking like making some fantastic gains for our students.
This graph, below is something I’ve been creating in popplet – a mix between wallwisher and mindmeister (or a graphic organiser and online yellow stickies). It’s been a brilliant tool for guiding a teacher to create some strategies they will use to help them achieve their focus. The inside (coloured) ideas are some different forms that strategies could take. The outside (grey) ideas are the kinds of eLearning strategies that could help those strategies.
This example of the popplet is just a screen shot of the dynamic version – which you can embed into a blog and people can add to. Because I’m adding to it as we go I’ve posted a jpg as an archive. I imagine that this chart could be used to reflectively examine our teaching practice at any time, regardless of whether we are completing a formal teacher inquiry or not.
Some questions to ask…
– in what parts of our practice are we simply missing the mark?
– what kinds of strategies could we try using to improve it?
– what or who could help us?
– how are you sharing / reflecting your ideas?

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Why won’t you kids just reflect?

Following along from my post (Not ‘Lord of the Flies’ in my class) on teaching kids how to behave in our new digital world is a new initiative in my class.  We have started a Twitter account!  @Room8salford

I’ve wanted to keep driving my aim of developing the students into reflective learners. I thought I might be able to encourage this some more by using Twitter as a vehicle – they have turns on a roster system to post a small ‘what I’m doing and what I think of that’ tweet. Along the way we would learn about being responsible online citizens and put our preaching about digital etiquette (Yes! I know how to spell that now…) into practise.

Here’s a snapshot of our first two days. We have two followers, apart from me, but that’s not the aim. All the little strategies that Teacher’s College used on me have worked… which, incidentally I resented but that is another post. Maybe all my little strategies will work on them?

Are the tweets staggeringly reflective?  Not many but it’s early days.
Here are some steps I’ve taken to set it up…

1.  I have a roster on the wall behind our imac with a big red arrow next to the name of the next tweeter.  They get 20 points for their team if they tweet without me prompting them (real life incentive, people.  That is NOT a bribe…haha)

2.  We brainstormed some prompting thoughts and questions to help us work out what to tweet.  ‘What have I just learnt and how?’ or ‘What am I doing and how do I feel about that?’ for example.
3.  I’ve made our tweets private for now.  This is mostly because I want to protect the class from ‘randoms’ mentioning us in a bad way – I always think it best to tread carefully and become more liberal as time goes on – still thinking that one through to be honest…what do you think?
4.  I have a ‘follow us’ badge on our class blog for any parents who want to.  One has!  Yes.
5.  I’m going to give someone a job in class to be the tweet ‘cheer leader’ – they’ll get paid as part of our class economy for our market days.

Is there anyone else who is doing this.  I’ve had a hunt and haven’t seen any evidence.  Surely I’m not the first!  If it helps us to become more reflective – and share some snapshots of our days – then that’s awesome (or ‘trick’, my hip word for the week).

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I’m Back! – catch up…

It’s been FAR too long since I’ve written a post. I have no excuses, really, and it’s always amusing to read other people post their big ‘grandios’ plans to write every week – and fail in the first month.

I’ve wanted to make this blog a place to record my own learning rather than make some ground making discoveries – no disappointments there. And to say that I haven’t been learning in the last 4 months is really not true.  But…what HAVE I been doing for the last two terms?

– Our school has been making some slow…painfully slow progress with our new server, internet service and our overall communication strategy.  This has been a really eye opening process of chasing cats!
– I’ve been searching for a way to deepen and develop the thinking skills of my class and I think I may have found another tool to add to my box – ‘Solo Taxonomy’.
– Coming to terms with my new school’s Inquiry strategy.  Every school has a different take and method of planning, teaching and assessing inquiry but this has been quite a major transition to make.

So, other than all of this, the year so far has been a major journey of reassessing what I believe quality teaching to be (I’m sure this will be posted in the future). But then, does this ever settle in our profession?  (Image used by permission – sabcute_86  C.C.)