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.


Morning Run Panorama

I shot this pic with my iPhone 6 Plus while running from our house a few weeks back. It was a pretty foggy morning and I used the panoramic setting to catch the wide angle from each side of the road.

I used the ‘magic wand’ highlighting tool in iPhoto to get the colours out. We live in a blessed part of the world!


Student Engagement Poster

This is a great poster I’ve seen thanks to and it’s doing the rounds on twitter at the moment. I’d probably say that I’m great at using 2, 3 and 5 in my teaching practice at the moment and I’m definitely going to utitlise the “3-2-1” method of reflection in number 6. Lately I’ve been asking, ‘What’s one thing you’ve learnt or gotten better at today?’ and this would take that to another level, I think.

I also remember a teacher using number 7 a lot when I was in Primary School. We would try to beat each other to finish her sentence. Funny. What’s something you’re already using and also, what would you like to use in your class a little more?


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. 

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.

Critique Groups

One of my goals this year is to develop my students as active, reflective learners. I’ve been using formative assessment practises in my classroom for quite a few years but I’ve always felt that the students were ‘doing a self or peer assessment’ because I asked them to and not really because they wanted to. Why?

1. It slows me down.
2. But I already finished my work. Why should I do it again after some feedback?
3. I actually don’t really care how I can improve…

And that was the crutch of it. I would say the majority of my class felt like this and that’s why they would give feedback that thoughtless and a waste of time. And even worse, they woud give a token gesture to responding to it.

So – how can increase student’s motivation to improve? If we’ve achieved this then maybe we can reach the holy grail of teaching

 – students seeking feedback independently!

In the Christmas holidays I stumbled on this video on Vimeo. It shows a teacher explaining what a Critique Group is and how it works. But the beauty of this instruction is the story he tells about a young boy, Austin, who had feedback from his peers and the results it gives us! Quality work!

I decided I would show the class this video partly because the video is so powerful in the way the teacher shows the process but also because my students would see children their age!
The result? I was amazed to see the class glued to the screen and ‘oohing and aahhing’ when the end result of Austin’s butterfly picture was revealed. To my surprise they seemed to catch on! This was my perception of how they saw the video, partly based on discussion afterwards.
1. They ‘got’ the idea of multiple points of feedback.
2. They understood why he needed to have lots of attempts at it.
3. They were amazed at his final drawing and how proud he must have felt afterwards.
Again, to my amazement, they were really excited about having a critique group about some art we had just finished- or so they thought. They were excited about it and wanted to have another go, based on feedback from their peers.
So we had a go. How did it work out? That’s the next post!

Digital Modeling Books

My teacher inquiry this year this about creating parent windows into our classroom. Our school focus is to develop a personalised learning pedagogy across our school (in an abreviated ‘nutshell’) and my contribution is to investigate some methods that will enable parents to engage with their children’s learning.

My latest trial is what I’m calling our ‘digital modeling books.’ I wanted to give parents the opportunity to browse through our workshop modeling books when ever they wanted but I realise that for most of them it’s not possible to drop into the classroom. So, I began to drop our paper books (which were the usual scrapbooks that I’ve used for years) and replace them with an ipad and a few handy apps.

Here are the links to our digital books – Literacy and Maths. they are linked off our class blog and created using the following apps.

Paper is a notebook app that lets you draw and write using a range of feltip, pen and pencil effects. It’s pretty addictive and my wife, being an illustrator in a former life, loves getting a hold of it in the evenings. The best thing about paper is that it uploads right into the blogging platform I’m using for the books – Tumblr!

Tumblr is an amazing mobile device, blogging platform. It has a desktop version but I love the simple way you can upload video, pictures and text inside a very smooth app. It really does give your ipad some wings!

Showme is an app I often share with people. It’s an app that will let you draw on pictures or a blank slate and records your voice and images into a video. I’ve started using it to capture teaching moments or things we are discovering together – these are then linked into our digital books.

It’s very early days (8 to be exact) but it seems to have a heap of potential. I’ve had one very positive written comment on our blog from a parent who said that her daughter showed them what we had learned from one workshop and it started a really great conversation that evening. On the flipside I know that there are many parents who haven’t seen the books and are not really interested. My intention, however, is for these to be seen as an opportunity. How to encourage more to take up that opportunity for involvement could be my next work on!

Next time I think I’ll write about the benefits of tehse books that I’m seeing and a few dangers and pitfalls of opening up your classroom like this… I’ll bet any teachers reading could guess what those might be?