Sunday, 6 September 2015

Drawing the Line(s and dots)

I can't be sure but I'm fairly confident in making the assumption that ALL classes love art. My memory of art at primary school was that it involved coloured paint and cartridge paper. It was all very practical and, if I'm completely honest, left this super nerdy kid wanting more. I enjoyed it, but wanted to know more about the artists, the techniques, how to show variation in shading, about different styles and periods... Which all leads me to the Australian Curriculum's version of the Visual Arts.

The Australian Curriculum website says:
Learning in Visual Arts involves students making and responding to artworks, drawing on the world as a source of ideas. Students engage with the knowledge of visual arts, develop skills, techniques and processes, and use materials as they explore a range of forms, styles and contexts.
Through Visual Arts, students learn to reflect critically on their own experiences and responses to the work of artists, craftspeople and designers and to develop their own arts knowledge and preferences. They learn with growing sophistication to express and communicate experiences through and about visual arts. (Visual Arts Overview, Australian Curriculum, accessed September 6th, 2015.)
This actually describes exactly what I wanted as a child. Now, as a teacher, I'm excited to be working within this framework.

Our school is lucky enough to have an onsite Art specialist teacher with whom each class has one lesson per week; clearly not long enough to teach the entirety of the five subjects within the Arts Learning Area.  I probably shouldn't be so excited by this but I am. I HAVE to teach Art. Oh darn. What a shame!  *Happy dance*

Earlier this term, I  guided my kiddos through a short unit of learning in Visual Arts about line and shading.   I started the unit without telling the class what we were going to be learning about. Sounds a bit odd but just go with me for a moment.  I shared four artworks with the kiddos and asked them to pick the odd one out, and to justify their choice.  Which do you choose? Why?

All images are taken from the public domain.
There are, of course, as many different answers as there are people in the conversation. I was looking for some group consensus though about the use of line to create shading. There are a couple of very cluey (and arty) kiddos in the class who started asking questions and requesting to look at the images up close. Without much help from me the class concluded that the burger was the odd one out because it as no shading and is made from all block colours.  It took them about 5 minutes of free discussion to come to this conclusion. How fantastic!

We moved on to look closely at hatching, crosshatching and stippling as the three main ways of using line to shade (as exemplified in the pieces above). Lots more discussion, viewing images and having a go. We rounded out our first session by coming up with a definition of the technique and creating a sampler of 3D shapes using these three techniques.  Just as my personal tip to you all: the sound of 25 pencils all tapping repeatedly on tables is not for the faint of heart or sore of head. Don't say I didn't warn you.

The Art working wall at the end of our first session.
The following week we started with a 'Silent Word Shuffle' (first time I'd ever done one with my class). I didn't put any restrictions on using iPads or the working wall to work out the categories and so there was a very high sense of engagement. The kiddos knew they could figure it out - even if they had to struggle to get it. Perfect example of encouraging a growth mindset!

We moved through a range of learning activities, and then I showed the class some examples of student work to inspire them in developing the success criteria for their art piece. (I have to admit here that I have completely lost the url of the website on which I found this student work.  If it is yours or belongs to someone you know PLEASE tell me so that I can credit you, and find the website again because it was brilliant!)

We constructed this project design using a democratic
process that ensured all voices were included.
You can see how closely our project mirrors the example.
Here are some of the final projects.

The kiddos presented their finished pieces on the big screen at a whole school assembly. I'm not sure whether the big screen or the actual art itself  but my kiddos were very chuffed with the repeated 'oohs' and 'aaaahs' from the the junior primary children.

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 1 Know the students and how they learn
Standard 2 Know the content and how to teach it
Standard 3 Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning

All Those Extra Bits Like Thinking Skills. And Ancient India. And Weebly.

I've mentioned, I think, that we're learning about Ancient India at the moment. It's one of our Ancient World depth studies as outlined in the Australian Curriculum.  We're taking the opportunity to look at a range of ideas including 'who writes history' and whether or not we can trust what we read/view. I appreciate that our team decided to leave this study until the second half of the year because it has given my kiddos more than twenty experiences of Way Back Wednesday (WBW) to develop strong historical thinking and questioning skills.  You know - those extra little bits that are rather hard to explicitly teach but REALLY need to be taught.

Of course, as many of you will know,  my units of learning never stick to one content area and so we're looking at Art, Civics & Citizenship, Geography, Maths and, of course, Literacy as well as History.
I created this meme at
If I'm completely honest, until this year I knew next to nothing about Ancient India. I've been learning alongside the kiddos and have, on more than one occasion, said "I have no idea, but I'm sure you'll be able to teach me!" before offering whatever help is needed to get started.  The idea that they can teach me has been quite a powerful thought for many of my kiddos. For much of our school curriculum it's quite clear (and appropriate) that I know more than them, so it can sometimes frustrate a couple of them when I redirect their questions. "Why do you ask me to figure it out for myself you could just tell me how to do it?"  When they can see and believe that I'm just as new to this as they are they're SO much more motivated to do it themselves. (This raises some interesting questions for me about how we can achieve this in everyday learning when it's quite clear that in my role as teacher I DO know the material.)

Slightly off topic... Sorry.

I've taken the opportunity to get the kids involved in helping me build a website about Ancient India as well.  We're using the Weebly platform which makes it super easy.  At this stage we've only created landing pages and resource collection pages. We've also embedded our brainstorming pad lets.  We'd love for you to have a look (here) and send through your feedback.
If you've never used,  I suggest you have a look because in the time it would take me to explain how easy it is you will be able to create your own website.  True story. Check it out. (And no, I'm not getting any kickbacks - it would be lovely if I did because I send a lot of people there!) I've already raved about but seriously... Go look at that one too.
See! I can do it! (Or rather that linked website can!)
This is a screen grab from our Weebly site.
This is a fantastic opportunity for me to really push the  importance of crediting any images we use.  (Another one of those extra bits that need  to be learnt.) I'm not always the best at this myself so I'm hoping that the process will help me develop some better habits.  Creative Commons Australia website has a great guide, and here is a nifty little attribution builder.

It's a bit unit of learning with lots of extra bits on the side. I'm a little overwhelmed trying to keep it all coherent for the kiddos. Their mid unit reflections seem strong so I think they're doing well, but with 25 different inquiry questions and just as many varied 'learning products' I'm scared I've missed something/one.  Watch this space to see how I/they/we go. (And by this space I really mean the weebly website (here)).

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 1 Know the students and how they learn
Standard 2 Know the content and how to teach it
Standard 3 Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning
Standard 4 Create and maintain supportive and safe learning environments

Saturday, 5 September 2015

QR Code Trail Update & Reflection

I'm super tardy in posting this update on my book week QR Code Trail (the original post is here). Sorry! All I can say is that during book week I found a whole pile of new YA novels that I wanted to read before releasing into the wild my classroom. I finally reached the point of being ready to read Divergent. (Gotta say that I'm loving it way more than the movie, but when do bookworms ever enjoy a movie more than the book.)

The codes went all the way around the school.
Parents had to visit many classrooms to find them.
Back to the topic at hand: here's the update.  We had a small but significant number of parents participate in the trail on the first day of book week.  Some others came back the next day to do it. (Yay!) Some of my kiddos met them, with their iPads, and acted as tour guides. Thank goodness they did! Not all parents had wi-fi, and some didn't have QR readers.   Our school internet connection decided to play hide and seek for most of the afternoon too which didn't really help.

However... The parents  enjoyed the experience. My kiddos were able to talk them through both the process and the literacy concepts that each video covers.  From what I could gather, this aspect of the trail was particularly appreciated. Pretty proud of the kiddos for stepping up like this. 

What did I learn from the process on the day?
In terms of the videos themselves: my learning journey continues. I need to improve the sound quality and reduce background noise. The best comments came from children who were guided through very specific - almost leading - questions rather than allowed to freely discuss the topic.  You're welcome to view the videos on the school's YouTube channel.  We've set them to 'no comments' but I'm keen to hear your feedback through this blog or via twitter (@markeetarp).
In terms of the logistics: iPads don't have the world's loudest speakers. I need to provide headphones, especially if it's windy (as it was). 
In terms of the 'entry form': people rarely carry pens these day so I needed to provide those (which meant my kiddos had to run back to the classroom to grab them). I think a better option would be to set up a google form but that would reduce the drama of pulling a winner out of the hat when we choose the winner of the book voucher (to entice participation). Having said that, it would certainly give us another opportunity to demonstrate another of the e-tools we use in the classroom (random name selector).

I'm inspired to build on this experience in the classroom - both the videos and the QR codes.

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 3 Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning
Standard 4 Create and maintain supportive and safe learning environments
Standard 6 Professional engagement
Standard 7 Engage professionally with colleagues, parents/carers and the community

Sunday, 23 August 2015

QR Code Trail for Book Week

Tomorrow signals the start of Book Week 2015.  Our school has a whole pile of fun events planned - including a fancy dress parade on Thursday (eek!) - including a reading themed  'open house' tomorrow afternoon. We've turned our timetables upside down and are running our literacy blocks after lunch instead of before recess so that parents, grandparents, neighbours, family friends and anyone else interested, can  come and take a peek at the awesome literacy learning we've got going on!

We'll see how it goes. Last year we tried a literacy themed open house one morning and had very few visitors. One of the ways we're hoping to entice more people in this year is with the chance to win a book voucher. We're just that nice! Joking. We totally are that nice, but not made of money so to be in the running to win the book voucher people will need to answer a series of questions based on videos that they'll access using QR codes that will be placed around the school.

Fun idea huh?  I thought so. (Of course I did. I helped come up with it!) I even volunteered to make the trail. It'll be fun I said. It'll be a great learning opportunity I said. It'll be easy I said.

And it has been fun. It has a HUGE learning experience. It has been... Well... OK, it hasn't been easy at all.

I booked a reliever for a half day to get the filming done. And then a meeting was booked, so I lost most of my filming time. Not a huge problem, but it took a little longer than I expected and I was left with less than 2 lessons to film. A lot of the filming I needed to do was in my building, which meant I was right there to witness my kiddos' awful behaviour. Again, not a huge problem, but dealing with it ate up more of my time. A 'social media' related issue broke while I was in the building and I ended up sitting in on the initial discussions with some of the students involved. I'm glad I was there for it, but again... Time was ticking away.  I am so grateful to the teachers who lent me students for filming, rearranged their schedules to let me film and particularly to Ms Sally Slattery who filmed the junior primary students for me.

iMovie is not a daily use programme for me. In fact I'm pretty inexperienced. The movies are OK, but I can't see Spielberg calling anytime soon. I'm so pleased I pushed through and feel much more confident now.  I can't wait to do more movie making with the kiddos now - usually I feel really out of my depth but think I might be able to offer more meaningful advice now.

YouTube is driving me mad. To be fair, it's not YouTube's fault.  The internet speed at my house has been heinously slow on weekends ever since Netflix hit Australia. In the end I packed up my computer and head over to a friend's house with a bottle of red wine and my best puppy dog face. He works at home for HP so usually has a super quick connection. Even there it took a couple of hours! Not happy!!

Next up are the QR codes. No major problems there. Although when I printed the codes and questions I discovered that my son had left some delightful green paper in the tray and we're almost out of black ink. Of course we are. Nevermind. I'll either use these or reprint in the morning at school.  If only my laminator hadn't gone missing during the last school holidays... Hmmmm.

This whole process is gambling on participants having QR code readers on their devices. We've invited them to come to the school library before starting the trail and my kiddos will help them download one if necessary.  Keep your fingers crossed that the school internet is playing nicely! (It hasn't been for the last couple of days.)

I'll update tomorrow when I get some feedback from participants.  I so hope it works, but am pleased to have done what I have even if not a single soul participates because I've learnt a lot.

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 3 Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning
Standard 4 Create and maintain supportive and safe learning environments
Standard 6 Professional engagement
Standard 7 Engage professionally with colleagues, parents/carers and the community

Saturday, 22 August 2015

To Sum It Up

One of the things that constantly surprises me is the way middle school kiddos struggle to take notes of key ideas and then summarise what they've read. Summarising plays a big part of our school's reading scope and sequence so it's somewhat of a mystery but it is what it is, and so we'll work with it!

We do a lot of research in middle school; a lot of  inquiry learning. To my dismay more than a couple of kiddos have recently fallen into the ol' trap of copying and pasting 'facts' that 'answer' their questions. *sigh*  As we're heading into quite a large inquiry topic I decided that it's time to revisit a couple of ways of notetaking and summarising.

One particular lesson really grabbed the kiddos' attention.  I started by sharing a short article from the British Museum's Ancient India website. (We've just started investigating Ancient India. We'll be building a website and would love your input. You can check it out here.)
This is a screen shot from
After reading the text aloud - it's a little complex for some of my kiddos, and we had a friend visiting from the small class for a reverse integration session - I left the article on the screen and asked everyone to choose one word that stood out to them as the most important one in the whole text. I quickly entered these onto and we came up with this:
Each word was justified by its contributor which was quite thought provoking and meant that the next step of writing a one sentence summary of the article was probably easier for everyone.

Here is a selection of the sentences at this stage:

  • India is an extreme land with lots of challenges and powerful rivers.
  • India is extreme and challenging.
  • In ancient times, the subcontinent of India was challenged when civilization had to make extreme changes to their lives by the Indus River.
  • Ancient India has powerful rivers flowing through it.
  • The subcontinent of ancient India has varied, extreme weather and it is a challenge for the civilisations that live there.
Quite a range of understanding!

The next step involved each student choosing a phrase from the text that they thought carried the most information. Again, I entered them into and here is our outcome:
Again, each phrase was justified by its contributor and everyone wrote a one sentence summary based on both word clouds.

Here is a selection of these sentences.
  • India is an ancient land full of insane rivers and hectic lands.
  • Water flows through ancient India’s land.
  • Ancient Indians lived on rivers which passed as an obstacle with the wild weather.
  • Ancient India has a rough landscape and rough rivers.
  • Ancient India is land that you need to adjust to and is hard to live in.
  • It is very remote and hard in ancient India.
  • It is a strong meaningful article telling us about the rivers and land.
I'm not sure about the mental health of the rivers but on the whole the sentences give a pretty good - brief - summary of the article.

And the kiddos 'got it'. They didn't have the article in front of them to write the sentences, just the word clouds. We discussed the idea that summarising means distilling the important parts out of the text and focussing on them. The word clouds help us do that by showing us visually which we thought were the important words and phrases were.

We looked at one other technique during this lesson.  I, again, chose a short article from the same website and read it aloud.  As a class we decided what the important word or phrase in each sentence was, and highlighted it in orange. We noticed that not all sentences really added anything new and so we didn't need to highlight anything, but that some sentences really had a couple so we went back and added some green highlights.  These words became the keywords that students used to write their summaries. 

This was originally a screenshot from
We've still got a long way to go, but we're making progress.  What techniques do you use to teach notetaking, key words and summarising?

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 1 Know students and how they learn
Standard 2 Know the content and how to teach it
Standard 3 Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning
Standard 4 Create and maintain supportive and safe learning environments

Monday, 17 August 2015

Thinking about Book Clubs Part II

Remember those infographics I created for my book clubs? I blogged about them here. At least one of you asked for a follow up post on how they were received. Here it is! This one's for you Adrienne.

This could, in reality, be a super short post because the individual cards were received extremely favourably and have been described as changing the way a particular book club runs. However, we all know that short, sharp and shiny is not really how I roll.

The first group I used the cards with I was in a bit of hurry and assumed - because they're cluey kids - that they would take the time to read the cards and just know how to use them. Yeah well. We can all guess how well that went can't we? The kiddos returned some time later with miserable looks on their faces because they'd had an argument over how much they needed to read during the book club time. Cue deathly silence.

"You weren't reading during your meeting though were you?"
"Yes. We'd made a couple of predictions and couldn't think of anything else to talk about so we just got on with reading."

I'm surprised I didn't inhale the child standing closest to me as I took a very slow and deep breath. 

"Let's go over the book club process again."

We revisited the process and the purpose of book clubs before reviewing the cards. It was delightful to see the little bulbs of recognition and understanding lighting up as we talked. Less delightful was the growing realisation that I'd left this group to independent meetings way too early. I was left hoping that the damage the premature independence had caused wasn't permanent.  

The following week I offered to join the club - as an observer - but was turned down. They'd talked about my likely offer and had decided to give it another go on their own first. Watching them walk out of the room actually made my stomach churn. 

It shouldn't have.  I went out to check close to the end of the lesson and they were still deeply engrossed in their discussions. They were flipping through their novels and talking about the strategies they were using. I saw all of them refer to the card to help find the words to describe their thinking. And they didn't even notice me loitering in the doorway watching. 


We had our 3-way interviews very soon afterwards and one of these kids described book club as one of his highlights of the year, with the last meeting being an extraordinary experience.  Not bad hey?

The other ongoing book club is a little further along in their development. They've all done it before and know the drill. BUT... They've enjoyed the reminder the cards have offered them. I recorded their meeting last week (for a school wide literacy QR trail that I'm building for book week) and was overjoyed to hear them describe the pleasure, learning and challenge they get from book club.  Listening to them bounce ideas off each other and make connections to other books they've read reminded me of my own book club (with the notable absence of coffee and wine). 
Reading is such an important part of my life, and my book club offers me a different - richer - way to experience reading. I'm pleased that my infographic cards are helping my students along their journey to this experience.

Are you part of a book club? I'd love to hear your reading stories.

Sidenote: if you're in Adelaide I highly recommend the shop that hosts our book club. You can check it out here or on this short video. 

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 2 Know the content and how to teach it
Standard 3 Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning
Standard 4 Create and maintain supportive and safe learning environments

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Are you a Weetbix kid?

For many months there has been an ongoing conversation in our classroom about the fact that despite what Sanitarium wants us to believe, not all Aussie kids are Weetbix kids. One kiddo in particular finds this idea (like Weetbix) hard to swallow. He regularly tells us that this is wrong, just plain wrong.

Can you see where this was going?

Well, I'll get there in a minute because the learning that lead to that was pretty exciting too.  Many of the kiddos and I have been avid watchers of Masterchef this season. It's coming to a close and, naturally, we've all got our favourites.  I talked this up a little and in Masterchef style I gave each person a token to vote for their one of two likely candidates for the finalists. Somehow we ended up with 28 votes, from 24 people. I couldn't have asked for a better way to raise the issue of tainted data!

Our next foray into data collection was a Google form.  (You can check out the form I used here.) As I mentioned last time, we've recently started learning about Asia. The Google form asked a couple of questions with different types of answers. We looked at how easy it would be to analyse the data from each question. (As a side note,  it acted as a quick and dirty form of formative assessment about Asia and the data analysis was pretty simple: we've got a long way to go!) Again we had more answers than people. This was mostly because I set up the form that way.  Once the kiddos realised that was my design choice"e they flew quickly into questioning data collection methods across the board.
"Is that how advertising companies come up with their funny statistics?"
"You could come up with any statistics you want to come up with this way. How is that ethical?"
"What other ways can you arrange the data to say what you want?"
"How did the Weetbix people get their data?"
Bam! There was the link.  Everyone fell silent and turned to me. I shrugged... To be honest I don't know so I turned it back on them. "How do you think they get it?"  No one was sure so we tabled the question for a moment while I got everyone up on their feet in groups of ten.  The makers of Weetbix claim that 9 out of 10 Aussie kids are raised on Weetbix so I figured that we'd work with two sample groups of ten to make comparisons.  I posed a couple of questions asking kiddos to move to different sides of the room:

  1. Who eats Weetbix regularly? In both groups only 3 out of 10 kiddos eat it regularly. Hardly the 9 out 10 kids Sanitarium claims.
  2. Who has ever eaten Weetbix? 10 out of 10 kiddos in one group and 8 out of 10 in the other to make an average of 9/10. Much more like Sanitarium's claim.
Or are they?
And the conversation was off. The realisation that data only answers the specific question asked was a very powerful one. The link to advertising and politics was instant, while the links to science were a little slower.   We never really found a definitive answer to the question of how Sanitarium got their data but we made a few hypotheses. 

We spent the rest of our lesson building data displays of the data I'd sneakily collected earlier that day.  For home learning the previous evening they had been asked to spend 20 minutes practising mindfulness, and on arriving at school they had to share what they had done (on a sticky note). We discussed this a a form of data collection and the challenged associated with collecting and analysing qualitative data. The challenge of grouping responses was evident as we created a tally and frequency chart. I had sneakily turned the responses into a word cloud while the kiddos were at PE earlier in the day so I presented this as one form of data display and asked if it was effective or easy to read. 

Resoundingly no!  So I challenged them to do better.  

We've posted them on one of our internal windows and asked the other students in our building which  data display is the most effective.  Which one do you think works best?

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 1 Know students and how they learn
Standard 2 Know the content and how to teach it
Standard 3 Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning

Thursday, 23 July 2015

I say data, you say dAta...

We're working on statistics and data at the moment.  I threw the kiddos in the deep end by providing a  pile of data displays and letting them investigate.  Here's what we discovered:

Our next step was a snap shot of our current thinking about the definition of data, which we did on

Some interesting ideas here that we delved into:
  • History you can check - this raised the notion of qualitative versus quantitative data
  • Sorted information - this raised some question about the difference between data and information. I didn't give the the answer to this quandary yet, I'm still hopeful that they'll come to it themselves.
  • Collection of information - not yet having distinguished between data and information this was the most exciting point for me because it came up time and again which told me that there was a basic understanding.
We ran through a whole gamut of possibilities of what constitutes data to try to whittle down our understanding even further; and then compared which type of data might be easier to represent or analyse.

After much to-ing and fro-ing we took another snapshot of our understanding.

Information still features highly (as does funky?!?!) but there's a broader range of ideas now.

At this point, once again I've thrown them in the deep end. I directed them to the CIA World Factbook to collect data to build a data display comparing Australia with 9 other countries in Asia.  That was my whole instruction. A couple of looks of disbelief later (not sure if that was from the ridiculously ambiguous task instruction or mention of using CIA data) they all scurried away to get into it.
Asia, and Australia's place in it, is a topic we've just started this week. It's tied loosely to a big unit on Ancient India we'll be doing with our whole team later in the term but we're starting more contemporarily and broadly.  
General knowledge of which countries are actually in Asia was pretty scant. I will admit to being surprised, but gave everyone the benefit of the doubt because we've only just started learning about it.  Call me mean, but I let them all struggle with finding the relevant countries. A few had a look at the map on the wall, some others pulled out old-school atlases, a couple searched for 'lists of Asian countries' on Google. The rest turned to me. And I smiled and asked them to have another think.  Ha!

As a group they were pretty tech savvy so the act of making a data display wasn't a particularly big challenge. Choosing the right data display for the data they'd collected is a slightly different matter, and prompted some rich discussions.

How do you teach data and statistics?

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 2 Know the content and how to teach it
Standard 3 Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning

Friday, 17 July 2015

Thinking about Book Clubs

One of the exciting parts of my school's literacy programme is the inclusion of book clubs.  Not just as extension for our high flyers but for everyone.  I'll admit that it's part of our programme that I'm not brilliant at implementing but I have big plans this term to improve that.

One of my existing book club groups has not loved their experience so far; I know that this is, in large part, my fault. I haven't given them as much guidance and input as I should have done. With this in mind I've created a couple of info graphic style posters and hand outs.

This first one is in response to some confusion about how a book club is meant to run.  If you click on the image you'll be able to download a copy. (I think? Please let me know if you can't!)

This second one is a quick little 'cheat sheet' to prompt the sorts of discussions that can happen in book club. Again, feel free to download it if you like.

What do you think? I'm keen for feedback.

Edit (August 17th 2015): You can read my follow up post here.

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 2 Know the content and how to teach it
Standard 3 Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning
Standard 4 Create and maintain supportive and safe learning environments

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Teachmeet Love

One of the ways I like to learn about what's going on in other teachers' heads/rooms/offices is through attending teachmeets.
Teachmeets have been around since 2006 and are a casual meeting of educators who want to learn from each other.  Originally starting in an Edinburgh pub (unsurprisingly) the gist was for people to share some idea, good practice, innovation or techno-tip in either  2 or 7 minutes. The idea spread and these days teachmeets are held all over the world in pubs, staff rooms, breakout rooms at conferences, and wherever teachers gather.  For more information you can try here, here, and here.
This week saw me present at a teachmeet for the second time ever. The first time I spoke about answergarden and padlet as collaborative classroom tools.  The range of other topics was inspiring. You can check it out Selena Woodward's storify from the live tweeting here:

This particular teachmeet had a theme (some so, some don't): wellbeing.  It's a hot topic at the moment isn't it?  I chose to speak about a particular strategy I use with my students to develop mindfulness. It is, at a very basic level, a guided mediation.  We 'go to the beach' and focus on all of our senses.  It has been a powerful tool for many of my kiddos both at school and home. So, it was an ideal concept to share. [AND I had my first play with haiku deck (following @tina_p's inspiration at the last teachmeet). You can check out my super basic presentation here. (It doesn't actually say anything so don't expect anything too exciting!)]

Anyway, here's the storify for this teachmeet.

If you ever have the chance to attend - or even better: share at - a teachmeet, GO FOR IT! I promise it's worth it. 

And: if you're in Adelaide why not follow @tmadelaide on Twitter or join the Facebook Teach Meet Adelaide Facebook group to hear all the details about the next event? 

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 6 Engage in professional learning
Standard 7 Engage professionally with colleagues, parents/carers and the community

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Reflect Growth

One of our most basic human needs is belonging. It's not the most basic - that would be wi-fi these days - but it's right up there. Belonging to someone or something bigger than ourselves is a constant driver for (most) people. It's why we check Facebook umpteen times a day, it's why we join book clubs and it's why we buy cats! Cats aside, or maybe not, it's really about a need for community.

This year I've found myself part of a new online community. I know that there are hordes of people out there (assuredly not reading this blog) who claim that social networks and online communities are Bad. Yes, capital B Bad.  You know what I think?  I think they were wrong about video killing the radio star and they're wrong about this too.

I even did a little research on the topic and found that I'm not alone. In fact:
"Despite the opinion of some, real community and sense of belonging can be found and nurtured online through participation, collaboration, storytelling and exchange of information." 
May 16, 2015, Do Re Media
This year, I've found myself part of a new and exciting online community of educators called Reflect Growth.  We are are an online community of educators working together to share professional practices and co-create a piece of software.  I'll get to the software in a moment, because it's a bit exciting, but for me the delight has been in finding a community of (mostly local) teachers who share my goal of active professional growth and reflection. Meeting these educators, in person and online, has been refreshing and inspiring.  It's met some of my need for belonging to a community.

And a community it is. We share, amongst other things like coffee and cake,  inspirations, frustrations and goals. We challenge each other's thinking and explore ideas. We've been taking apart the AITSL Professional Standards for Teachers to work out what they really mean, and have hypothesised whether the introduction of them is the precursor of Ofsted style inspections like in the UK. We've talked about the TfEL framework and how it links with our understanding of effective teaching and learning. Pedagogy, padagogy, Blooms, Gardner... You name it, and we've been there. Even if only briefly.

It's been a very busy little community. Much more so than any I've been in before, which begs the question of why?  I have an inkling.  A couple actually.

  1. Strong and active foundational members
  2. A driving purpose

The couple who launched the Reflect Growth community are originally from the UK, but moved to Australia - presumably for the weather - a few years back. Since arriving, Selena has taken the education world of South Australia by storm and is well known as a mover and shaker. When she speaks, people listen. Her voice demands to be heard (which is actually doubly true when you consider her operatic training) and she put the call out for teachers to get involved with driving their own professional development.  The other half of this (actually very quietly spoken) duo is Matt. Full of ideas and technological know how he is a man with a mission.  Together these two are a force to be reckoned with! They hold us together as a community and, it seems, genuinely care.

I'll come back to the software I mentioned earlier. Still in the early stages of development the app is being designed to support teachers in driving their own professional development. It will help identify areas for growth and collect evidence to support it. Today, I've been privileged to spend some time playing with the prototype. I can't speak highly enough of it!

Next up for the community looks to be teacher challenges that will see us share our practice in an open setting. A version of a virtual classroom visit, sort of, with the opportunity for/expectation of feedback from other community members. Eeek! New ideas and feedback!  Can you see why I enjoy this community so much?

Come join our community at! The more the merrier.

(Incidentally, you can check it out on Facebook during your umpteen checks here. Or Twitter here.)

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 6 Engage in professional learning
Standard 7 Engage professionally with colleagues, parents/carers and the community

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Effective Learning

Yesterday I spent the first official day of the school holidays at a TfEL professional development day about Effective Learning for All.  It was the first of three such sessions available and whilst I had already been to the first session a couple of years ago I am very pleased to have had this second opportunity: I've changed a lot since then, and so has the TfEL team.

Last time I left more confused about TfEL than when I arrived. I use TfEL in my planning now so it's somewhat less of a mystery to me BUT I left this session feeling at peace with my understanding.  I learnt some new ideas but nothing that contradicted or confused me. Phew!

We spent most of the morning 'unpacking' the TfEL framework into the four domains, then elements and finally essences.  The presenting team modelled the use of a range of strategies found in the TfEL Companion and on the website. It was great to see the team practise what they preach. (Not that they preach!  Honestly! They're more like a cheer squad, but you know what I mean!) And it was inspiring to hear stories of how different schools have really taken on board various elements of the framework.

Of course, I might be a little biased in saying that. You might remember that last year I wrote about my school being involved in a  TfEL pilot project about student voice? (You can read that post here.) The project also built our school's use of growth mindset language and the learning pit. One of my students and I were invited to give a short presentation about how all of these things have changed our experiences of school.  We were encouraged to speak personally so we stood with two microphones and had a conversation about how it all works in our classroom. (I was impressed, but not surprised, by the composure of my student. She's a bit of a rockstar in terms of her mindset - always willing to give things a go if it means learning something new.)

The big take home message for me? I'm not sure there was one. I have a long list of resources I want to explore and a few ideas around the difference between personalised and individual learning that  I need to develop. One of the discussions we had early in the day was about defining effective learning for all, and this topic came up.  I'm wrestling with it because whilst there was a bit of consensus that they are analogous: I don't agree. You might be able to see our group's definition in the photo. (If not, it says "meaningful and personalised engagement with ideas and knowledge that leads to applied understanding".)  I'm not in love with this definition either but it represented our group's understanding meaningfully at the time.

Don't you love our group's visual representation of the morning's learning?  I'm going to brag and share that it was chosen by the presenting team to share at the end of the day to wrap up all of our learning.  Nice to know that we were hearing the message they were trying to give us.

I live tweeted on the day using #tfeltalk, of course. I was almost alone in doing so which saddened me because I have discovered that my best learning happens in the back channel of such sessions.  You can check out my (first ever) storify of the day below.

End of Term Feedback

Shhh.... Can you hear that?  That's the sound of teachers all over South Australia taking a well earned break. Whether your break is at Cirque du Soleil (like me after school on the last day of term), at a friend's house (like me later that night), at a winery (like me on the weekend), at a professional development conference with one of your students (like me yesterday) or in a coffee shop (like me this morning), or renovating your house (like me ALL the time) I hope you enjoy your break! (Sheesh, after that recap I'm starting to realise why I'm still so tired!)

The end of term is hard for everyone. For some young people the idea of leaving their safe space for a couple of weeks is daunting. For others the lack of social contact over the break is difficult.  I even have a couple of kiddos who miss learning. Woah! Right?!?!  (They are the ones who will read this blog post: you know who you are!)  For me, as a teacher, one of the hardest parts is knowing that it will be two whole weeks before I can act on what I've learnt from the students' end of term feedback about me.  

Yeah yeah, first world teacher problem. Got it.  

So this term I'm going to share some of my reflections about their feedback right here.  

 Let me start by sharing our process.  Each student uses four mini slips of coloured paper and we talk about the kinds of feedback that will be helpful.  (I learnt that the hard way after being told that I should stop wearing jeans which is particularly funny seeing as I've worn jeans to school on approximately 3 occasions EVER.)

It's become a bit of a tradition for me to read the slips on the way home.  I usually read them aloud to my husband and we start to identify trends.  It's a good way to close off the term and start my own reflections.  

There aren't usually many surprises because I seek a LOT of ongoing feedback from my kiddos.  I decided to make word clouds from the feedback this term to see if anything really stood out. 

Nice to see teaching there! I'm not surprised WBW is there (because most of the class really enjoy the organic nature of the activity), and am excited that mentor sentences have popped up. That's something new for me this year.  I'm also really pleased to see so many variations of "pushing me to be the best I can be" and "focusing on what individuals need". 

Fitness is a bit of a no brainer - I have a few vocal boys who ask for this several times a day EVERY day.  Spelling?  We've been talking about various groups needing more explicit spelling lessons so I'm pleased to see this.   I'm sad that I'm not stretching and helping people enough so that's something I can definitely improve on next term. 

There's a fair bit of interest in changing up our lessons too.  I'll take that under advisement and we will get up,  out and about more next term.

This term I've been through some personal challenges and have noticed a change in my own behaviour at school.  The kiddos have clearly noticed too.  I need to stop yelling. I. NEED. TO. STOP. YELLING. It doesn't work anyway. I know that. Time for a change.

Reading and maths aren't something I'm willing (or able) to drop but attending to the attention seeking behaviour and tolerating obnoxious noises are both very fair pieces of feedback.  I am aware of this and have already been making huge efforts to change.  I'll keep plugging away and seek some feedback from my mentors. 

Reading us the curriculum is a strategy I've been using this year when working with the class to develop our own rubrics.  Only one student mentioned it and I recognised their writing so I'll address this personally.

We had a LOT of ongoing projects at the end of the term. It was confusing and overwhelming - even for me.  I think I'll set up a GANNT chart next term so that we can programme our learning better.

Bless their cotton socks for saying nothing. Clearly the prospect of a pizza lunch was getting to them. :)  Another few things here that I'm not in a position to stop and some that I need to address. Shouting rears its head here too. Interesting that it's shouting here but yelling in the previous one. (I wonder if the 3 individuals who said shouting were sitting together?)

I find it interesting that I've been told I'm both strict (something I do well) and give too many chances (something I should stop).  I suppose both are true. I am very clear and consistent in my expectations but/and there are some students who legitimately need more support to make the best choice.   Only 1 student commented that I give too many chances, but I will address this with the whole class early in the term.  

So many important things to think about and learn from!

The kiddos also do a self reflection using the same headings on a single A5 sheet. Fascinating reading, and lots of help in planning for the next term.

Do you have a particular feedback/reflection tool that you use at the end of term?

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 1 Know students and how they learn
Standard 2 Know the content and how to teach it
Standard 3 Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning
Standard 4 Create and maintain supportive and safe learning environments

Friday, 29 May 2015

Bandaid Solution? Worked For Me!

One of my young people has been struggling at school lately. Not with the academic content so much as the 'other stuff'.  We've seen a constant stream of low level back chat, a never ending commentary on everyone's actions and a fairly persistent resistance to participation. Over the last couple of days we've had several chats about what I can/need to do to help and the consistent answer has been along the lines of:
"You don't want to help me! Whenever I ask for help you don't give me the help I want. You only ever help other people. You aren't helpful."
 Wow. Ever been punched in the guts?  That's pretty much how I've been feeling.  I love this kid, in spite of their accompanying challenges. In fact it's possibly because of the their accompanying challenges that they have such a soft spot in my heart.  These words stopped me in my tracks. After much soul-searching and reflection I realised that perhaps the individual relationships I have with my students is part of the problem.  Or rather, not the relationships themselves, but the fact that my relationship with each child is so different and results in highly individualised treatment which isn't necessarily understood by everyone else in the class.

I had to do something and quickly.

I called everyone together in a circle and we had a brief discussion about the different relationships we all have with each other. Aside from a few small pockets of resistance to this idea, nearly everyone was accepting of this concept. I asked everyone to imagine that they'd injured themselves somehow.  They shared their injury with the class while I dug around in the cupboard (making a big show of not listening). Each student was handed a bandaid (sticking plaster?) and asked to apply it to the back of their left hand to help fix their imaginary injury.

"But my injury is on my rib! How will this help?"
"And mine is a smashed leg! This won't do anything!"
"That's the point guys. If she gives us all the same treatment none of us get what we need."
Indeed. The class went on to articulate that because I didn't know what kind of help or where they needed help I wasn't actually able to help them AND that treating them all the same wasn't remotely helpful.  The connection to each of them having different learning needs was seamless, and from there the individualised relationships were not a particularly big leap.

Shortly after, my troubled student sidled up to me and whispered:
"I think I know why I've been acting so silly in class, calling out and all that. Can I talk to you about it after school?"
You betcha!  The outcome: some general stress about stuff going on at home and a desire to feel 'equal'.  I queried this word.
"Equal is the wrong word. I want to be important, but you said we're all important so I have to trust you that I am. I guess I need to remember that if you treat me different to someone else it's 'cos I am."
Yes it is. Yes. It. Is. If that wasn't the best way to end the week, we went on to talk about the idea that sometimes the help that we want isn't the help we need AND that I've worked really hard to be in a position to  know what and how to offer the needed help so trusting me is a good thing. Holy moly.

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 1 Know students and how they learn
Standard 4 Create and maintain supportive and safe learning environments

Monday, 25 May 2015

Food Revolution Day 2015

Recently my class was privileged to celebrate Jamie Oliver's 2015 Food Revolution Day at Jamie's local Ministry of Food Pop Up centre.  In case you've never heard of Food Revolution Day you can hear all about it from the man himself:

Our school was offered the sponsored opportunity of sending one class to the centre to be involved and I JUMPED on it.  Aside from being a bit of a Jamie tragic myself, I relished the opportunity to expose my students to a range of foods that they may not ordinarily see/taste in their everyday lives. The date for 2015 Food Revolution happened to fall on the Friday of NAPLAN week which was rather fortuitous! (The prospect of the excursion certainly helped keep morale up on the testing days.) An excursion that involves food and is free? Can you ask for a better way to end NAPLAN week?

You can also imagine how popular this excursion was with the parents: LOTS of parent helper volunteers! (Massive thank you to the parent who stepped in at the last minute when sickness put the kibosh on earlier plans.) The other advantage was that the PopUp is a large fishbowl so many parents, aunts, cousins and grandparents were able to come and watch the fun on the day.

Our local Pop Up centre is only a few kilometres (4.7 to be exact) up the road from school so after much uming and ahing and a lengthy risk assessment with school leadership I decided we would walk. (This also kept the excursion as being free, thereby ensuring the highest level of participation possible.) Predicting how unpopular this choice would be I planned a Maths Trail for our walk there so that we could take our time. Stay tuned for a future post about that.   In the meantime let me leave you with these words: "this was awesome, why can't maths always be this fun?"

Our session at the Pop Up centre was planned meticulously by the Ministry of Food team.  We arrived to find the fresh food and kitchen tools all set up and ready to go.  

Doesn't this look amazing?
Our trainers welcomed us warmly and helped everyone to understand the importance of hygiene in any food preparation.  Everyone jumped into an official Jamie Oliver apron (just a little idol worship from a few students) and we got stuck into our cooking experience.  The trainers guided the VRPs through a video of Jamie cooking a Squash It Sandwich (you can check out the recipe here). You should have seen the kiddos go - what child wouldn't be hooked by smashing their lunch with a rolling pin? 

The sandwiches were filled with a wide range of fruit, veggies, herbs, seeds, legumes and cottage cheese.  They smelled amazing!  The interesting part for me was watching my students' faces as they tried the sandwiches. There was a full range from delight to distaste, with more positive than not. Many of my students were a little puzzled by the lack of meat which lead to some fascinating discussions about the absolute need (or otherwise) for it in our diet. Several students were surprised that they enjoyed cottage cheese. Almost everyone liked the humous.  Even allowing for the children who weren't in love with the overall taste, the reception was favourable.

Food Revolution Day received a LOT of media coverage globally.  Of the three sessions that our local Pop Up ran on the day, ours was chosen by local media to be the focus. We were filmed by a couple of news programmes and had scores of still photos taken for print/digital media.  I was incredibly impressed by the poise of my students as they were filmed and, in some cases, interviewed.    The still photo shoot was great fun for all, especially the two focus children.    You can see the photojournalist setting up his focus children in this screen shot from Jamie's Ministry of Food Australia's Facebook page. 

I think the look on their faces says it all!
So what did we learn from this experience? Quite a lot actually. Not just the obvious message about healthy eating but how we all deal with the unknown. We've been working hard at developing growth mindsets of late, so this was a great test of that. One particular young man told me that he didn't believe that he could live up to our school values and agreements while we were out of the school for the day. I told him that *I* believed he could, then asked him to trust me to have enough belief for the both of us. He did trust me, and he learnt that he could do it.  (Pretty proud moment for both of us!) Another student was a bit concerned about his ability to walk that far, but gave it a go and did it easily. Still another was worried that the maths would be too hard for him. He engaged with every single maths idea, and was the voice of my earlier quote. Everyone learnt something.

If you ever get the chance to take your class to a Ministry of Food centre: DO IT! It's a brilliant experience.

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 1 Know students and how they learn
Standard 3 Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning
Standard 4 Create and maintain supportive and safe learning environments