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