Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Some Choices Make Me Sad

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Choices by Markeeta Roe is licensed under a
  Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
This afternoon I helped one of my young people choose some learning tasks to keep him busy tomorrow while he's suspended.  I loathe suspension as a concept. Loathe it. I feel like a complete failure as a teacher. I question all of my choices: everything I did or didn't do that might have contributed to the situation. In some cases, it's really clear that none of my choices would have influenced the outcome at all. Other times, it's a little harder. Today it's harder.  Don't get me wrong: rationally, I understand that the choices this young person made were not my choices. As a relational teacher though, I can't help but wonder where I could have made different choices that would have helped him make different choices. I'm not arrogant or naive enough to think I could have prevented this, but I do need to reflect on the choices I've made.

And I will reflect, but for now: I'm sad. I'm sad for the choices that this young person made that lead to this point; for the choice that we, as a school, had to make; that this is the only choice left to our school to protect the rights of the many (at, what some might say, the expense of the rights of one); but most of all for the fractured relationships left in the wake of this choice.

Choices huh?

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 4 Create and maintain supportive and safe learning environments

Monday, 13 June 2016

Percy's Complication

To round out last year, my colleague and I cranked out a unit of learning based on Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson The Lightning Thief. We covered a ridiculous amount of ground in the last couple of weeks, and the kids loved it.  Who am I kidding? I loved it.

So, when I found out that the history topic my current class needed to learn about was Ancient Greece, I could feel Percy tapping me on the shoulder. I quickly bought the ebook for my iPad and set to work planning.

The learning outcomes for this unit are quite different (and the kiddos are brand new to me) so our learning is, of course, very different. One thing I was super keen to keep though was a narrative project. The basic premise: choose an Ancient Greek god and write a narrative with the demigod child of that god as the protagonist. The god must be involved in either the complication or the resolution somehow.

And therein lay the problem or the complication.  I discovered pretty quickly that the class needed a review of narrative structure. (Ha! See what I did there? Oh dear, I'm laughing at my own jokes. That's sad.)

I gave out sticky notes and we used everyone's contribution to co-construct a shared understanding.

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Plot Mountain Anchor Chart by Markeeta Roeis licensed under a 
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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Plot Mountain Anchor Chart Introduction Detail  
by Markeeta Roe is licensed under a 
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Plot Mountain Anchor Chart Series of Events Detail
by Markeeta Roe is licensed under a 
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Plot Mountain Anchor Chart Characters Detail 
by Markeeta Roe is licensed under a 
Again, the anchor chart has been a great scaffolding tool for many of the kiddos. They've also been working with a graphic organiser I created to mirror the chart. I've built the organiser into the project's assessment rubric and conferred during this pre-writing stage to offer 'feedforward' (rather than 'feedback').  As fate would have it, I happened to read a blog post (that you can read here) about this very idea over the weekend.
It was rather affirming to read, and a timely reminder to keep it up.

I'll update as the narratives take shape. I can't wait to see how the kiddos incorporate their inquiries into Ancient Greece into their narratives.

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 7 Engage professionally with colleagues, parents/carers and the community

Sunday, 12 June 2016

My First GoAnimate Video

For one of my M.Ed topics I had to create a video that tells the story of the role of ICT in contemporary education.  Considering the time that went into this, I thought I'd share it here as well.

I've already had it pointed out that even in this, an assignment about ICT, I've managed to bring in my strong views around social justice. My answer to that is that the story of ICT in education isn't complete without it being mentioned.  I could create a video on just that.

I can't say that it was my favourite assignment ever, but I did get to fool around on GoAnimate for the first time (and learnt LOTS) so I can't really complain. If you've never had a look at it, I highly recommend it. The biggest downside is that it's a paid service so it's not super accessible for use with students. On the upside, it's quite intuitive and easy to achieve a reasonable looking result.  And again, whilst I didn't enjoy the assignment, I will admit that the thinking involved in synthesising a story was an effective way of pulling together the semester's learning.  I'm not sure that primary school aged children have the metacognitive capacities to pull something like this off, but perhaps I'm wrong. Anyone have any experience?

I'm also curious to speak with someone who's used both GoAnimate and Powtoon, for a comparison. I've never found Powtoon particularly easy to use so haven't ever persisted with it. Perhaps now that I've achieved a degree of success with GoAnimate I might find Powtoon more intuitive?

Can I also share that two out of my four topics for this semester are now FINISHED? (As in, no more classes, no more books, no more teachers' dirty looks... Ooops, they come from me when I realise we've still got an hour to go and I'm already so tired I could spit!) Actually, what I mean is that we've finished our classes and I've handed in all of the assignments. What a relief!

This is a tough post to relate to the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers because it demonstrates a high level of 'meta-reflection' on standards 1 through 4 & 7, but it's really about MY learning which is standard 6. *sigh* I'm curious to know how all y'all would link it? For now I'm going to relate it to everything other than standard 5, because it's the weekend and time to live it up a lil'!
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
Standard 6 Engage in professional learning and improve practice
Standard 7 Engage professionally with colleagues, parents/carers and the community

Friday, 10 June 2016

Sharing My Reading Life

I don't know about you, but I can't remember a time when reading wasn't an integral part of my life.  It isn't something I do on the side or an 'added extra'; it's actually part of who I am.  So it was almost impossibly difficult, for me, to fathom a life that didn't have 'to read' piles in most rooms, a passionate opinion about folded corners v bookmarks and friends who exist only in my imagination and on the pages in which we met.  Until I met my husband. 

He is, most definitely, not a reader. Don't get me wrong, he read. He enjoyed it actually, but it didn't bring him the same core deep satisfaction. I struggled with this for a long time: how could he just get into bed and go to sleep? What did he do whilst waiting for an appointment? Where did he escape? Here was a way of life that made no sense to me. I questioned him. I nagged him (oh yeah, there's that wife of the year nomination again). I interviewed him about possible reading traumas in his childhood.  I even engaged in some serious guerilla reading propaganda attacks to bring about change. 

It didn't work. I realised that my approach was completely wrong. My goal was to convince him that he should read, and that he should love it. Ha! How foolish!

And how reminiscent of so many of the ways we teach reading in schools. We tell our students that they must read and we expect them to engage with the process willingly, if not happily. We offer intervention for those who struggle to read, and fret over those who won't. It's a lot like my guerilla attacks.

You know what? None of that works either. Kids, just like my husband, don't end up loving reading because we make them read or because we tell them they should.

I eventually wore out and concluded that my husband was - and don't get me wrong, I love him dearly - deeply flawed and beyond my capacity to help. (Oops, did I just say that out loud?) I let go. I stopped nagging. I stopped questioning. I stopped reading (excuse the pun) into everything he ever said about his childhood. I stopped planting books. And went back to my own reading life. I started talking about my books. I shared funny little anecdotes that I knew would make him chuckle. I made connections between what I was reading and what was going on in the world. I allowed my reading to become part of our shared life. 

What happened next is hardly a surprise to anyone. He started reading more. Slowly at first, and still not with the same feverish obsession as I do but with his own quiet commitment. 

Here's my theory. It's, like, totally scientific and stuff. It's also GROUNDBREAKINGLY NEW!!! So much of what we do at school rams reading down the throats of our students as something they have to do and be good at. It's not about learning to love the possibilities of reading. And it should be. As Victor Hugo said: 'to learn to read is to light a fire'. Or as Frederick Douglass said: 'once you learn to read you will be forever free'. This is the very essence of what we need to teach students. Once we teach the value of reading, the rest becomes easy. (Please don't think I'm discounting dyslexia or other such issues. They're real. So. Real. And they need more research and student who live with them need more support. This treatise includes these kiddos, but I'm not suggesting that this answers those particular needs.) 

How do we do it? I think we should share our own love of reading. Talk about books. Share funny, sad or powerful parts of our own reading.  Make connections between our own reading, and events that are relevant to the students. Discuss books our students might not yet be able to read but may create a spark. Model our own reading life and the value it has for us.  It's not rocket surgery but I'd go as far as saying that it's more important though.

Let's give it a go. I made a commitment to share more of my reading life/love with my students at the beginning of this week and it's already had an impact. I'll give it a couple of weeks and report back. Who will join me?
 'I love books. I love that moment when  you open one and sink into it. You can escape from the world into a story that's way more interesting than yours will ever be.' 
~ Elizabeth Scott
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

Friday, 3 June 2016

Everything in Moderation

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Post PD Reflection by Markeeta Roe is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Based on a work found here.
Our professional development day just ended. 17 minute ago. In fact, I'm actually still at the venue. It has been such a big day that I'm torn between the exhaustion of this morning and the natural high of meaningful learning.

Today we were moderating maths tasks with teachers of the same grade level from other schools. Theoretically we were meant to provide three portfolios of 6-8 work samples; one portfolio at standard, one below and one above. (I say theoretically because... Life. You know? I pulled together 6 samples, but they were all from the same unit of learning because I've only been with this class for 9 teaching days!) We swapped portfolios around our table and used the Australian Curriculum achievement standards as our moderation guide.

These kind of events secretly excite me because I love the opportunity to see the learning experiences other teachers plan/use so that I can borrow their ideas.
Upon sharing our thinking, it was re-affirming to learn that as a group (of year 7 teachers and some guest teachers from our feeder high school) we were invariably consistent in our assessments. I have been 'accused', in the past, by another year 7 teacher, of being an overly hard marker so to have my positioned echoed by a large group of others was quite a relief. 

The process we used was, at the same time, incredibly simple and mind bogglingly challenging.  Simple in the sense that the initial question is: does this student meet this standard? Challenging in the sense that assessing the individual work samples as a holistic body of evidence against the achievement standard requires a fair degree of mental gymnastics. 

After/while looking at a portfolio we were encouraged to answer particular questions:
  1. Initial thoughts on the evidence provided in the work sample/s.
  2. What evidence in the work sample/s aligns with the standard? How? (Be specific.)
  3. What are the gaps in the evidence? What further evidence might be required to demonstrate achievement at the standard? (Be specific.)
  4. How might the assessment be modified to better reflect the standard? (This might apply to some, non or all of the tasks.)
These responses then formed part of the feedback each teacher received about their portfolios. My portfolio was deemed as not being a broad representation of the whole curriculum - which wasn't surprising. I received positive feedback about the tasks and some suggestions about ways to improve. It was fantastic! I also learnt about a bunch of resources and a new app from Justine Nelson, one of the awesome teachers on my table. Justine and I are also planning to share some other resources and ideas. That, in and of itself, makes today worthwhile. Thanks Justine!

The other part of today that our year level group found particularly useful was spending time with the team from our feeder high school. We worked with them to moderate some year 8 tasks, and then collaborated on extending the example tasks. The discussions around the differences between teaching and learning in primary and secondary schools were powerful if not a little frustrating. Each question lead to another three questions. We all wanted to keep going; talking to the other side (so to speak) isn't an opportunity we get very often.

The final (cute) little tip I'm taking from today are two little sticky note exit slip acronyms: WWW (what worked well) and EBI (even better if). Simple but I think they'd work well with my current kiddos.

I also need to give a shout out to Cheryl Josephs, who was also at the session today. She has known me since my second or third day as a teacher and has become a wonderful friend and trusted colleague. We don't often cross paths professionally anymore so it was a real pleasure to see her. She is one of my most committed blog readers so... Thanks Cheryl! It was wonderful to see you.

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers:
Standard 5 Assess, provide feedback and report on student learning
Standard 6 Engage in professional learing 
Standard 7 Engage professionally with colleagues, parents/carers and the community

I'm still hanging in...

If anybody ever suggests working full time whilst trying to study full time, the only correct response should be to laugh. Don't do it! I've been doing it for nearly two weeks and I'm insanely tired. Still reasonably productive, but overwhelmingly tired. *sigh* Thank goodness for today's inter-school professional development day that allow the part of my brain necessary for monitoring and engaging with 27 children to switch off for a few hours! (Don't slam me: I fully intend to engage with the adults at the PD day... They just aren't as 'needy' as most kiddos!) Double bonus when I don't need to be there until 1.5hrs after I usually arrive at school! Anyway, I've been wanting to blog about some of the challenges and successes I've experienced since starting this contract but you know... Tired.

I thought, however, that I'd take a few minutes out of that extra 1.5hrs this morning to share a photo. It represents a big 'win' for me with this class. It's a super challenging class behaviourally and I spent a large part of the first week trying to establish a class culture that was safe enough to enable us to move forward into meaningful learning. It was hard. Very hard. Probably the hardest I've ever found a class, but you know me: it's my kinda class!  We've come a VERY long way in a VERY short time and I'm so proud of the progress we've all made. I'll share more about it later, when I'm not so tired, or feeling stressed about final essays, case studies and whatnot for uni.

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NF Text Features Anchor Chart by Markeeta Roe is licensed under a
  Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Based on a work here.
This week we've been reviewing non-fiction text features so that next week we can dive right into learning about top level text structures.  We're also learning about Ancient Greece so I've used a simple NF text about that as our 'mentor' text. After much discussion, a super simple anchor chart was created. There are no other student (or teacher) created anchor charts in the classroom, so I wasn't sure how this would be received. I shouldn't have worried: they LOVED it. Our next bite of the cherry saw every single student referring to it at least once, and many of them thanking me.  I love the way anchor charts reinforce learning and encoding. Yay!

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

Friday, 13 May 2016

Primary & Secondary Sources

Something you often hear, these days, is that we want our students to think like a writer, or a scientist, a mathematician, or even a historian.  The goal is to have students learn the specific cognitive skills of each discipline and the metacognition to apply them successfully. 

It's a big goal, but I don't think it's necessarily a new one. Perhaps what's new is the explicit inclusion of the specific skills and actions in some subject areas of the Australian curriculum - like history for example. One of the tricky parts of thinking like a historian is coming to grips with how we learn about the past. 

Recently I've been talking to one of my own children about his sources of information for a research project in which he's comparing Australia's education system of the 1900's and now. He's been instructed that his final essay must make use of at least one primary and one secondary source, which presupposes that he knows the difference. At his age (14) I didn't. He does.  (I'm not sure he knows why the distinction is important though.) 

I introduced the idea of primary and secondary sources to a class of year 3/4s a few years back by presenting a collection of sources and asking them what they noticed.  There were some hilarious observations but more importantly a couple of students pointed out the fact that some of the sources were "records made by people who were there" and some were "second hand information".  Such a simple distinction between primary and secondary sources!

More recently, with a group of year 5/6s, (knowing that two days earlier they had started learning about this) I asked the question: "what makes a source primary or secondary?"  The general consensus was that a primary source needed to be original, but a secondary source was a copy.  I read the South Australian Certificate of Education's definition, and we chatted about the differences between it and their definition. Then I told them a story. 

Pages 92-93 of Anne Frank's original diary.
Licensed under CC BY 2.0 bHeather Cowper.
I talked about a girl who, during WWII lived, for a time, with her family hidden away in an attic to avoid being rounded up by Hitler's army.  And then I explained that after the war, her diary had been published.  I mentioned that there was a copy in their school library, and that many of their parents had probably read it while they were at high school. "Is this a primary or secondary source", I asked. 

Voting with their feet, the students positioned themselves along a continuum: primary through to secondary. After conferring with people close to them, the students explained their position. Some asked questions about whether the diary had been edited prior to publishing, and moved upon hearing that it was a true record of Anne's thoughts. Others held fast to the fact that there could only ever be one original so any copies we might read must be secondary sources. Still others made the connection that whilst Anne was able to be witness to her own experience, it was a limited perspective so should be understood with that in mind. Every time someone spoke, there was movement.  Eventually, with most of the class in the primary camp, I talked through my thinking and invited the secondary hold outs to come and talk to me further.

The distinction between primary and secondary sources is an important one and brings up questions of privilege, perspective, contestability and significance (to name just a few). Plus, teaching about it, means I have a great excuse reason to spend time reading about history, which pleases me immensely! #imsuchanerd #proudofit

Incidentally, my son is using an interview with me as one of his primary sources for his project. I'm not sure how I feel about that: whilst my experience with the current educational system would definitely make my interview a primary source, but I'm not quite old enough to be one for the 1900's! 

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

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

I'll be the judge of that...

A photo posted by Markeeta Roe-Phillips (@markeetarp) on

Last night I made my debut as a debating adjudicator for Debating SA. Wow! My head is still spinning. I learnt SO much about debating, about giving feedback and about myself.

 I adjudicated three debates: a year 6/7 debate 'that single sex schools are the best', a year 9 debate 'that traffic fines should be based on income' and a year 8 debate 'that there should be a sugar tax'.   The students' debating experience level ranged from a couple of years to sharing the debut spotlight with me. Without exception, I was impressed by them. Some presented with the clear advantage of past coaching, others were obviously green but equally obviously determined and committed to learn. Some showed a sangfroid well beyond their years, others pushed through the nerves of their first truly public speaking engagement.  What a group!

 The challenges of the evening for me were many and varied. Our first debate got off to a late start because of some missing equipment and forms. Had I  - or any of the debaters - been more experienced this would have been noticed and resolved earlier. Meh. We coped.

The actual adjudication process is both straight forward and quite complex: lots of balls to juggle, with each new speaker adding another type and size ball. Taking careful note of each speaker's arguments (and rebuttals), presentation and debate structure is vital, but actually not very easy. People, and in particular children, speak really fast! Pulling out the salient points and matching them with the criteria against which they're being judged is not dissimilar to assessing students' oral presentations in the classroom in many ways. Fortunately Debating SA provides a comprehensive rubric against which to score each speaker which certainly helped.

Matching each speaker's rebuttals off against their opponent's arguments is, I'm hoping, something that gets easier (and faster) with time. One of the other areas I predicted would be challenging was recognising (and naming) the difference fallacies of argument and rebuttal. I've never debated so whilst some of these fallacies are part of our everyday vernacular many are new to me. Being the nerd I am, and knowing how I learn, I created online flashcards.

Please feel free to use my Quizlet 'study sets' with your students if debating and flashcards are your/their kinda thing..

I found that I was fine at recognising and naming the fallacies in my notes, but struggled to use that knowledge in my feedback to the students. I need to work on that.  Having said that, I received feedback from a number of parents that the feedback I gave was balanced and constructive. I used a template to record my feedback before I gave it so that I could make sure I used a sandwich approach: positive, something really specific to work on, positive. I also made sure, over the team, to include a good range of argument, rebuttal, presentation, structure feedback.  And I made special efforts to build up the students who stood up, had a bit of a freak out and then ploughed on. The second they realised that I was congratulating them and wasn't going to reprimand them their whole body language changed.  It was a very real reminder of the value of personal, specific, timely feedback. #highlight

I've got some way before I'll be confident at this, but that's OK. I'm learning, developing and growing. And having fun! That's the way I want my students to feel about learning, so I'm taking careful note.

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers:
Standard 6 Engage in professional learning

Monday, 9 May 2016

I'll take my wins where I can get them!

Sometimes, when you least expect it, you have a real win. The other day I was in a year 1/2 classroom for 40 minutes. If I'm honest it was such a flying visit I can't remember a single child's name (actually, that's a lie: there's one and I'm sure you can imagine why) but it was a fantastic visit.  (And it was in front of a pre-service teacher which adds to the win as far as I'm concerned! Another strategy for her to take away from her experience!)

I broke the class into groups of four (ordinarily I'd let them do this themselves, but I didn't know them, they didn't know me and I only had 40 minutes) and told them that the activity we were going to do was actually designed for an older class but that I was pretty sure they'd do a good job. Nothing like ramping expectations!!!

I explained that one person from each group was going to come to the front of the room and study an image for 30 seconds while the other members waited silently. This first person would then return to the group and start drawing what they remembered while another person came up and looked for 30 seconds. Rinse and repeat until all four members have contributed to the drawing. At this point I gave them 30 seconds to discuss their drawing as a group and make changes if they wanted to. Then they chose one last person to come and have one last look before they made any last minute changes.  

Keep in mind that this whole process was silent except for the 30 seconds of small group discussion.

Oh. My. Goodness.  The pre-service teacher and I were amazed.  Have a look at the source image and then the copies:

Year 1/2 Solar System Memory Team Copies by Markeeta Roe-Phillips.
Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
The concentration and determination shown by these children was incredible and our discussion afterwards surprised me. I asked them to share with a partner what strategies they used to get the image into their brain and then out again, and then those partners shared with another pair and again with the group. The responses included:

  • I paid close attention to the things on the page and tried to remember them like photos in my head.
  • I have a book about space at home so I already knew the names so I just had to remember the shapes.
  • I knew we were drawing space because I was the last person so I already knew what I was looking at so I was just looking for things on the sheet that we didn't have on ours.
  • I just tried to remember it, I don't know how I did that.
So this prompted a discussion about prior knowledge. A number of children thought that using prior knowledge was cheating! I reassured them that it wasn't cheating, in fact it was something that good learners and thinkers use a lot to help them learn, understand and remember new things.  Lots of darling little ooohs and aaahs! 

We talked a lot about memory and different strategies to help us remember things. And then I congratulated them for having a great metacognitive conversation. "A great meta-what Mrs RP?" Got 'em, hook, line and sinker!  So we talked about how good thinkers and learners also think about how they think and learn, then quickly transitioned into a quick collaborative narrative building session. Oh boy. This teacher's lil' nerdy brain was doing a happy dance for  quite some time afterwards.

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

More than Just Cyber Safety: Tackling the Social and Ethical Protocols of the ICT General Capability

The material is licensed by ACARA under CC BY 4.0.
I need to start this post with a quick introduction to the Australian curriculum general capabilities for my readers who aren't based in Australia or are otherwise unfamiliar with - what many Australian teachers call them - the gen caps.  Please think of them as one of the ways our curriculum describes the knowledge, skills, behaviours and dispositions that will enable our young people to "live and work successfully in the twenty-first century" (ACARA, 2015). There are seven general capabilities:

  • Literacy
  • Numeracy
  • Information and communication technology (ICT) capability
  • Creative and critical thinking
  • Personal and social capability
  • Ethical understanding.
  • Intercultural understanding
The general capabilities are, perhaps, some of the more ignored parts of the AC.  Whilst the curriculum documents do, in fact, provide learning continuum and explicit cross-curricular links some of the gen caps tend to be left in the too hard basket, or ignored all together.   Clearly these options aren't acceptable and regardless of what we think of the AC, it is our mandated curriculum so we have a responsibility to teach it ALL. 

Wow, that started to get a little preachie-preachie didn't it? Sorry about that! I get a little fired up because it frustrates me when I see teachers choosing to ignore one or more of the gen caps because they, personally, aren't confident or competent with the concepts.  Step up people, or step out.

And again! #sorrynotsorry
The material is licensed by ACARA under CC BY 4.0.
Back to the actual point of this post...

The first professional development session I attended in the last school holidays was run by Teacher Technologies and focussed on parts of the ICT general capability of the Australian Curriculum, specifically the social and ethical protocols and practices.

There were a couple of recurring themes throughout the day. One was the idea that we, as teachers, have a responsibility to model social and ethical behavioural choices for our students. (And not just when using ICT I might add!) This isn't a new idea but it's certainly an important one to consider. Think about the example we set when we - and I'm not saying that I, or you, do or don't do this - download an YouTube clip to use in class. Sure, we can justify it under the 'educational use' umbrella but do our students know that?  Do we explicitly explain to them what we're doing? Do our students know that they can't do the same thing? How would they know? And if, after we've downloaded a clip, we store it on our hard drive for next year is it still OK?

Another example are the images that we put in our presentations, or assignment sheets. I don't know about you, but I take great pleasure in finding the perfect image and will openly admit that I don't always do the right thing. And so the example I set is to use whatever image I like regardless of ownership. I am slowly getting better though. Actually, you know how ex-smokers are the worst kind of non-smokers in terms of telling people to not do it? (And with good reason! High five if you're an ex-smoker!) Well, I'm that person in my  house now, with creative commons images: I'm pretty sure my husband is going to take away my internet access if I ever again look at something he's done with an arched eyebrow and comment "that doesn't look like a creative commons image to me".

Yesterday one of my own children approached me with a question about referencing a podcast using the Harvard system. After I quit shaking (because I'm an APA girl through and through) I pointed him in the direction of some websites that I've found helpful in attributing my sources recently.  And it dawned on me what had just happened. My 14 year old, who listens to The Naked Scientists podcast like I listened to the Top 40 at his age, was using an idea he'd heard in a podcast to help build his argument in an essay on parallel universes, black holes, space. He knew he needed to attribute those ideas appropriately. Yay! Somewhere along the line, whether at home or at school, this kiddo got it! He understands intellectual property.  I did, of course, wonder whether he'd picked it up from good modelling (ahem!) or if it had beeen explicitly taught, which brings me to the other recurring theme.

Whilst we must model social and ethical protocols and behaviours when using ICT it is just as important that we explicitly teach them. It would be lovely for young people to pick up on why it's not a good idea to click on every *enter now* button through osmosis, but it's not overly likely. As a teacher, I use a range of strategies to keep any personal information I keep (digitally)about my students secure. (And securely destroy the files when appropriate.) This isn't something I can model to my students though, it's the kind of thing that needs to be explicitly taught in developmentally appropriate ways right across the primary and secondary years of schooling. The ICT gen cap learning continuum is very detailed about when and what students need to learn.

I could write about the importance and value of this component of this gen cap all day because it's something that is of increasing importance to everyone. As you can imagine, I was tweeting all day. I'm sharing Selena Woodward's Storify today. Enjoy. (As you scroll through, you'll notice that we were a bit spoilt for morning tea! I think there were about 10 of us there...)

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...

Standard 2 Know the content and how to teach it
Standard 4 Create and maintain supportive and safe learning environments
Standard 6 Engage in professional learning
Standard 7 Engage professionally with colleagues, parents/carers and the community

ACARA. (2015). General capabilities: introduction. Retrieved from http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/generalcapabilities/overview/introduction

Friday, 6 May 2016


Anyone who's known me over the last couple of year has probably noticed my habit of spending at least a couple of days of each school holidays in professional development sessions. So, whilst I'm not actually in a classroom this year I still found myself booking in a couple of days' training in the recent holidays. (Because studying for a M.Ed full time isn't professional development? Yeah, I noticed that bit of flawed logic too.)

The first PD session of the holidays was entitled "More than Just Cyber Safety: Tackling the Social and Ethical Protocols of the ICT General Capability". Great day, and I will blog about it (update: you can read about it here). First, I want to talk about the other one, which was a Reflect Growth session focussed on planning, because I am a self-confessed planning nerd! I'm sure I've said it before but I'll say it again: I love planning!

We started the day building with Selena Woodward very ably helping us to build a shared understanding of the need for long (year), medium (unit) and short (lesson) term plans. We pulled apart a battery of questions we can - and probably should - be asking ourselves during our planning processes and tried to work out where in the process they fit. It was fascinating to hear different educators describe how they use the questions at different stages of planning.

Of course, it wasn't long before -  as things do in Australia whenever a group of educators converges - the discussion moved to how the Australian Curriculum (AC) has had an impact.   My opinion (and take this with a pinch of salt because whilst I trained with the former curriculum, I've only ever taught with the AC) is that without the need to think about content our attention can be where it needs to be: on pedagogy. (Which means I like the AC.)  The Twitter back channel was alive at this point talking about the need for planning to be responsive to our students' needs. Oh boy, was I excited to hear someone say that! I worry sometimes when I hear educators talk about their plans as though they are set in stone... What if the kiddos have different needs than the plans cover?

The rest of the day was divided into long, medium and short term planning discussions. (And a few mini learning activities designed to jog some thinking about new teaching strategies - thank you Selena!) Each discussion started with a speaker from a 'different walk of life' (me for medium term!) to encourage divergent thinking.

Our first speaker was Rebecca Wells who startled me into thinking about the role leadership can, and should, play in my long term planning. She suggested that a leadership team has a responsibility to support innovative planning and teaching with appropriate resources, and with connections to community. I LOVE this idea.  My mind went off on a little tangent here thinking about different ways of having ongoing meaningful community engagement in classroom. (Stay tuned because I feel a post about that bubbling away beneath the surface.)

My talk started... No... I'm not going to describe it all. You can watch the video if you are particularly keen, but suffice to say that I described planning in terms of maps and positioned medium term planning that way.  I didn't share anything that was likely to start off any educational revolutions but rather that medium term planning is where the magic happens (for me). It's where I get to build a structure into which I can ensure I meet all of the (sometimes conflicting) needs of my individual students, the curriculum and whoever is pulling on my at that point.

Markeeta Roe Phillips on Planning - Like a Map :) from Selena Woodward on Vimeo.

Our last, but by no means least, speaker was Lynda Rivett who shared a plethora of personal experience using TfEL tools in creative ways. It was a good prompt to me: I know that TfEL has a mountain of resources sitting there waiting to be used but I tend to stick to the ones I'm most familiar with and have on hand. I need to block out a few hours in my calendar and really delve into what's available.  Why reinvent the wheel when TfEL already has a whole tyre yard full of them waiting to be used?

I have so many powerful 'takeaways' from this day:
  •  I'm reminded of the power in good planning:
    • Power to effect strong learning; 
    • Power for cross-curricular syntegration; 
    • Power for collegiate sharing; 
    • Power in achieving balance; 
    • Power because I love the art/science of it!  
  • I sound like a small child when I speak; I think I need to work on my vocal patterns.
  • There is no right way to plan, but there are lots of dodgy ways. I'm comfortable with elements of my planning tools, but think I should use this time out of the classroom to hone and tighten them.
All of this discussion culminated in Selena throwing down Reflect Growth's next Metateacher Challenge which is, this term, a question: Which part of the planning process has the greatest impact on a student's growth?  I already have a fairly strong opinion but am keen to hear other views. Please share yours in the comments. 

On a side note: if you're on Twitter, I highly recommend you check out #reflectgrowth for an interesting stream of thoughts, ideas and sharing from educators interested in developing and improving their practice.  I'm a bit of a mad tweeter on days like this one, so have created a Storify of just some of the tweets from our session. 

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 6 Engage in professional learning
Standard 7 Engage professionally with colleagues, parents/carers and the community

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Before you post, THINK

I challenged a group of year 5/6s to, in ten tweets, create a personal profile. Aside from a quick discussion about the meaning of the word 'profile' and the format of tweets, I gave no other instructions.   My intention was to gauge their understanding of digital citizenship as it applies to social media. (There was never any plan to actually post these tweets. They're written on paper and are currently in a pile on my desk.)

*insert wicked laugh here*

I'll be honest: I was more than a little curious to see what followed. They made for amusing, confusing, and at times concerning reading. I learnt more than I wanted to know about some children's eating and game playing and nothing about others. Actually, that's not true; I learnt that without exception they were a bit shaky about digital citizenship.

Our following session started with the word THINK on the board. I asked them to think about their tweets and, in particular, about whether they were satisfied with the picture they painted of themselves. Pretty resounding *no!* There were lots of reasons for this, but most  notably: "none of them make sense". Well yeah: '#turtles' (that was the whole tweet!) probably doesn't mean much to anyone unless they've just asked 'what animals with renaissance artist inspired names did Splinter lead?'. Even then the hashtag is a bit out of place.

I took this opportunity to introduce the class to the idea that they did, indeed, need to THINK before posting anything on any form of social media. I used this particular image from Technology Rocks SeriouslyTechnology Rocks Seriously as inspiration:

Available from the Free Printables page
at Technology Rocks Seriously

(As a side note: you should DEFINITELY check out Technology Rocks Seriously. Shannon is amazing! She has loads of brilliant ideas and lots of wonderful printables - like the one above - for the classroom.)

We ran a few of the tweets through this filter and realised that not many of them would make it.  The mood in the room became pretty sombre as everyone started thinking about changes they wanted to make.

Instagram seemed to be the place for most of these changes. I'm pretty sure it's the preferred social media of choice for this particular cohort, so that doesn't surprise me, but after a couple of people commented that they knew some of the photos they had posted of their friends weren't very kind, the reflections started to snowball.  

The discussion turned quickly to photos of models being manipulated - which means they fail the true filter. Someone brought up the sharing of 'cheats' for games - which raised the question of whether that is actually helpful?  We all agreed that a lot of the memes about politicians are anything but inspiring. Necessary was a bit of sticking point... Some people questioned whether anything we share on social media is necessary?  

We touched on always getting permission before sharing an image - whether the permission of the person in a photo or by using images with appropriate creative commons licences. (You can imagine that it was a SUPER quick mention of that particular can of worms!)

It was a good reminder to me to stay vigilant about what I post, and the images I use.

Disclaimer: I KNOW that there's so much more to digital citizenship than this but for me (as a relief teacher), with this class, it was a good lesson. The students left thinking about their everyday online behaviour and ultimately that's the place from where good digital citizenship grows. 

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

Friday, 11 March 2016

While We Teach, We Learn

Created on recite.com
How often have you heard the phrase "the best way to really learn something is to teach it to someone else" or "to really check your understanding of something try teaching it to someone"?   An article that I've just read for one of my M.Ed topics looks at this very idea and unpacks which component of teaching is actually the helpful one.  The article suggests that that whilst preparing to teach something can be helpful in short term learning, it's the act of teaching (explaining, defending and discussing) that leads to long term learning (Fiorello & Mayer 2014).  Which makes sense right? If we know that we're not going to have to actually deliver anything on what we're learning then our engagement levels and motivation will be somewhat lower than if we're going to have other people looking to us for the explanation.

It's such a simple idea isn't it? And I don't know about you but I can really relate to it.

Let me share a little tale... (Settle in because as you can probably correctly predict: I'll take a little while to get to my point.)

I consider myself to be a reasonably literate person. I came through primary school, however, during an era when teaching grammar was not particularly fashionable. Verbs? Articles? Parsing sentences? That was for chumps - we had whole language! (Or maybe we didn't, I could read and write very early so maybe the other kids were doing that while I was allowed to skip it?) I eventually learnt about grammar through studying languages other than English later on. (For which I will be eternally grateful because there are thousands of Australians around my age who still don't know why ending that last sentence with 'on' leaves a slightly acrid taste in my mouth.)

Our current curriculum requires students to understand much more about grammar than I was ever taught, and from the very beginning.  Even in year one students are expected to:
Explore differences in words that represent people, places and things (nouns, including pronouns), happenings and states (verbs), qualities (adjectives) and details such as when, where and how (adverbs) ACELA1452
Investigating & categorising
 types of adverbs
So the other day as I was preparing to teach a lesson about adverbs I realised that whilst I could explain, with a reasonable degree of confidence, a broad definition of an adverb (and the fact that in English that can be placed before AND after verbs) I couldn't really go a great deal further. Eeeeeek! I pulled out my books, swiped frantically on my iPad and pretty quickly learnt more about adverbs than I thought humanly possible for late on a Sunday afternoon.  I designed a learning flow and was actually a bit excited to share it.

The following morning my new learning was settling in my mind like slightly set concrete... I was a bit worried that it wasn't quite strong enough to hold up any questions that might land on it but, of course - and you knew this was going to be the case, because you know that I like happy endings - as I delivered the lesson the concrete set harder and harder. And today, nearly a week later,  I feel confident in my new understanding of adverbs.

What does this mean for me as a leader of learning? How can I incorporate more opportunities for my students to use this strategy meaningfully? How do you use it in your learning environments?

Fiorella L, Mayer RE. (2014). Role of expectations and explanations in learning by teaching. Contemporary Educational Pyschology2014;39(20):75-85
As I was reading the article for the first time, I had to chuckle.  I can say that whilst I do genuinely enjoy my uni reading (y'all already knew I was a nerd!) and always take it very seriously, this particular article - without a shadow of a doubt - was getting more attention because it's the one assigned to me to 'teach' the rest of my group. Talk about life imitating art... Or science... Or research... Or whatever we're calling this.  

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 6 Engage in professional learning

Sunday, 6 March 2016

One of the factors of #whyiteach

The other day I taught a lesson about simple division and factors to a class of year 5/6s. It wasn't particularly noteworthy, no fireworks or fancy parades.  Most of the students made solid progress toward a deeper understanding though and ultimately that's the goal right?

I noticed a couple of girls who looked puzzled and offered them some extra time, a little later in the day, to work with me further.  You would have been forgiven for thinking I'd offered chocolate: they jumped on the opportunity. This is #whyiteach

While the rest of the class were working on the ten tweets they would send if they were constructing an online image of themselves (more about this another time), the girls and I pulled out counters, paper and a whiteboard marker. Yep, we drew on the desk with the whiteboard marker. (They seemed a bit shocked by this seeming bit of civil disobedience until I showed them how easily it cleaned off and then they loved the idea.)

We started with ten counters and physically manipulated them to see how many even groups we could create.  We worked through a couple of other numbers in this way with me continually asking:

"How do you know that's all?"

By the third number the girls could explain their thinking and demonstrate how they knew "that was all".

At this point I introduced the idea of working strategically to find pairs and recording our thinking in a way that would help us. We kept working with the counters to check our thinking.  (Have I ever mentioned how much I love having manipulative materials to use in maths lessons?)

Eventually one of the students explained to me that "if you start on the outside of the rainbow and work your way in, then you know when you've got them all because you can use your times tables to see that the middle ones just won't work".  Yes! Indeed you can. Again: #whyiteach

During this time I discovered that one of the students was struggling with odd/even so we used the counters to review that. English is not this young lady's first language and whilst her grasp of the language is brilliant I think this is one of the finer nuances that she hadn't learnt yet. It was fantastic to see the lightbulb moment when she made the link between the words odd and even and the concept she had already.   And another instance of #whyiteach.

Early in the session I reminded the girls about prime and composite numbers (I had reviewed these with the whole class earlier) so when they worked with 17 they were able to identify this. I love hearing kiddos use mathematical language to describe their thinking.

We also paid a super quick visit to rules of divisibility land. It was a flying visit, but you may be able to see the proof for the rule of divisibility for 5 on one of the sticky notes on the last photo.

This whole session took no more than 25 minutes but it stood out as one of the bright spots in my day. It's a prime example of #whyiteach

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