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
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

A Gift

It's no great secret that I'm a bit of a learning junkie so it won't come as a surprise to anyone that I've been a wee bit excited about returning to study this year.   I'm braving the waves of postgrad study; I'm enrolled in a Master of Education (specifically an M.Ed in Cognitive Psychology and Educational Practice) at Flinders University. Officially classes started last week, but I jump started things by taking an intensive summer school subject back in January.  

It's that subject that I want to talk about today. That subject was (and still is!) called Conceptions of Giftedness, Intelligence and Creativity. A bit of a mouthful right? Basically, whilst the intelligence and creativity parts of the title are clearly important, the subject really focusses on working out what giftedness actually is so that we, as professionals, can advocate for the gifted kids in our classes, schools and communities. 

It's a bit of a touchy area for me because my two children are gifted. 

Until a few years ago, I raised them as a single parent, just the three of us. My whole experience of parenting was with gifted children: meeting developmental milestones scarily early; dealing with their incessant need for challenge and learning; advocating for their special (yes, special) needs; supporting them in the areas that lagged behind their intellectual and creative development; conversations about anything from nuclear fusion to the medieval English serfs' use of non-arable land; the need to manage social activism from one son who wants to save the world (whilst happily ignoring problems closer to at home). This was my norm and, as such, I never once considered that it might be different to any one else.  

Then I married a man with four sons of his own.  I discovered, very quickly, that there is a huge difference. I could write a thesis on the ways our two groups of boys are different. Some of the differences are simply down to different families of origin but most are not. Most stem from the differences in the way the boys experience, perceive and interpret the world. There's nothing inherently superior in either way; in fact there are 6 different ways because there are 6 different kids. There are undeniable differences though.

This blog post, over at,
shares my frustration with this myth.
I'm sharing these details of my life because one of our assignments requires us to rebut and then positively reframe myths about giftedness. And... As a parent of gifted children I'm finding it really hard. The first myth we addressed was that all children are gifted. *internal scream* No. They're not.  All children are unique, but they are NOT all gifted. I witness this truth every time I sit at the dinner table with our combined tribe and hear the disparity in conversations. I see it every time I look at the learning tasks of my 14yo gifted son compared to my 14yo stepson. I feel it as I see the frustration in my son at the way his stepbrothers skate over the surface of something he wants to share deeply. I know it in my bones as a mother. Right there, that's where I'm having trouble with this. I'm struggling to step back and be a student rather than mama bear.

Anyone who has seen me with my other kids - the ones who call me Mrs RP - knows that when advocating for them I'm often in full mama bear mode. With these kids I guess it's a bit different though. As Rita Pierson eloquently describes it, I'm acting as their champion. This is different to being mama bear in many ways, but overlaps in others.  Is this why I'm struggling to make the distinction between mama bear and student? The overlap? I don't know but I have a sneaking suspicion that it's something I'll struggle with in all of my studies about giftedness because it has been such a big part of my role as a parent. 

I didn't expect to be so emotionally challenged by my first subject but I can tell you that it has pushed me further and deeper into my readings than I expected so it's probably a good thing. Some might even say it's a gift. Ha!

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