Category Archives: Recent posts

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The International Conference on Creativity and Academic Excellence

I along with two Year 6 students Charlotte and Michelle, presented this week during the first day of The International Conference on Creativity and Academic Excellence which is being held over two days at Knox Grammar. We all enjoyed listening to interesting keynotes and attending break out sessions. Our presentation was titled ‘Connecting classrooms around the globe’. We spoke about how in Year 6 we use Edmodo to connect and collaborate with students around the globe. And how the skills the students gain in edmodo transfer to our class and student blogging. I also mentioned some of the other global projects we have been involved in this year. Michelle then told of the connections she has made this year with students in the USA, South Africa and Canada in Edmodo and Charlotte spoke on the international connections she has made through her own personal blogging.

Here is our Prezi

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Classroom pain points

This term’s inquiry unit is essentially a classroom redesign. The inspiration for this came this blog post and video. We knew that it was in the pipeline to review and to update (for real) our current learning spaces. Although only built twelve years ago there is so much about them that feels outdated, with the computer pod and uniform desks and chairs. We also knew that Year 6 needed to meet some design and make Science indicators as well as 2D and 3D space, scale and position in maths, so it was a no brainer really.

The unit started with the classroom being turned upside down, you can read more about this provocation here. Our inquiry unit has progressed really well with our students working hard to try and answer the essential question of ‘how can we meet the needs of the learners with the space we have available?‘ Currently they are completing to scale drawings of our current learning space, one of which you can see here. And they are working in groups to design a new layout with special consideration of sustainability, function, form, safety and aesthetics. Again in order to meet desired HSIE indicators.

Yet it is hard for students who have spent the last seven years in a traditional classroom setting to visualise just what a future space could look like. So we have also interviewed our IT Manager and our Principal. As well as started a Pinterest board of inspirational pictures and studied the website of Stephen Heppell and others closely. To help them one of our first moves was to identify classroom pain points and it was during this we identified that our teacher desks took up way too much space, were covered in clutter and were surrounded by piles of books, which had not been opened for a while. I also knew that I was guilty of sitting behind it far too much.

So taking a deep breath and a leap of faith last week I ditched my desk. I have read before of other teachers doing this but until now I had never actually considered doing this myself. I moved my essential tools into a far corner, set my filing cabinet up as a standing desk and cleared out some of the treasures I have been storing. The effect has been to open up a corner of the classroom which has now been turned into a reading nock with direct access to our verandah. My desk has been moved and is being used as a student storage space. I expect to get rid of it altogether next year. I can do my marking in the far corner, previously a sports bag dumping ground and stand to read emails. The benefits of standing over sitting are well documented, so it is a win win situation for my health too.

De-cluttering has been cathartic for both my teaching corner and my head. Dumping ancient photocopied worksheets in the recycling bin felt good. After all I have not used them in years, so I know I will never do so again. The books too have been moved into storage ready to donate somewhere else. As I have no actual desk I am standing more. I can do my marking in the far corner and the classroom is looking cleaner and less cluttered.

As for the students, I hope that seeing the classroom actually change in front of their eyes will help some of them realise that this inquiry is for real and that together we can make a change, so that ‘we can meet the needs of (all) the learners with the space we have available.

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Backwards by design program planning

Before you read any further ask yourself the following questions, as I have been thinking about these for a while now.

  • Just because an activity or task is engaging does it mean your students are learning?
  • Is your program filled with hands on or minds on activities?

I have been reading Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Kay McTighe recently and I cannot recommend it enough to all teachers who plan and implement programs, as so much of it makes sense and resonates with me. In case you are unaware, the book promotes a design model for a program or unit of work that is essentially backwards from the way so many teachers have been used to planning. Instead of choosing themes or activities first, the teacher starts with desired learning outcomes and works back from those outcomes through assessment and finally to actual lessons. As they plan they ask themselves

How do I make it more likely  - by my design – that more students really understand what they are asked to learn?’

I know I have been guilty in the past of reading about an amazing activity, one which is engaging and hands on. One which i know would be fun for my students and which I could manage. And then thinking of how I could incorporate it into my program. For a while now though, my school has been using a backwards by design framework in all our planning. It is amazing how starting at the end, with the actual indicators or learning outcomes I need my students to reach, has helped me to crystallize my planning.

These days it is not enough for an activity or task to be engaging to make it into my program. Instead I am constantly asking myself: ‘if I use this activity’…

  • What understandings will emerge and endure from this?
  • What are the big ideas and important skills I want to develop here?
  • Do my students understand what they need to understand and learn?
  • What is point of this activity?
  • Is this particular activity minds on or just hands on?
  • How will I know if they are understanding what I want them to learn?
  • What will serve as evidence of the enduring understandings I am after?

If you have never used this approach I recommend you try the following steps when next planning a unit of work.

Ask yourself: What are the desired learning results of this unit? Then consider, what are the essential questions that will link the students to learning? As well as, what skills will they need to achieve your desired results? Now comes the formative and summative assessment ideas, what evidence do you need to show your desired results? And finally, what is the sequence of activities or learning experiences you can use that will lead to the reaching of your learning outcomes?

Backwards by design my essential tool when programming.

Image c/o

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A week of Awards

Okay I admit it this week has been my week. You see on Tuesday there I was sitting in assembly. When suddenly my name was called and I was up on the stage being awarded the NGS Super Scholarship for 2013 and having my photograph taken. And all I could think about was how I was wearing an old skirt and had no lipstick on!

Returning to normality I returned home to check my emails to find I had I am also one of the 2013 Outstanding Professional Service Award recipients, as awarded by the Professional Teachers Council of NSW. Wow what a week.

But I am not writing this to gloat or brag or anything else. Of course I am thrilled and honoured to be recognised in these ways but so could you be. The NGS Scholarship is open to all non government teachers and support staff. If you are reading this and think but I work in the public sector, then scholarships are available for you too. In the form of the Premiers Scholarships. All I did was develop an idea and write an application in which I described my plan. You could do this too.

For the PTC service award. I am just one of many teachers who work behind the scenes trying to do our bit, to share, to assist and to help others learn and grow as teachers. You could do this too. This list contains teachers from many different organisations from history teachers to music educators who give up small amounts of their time to further the profession of teaching as a whole.

As for me, next month I will be off for a special dinner with the wonderful Matt Esterman representing ICTENSW and next October I will be off to ULearn14 and to visit New Zealand schools to continue my research into digital literacy.

You could do this too.

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Snippets for Adobe

I am presenting in an online webinar this Wednesday morning. Tilted Adobe Snippets you can find put more about it here. Running from 8:00 am till 8:30 am these short micro presentations are an easy way to up-skill yourself in Adobe products and learn more about the Adobe Education Exchange from your desk.

The presentation I am assisting in is called Creative Classroom Activities – Visual Literacy

In it you will be able to explore how digital media can engage students of all ages and ability levels in this guided tour of some of the best visual literacy projects from the Adobe Education Exchange. More specifically I will spend ten minutes sharing how my students use Premiere Elements to present their learning in my classroom.

About the Series:

Creative Classroom Activities: Highlights from the Adobe Education Exchange

Adobe Education is pleased to announce a new e-seminar series for teachers who want to re-create their classrooms. Join us weekly for a guided tour of some of the very best activities, lesson plans and resources on the Adobe Education Exchange. Each week, you’ll meet two of the world’s most creative educators and learn how they use Adobe tools to unleash student creativity. Each thirty-minute session will equip you with new ideas you can use immediately in your teaching practice.

These webinars are running every Wednesday morning this term. Hope to see you there.

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Visiting other classrooms

Last week I was lucky enough to visit three other schools. It is such a joy and privilege to be able to do this. As teachers we spend our days surrounded by students, usually just in our classrooms. Days spent hopefully, by us teaching and our students learning. Although perhaps that should read, with us all teaching and learning together. However we phrase it though, a teacher’s life is generally spent with students and In a classroom. So the opportunity to view other learning environments is rare.

The schools I visited were both similar in some ways and yet also different to mine. Passing through I was both reassured and inspired. Reassured that I am on the right track and inspired to try new ideas. I saw lessons I could gain ideas from and activities I might try. I ate lunch with the staff at one and mulled over a programming problem with them. Offering my advice and listening to their insights.

As I reflect on these visits my main thought is one of thanks. Thanks that I had this opportunity and thanks that other schools are willing to open their doors and classrooms to other teachers.

So if you can get the chance, visit other schools. Or even other classes, drop into your neighbour around the corner or around the corridor. Share ideas. Learn together and from each other. I promise you won’t regret it. The life of a teacher is often hard and always busy. Share it. After all a problem shared is a problem halved.

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Belonging in the primary classroom

As part of the terms inquiry provocation my co teacher and I spent last Monday recess rearranging our classroom. We turned a few desks over, removed some altogether and hid many of the chairs. Pencil cases ended up on the floor and belongings were scattered.
The classroom was a disaster zone. Prior to this we had all students remove their books etc from under their desks and to store them in their lockers. Being asked to do this caused much questioning and wonderings amongst the students but even so, the sight of the messed up classroom caused so many varied and interesting reactions, that it has set me thinking about their needs as learners. Needs which are on the whole met in the primary school.

Individual responses ranged from shock and horror to hilarity. We were watching closely as they entered the classrooms, recording these responses. Despite their having emptied their own desks of personal belonging many of them rushed to where they had been sitting, calling out such things as ‘thank goodness my desk is okay’ some came in and seeing their previous desk remained, sat immediately down at it, as if to somehow claim it as their own. Others immediately started to clear up, lifting and rearranging desks into a semblance of order. It appeared to me as of they actually needed to create order in their section of the classroom. One student was in tears by this point, worried that her pencil case. which she had inadvertently left under a desk had been thrown away.

After a while we asked them all to sit down, many ended up on the floor as many desks were still hidden and we had a robust discussion about their fears and feelings. Although there were a few students who felt that the whole exercise was nothing more than a big laugh Overwhelmingly many of them voiced that

  • They want and need their own desk
  • They need the classroom to feel ordered
  • They need some of the classroom space to belong to them

And all this, in a space where students regularly choose to sit on the floor or on beanbags to work! Our discussion moved onto considering how they learn best and how the classroom can support them in meeting their individual learning needs. We devised some of our key inquiry questions for this term including ‘How can we be sure that our classroom space meets the needs of every learner?’

Their responses have though left us feeling that we must delve further into the concept of ownership over their school space. We wonder, is this need particular to this cohort of students? Will a student who is about to transition to the senior school, where they will move from class to class, be impacted by this in year seven? Is the transition from primary to secondary hard for many students because they have no sense of desk or table ownership?

So next week we are continuing to explore these feelings. On Monday they will sit in alphabetical order. On Tuesday according to height and so on. We will continue to revisit their questions and explore their needs. Perhaps as we do this we will be doing our bit to assist them in this important transition.

Do your students find desk ownership important? I had never before considered this so deeply. My students are not the only ones left wondering.

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Blogging in the Primary School

Holidays are a great opportunity to not only relax and recharge but to rethink and reflect. During our recent break I spent some time reorganising my iPad, saving and deleting old notes etc. As I did so I came across several notability files that I took on my trip to the UK last July. During my stay I visited a number of schools, both primary and secondary, who were successfully blogging with their students. I blogged at the time, trying to capture my immediate thoughts and impressions but on reflection my notes tell me so much more about successful blogging with students and classes.

These are a few of the main points I captured:

  • Blogging with your class and students can and does improve literacy outcomes. Several UK teachers reported that by teaching their students how to write extensive and interesting blogging comments their overall writing skills had improved, often across several levels.
  • That when students learn to write reflective and positive blog comments, they become able to transfer this skill into their own work. Especially when placed in such situations as peer moderation for writing.
  • That the nature of blogging being a very public act forces students to become more accountable.
  •  That the act of blogging improves writing skills, as students become more able to think who is their audience, what is their purpose and what effect should this writing have?
  • That blogging gives students ownership of their writing.
  • That blogging increases the engagement of students in the act of writing.
  • That when students have an audience they have a greater sense of autonomy.

Interestingly I came across this beautiful video and article this week from an US school with the very youngest of writers.  In it Mrs Maley a year 1/2 teacher explains.

“But it’s never about the technology — it’s about curriculum and learning,” 

Not only are the students more engaged when blogging, they also produce better quality writing than when they write in the paper journal only their teacher will see. “Audience is the biggest part to it,” Maley says. “Anytime we get feedback, even as adults, it helps … push us to new heights, so I find blogging pushes them as writers.”

Watch and read it for yourself HERE and see how it too encapsulates everything the UK teachers were saying.

It is great to be reminded that I am not alone in believing in the power of class and student blogging to improve literacy outcomes.

 

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Holidays

Holidays equal time. Time to read. Time to relax. Time to reflect. Time to catch up. Time to plan. For me holidays also mean time to switch off and tune out of my education brain, if only for a few days. Our two week spring break has come to an end though and tomorrow term 4 begins. I can feel my mind slipping back into work mode. I finished reading a novel this morning and started catching up on educational blogs. This afternoon I have written my art program, as well as planned and thought through my first week’s lessons.

I love Term 4, such a busy term of finishing and endings. Of Christmas and celebrations. And with it the count down for many year 6 students to the end of primary school. Some of them are ready to move on now, chaffing slightly at what they view as the petty rules and regulations of the primary school. Others are starting to feel nervous knowing that next year they will be at the bottom of the pile again. For them this term is about orientation days at their new school, end of Year assemblies and dinners. Final moments and final memories. For me this term is about holding them together, allowing them the freedom of their last moments of childhood in a primary school while still maintaining my high expectations. It is of course also a term of final assessments and report writing.

Holidays are great. I feel relaxed and ready for the next ten weeks. Weeks filled with laughter and learning. I hope my students feel the same.

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Go Teach This

There are many hundreds if not thousands of sites containing resources aimed at teachers these days. And now there is a new one. One that I believe deserves to be both promoted and used. There are not many Australian teachers I know of, who give back to the community as much Adrian Bruce does.  He has been giving away games for years, good games too. Games with instructions that work, as well as invaluable ideas for extension and real ways those games can be used in the classroom. Originally Adrian was a full time primary teacher and the knowledge he has gained in the classroom is reflected in the way his games can be used to cater for so many different learning needs, Now Adrian has brought all his games together in one place called Go Teach This.

From the website:

GoTeachThis.com will soon become your one stop shop for printable Math & Reading games as the resources here are pedagogically sound and student friendly. Our printables also make learning Social, Visible and Fun.

Each download contains: game boards and/or playing cards, game rules, teaching notes for before the game, during the game and after the game. Many of the printables also include hints for possible extension activities and variations of play.

In my opinion Adrian Bruce’s games site GoTeachThis deserves support because it has over 150 games, learning objects and more. Games that are fun, visually appealing and most importantly games that also work.  Paying a small sum will also help support Adrian who has devoted so much time to developing these resources. After all, every student loves to play games and if those games can work for all their different learning needs, then its a win win situation all round.

multiplication-game-i-have-who-has_1 is a great example of one of Adrian’s free games. In it you will find the cards you need as well as explicit instruction in how to play and ideas for further extension.