Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Shaken and Stirred

We all spent today in our school - without even talking to one another about it - going through practices of how to deal with an earthquake if it ever happened to us.

From diving under desks to racing into doorways, we went through what we need to do if this was something that we experienced.

Lots of the teachers looked at the challenges facing the Canterbury community. My class and I made a large brainstorm of ideas around what has happened and what will be the effect of this.

Many of the children have friends or family in Christchurch, as do I, but it seems that we are all sure of their well-being so it was interesting to have them share their experiences of their families trying to contact those in Christchurch last night for news. We made a list of the problems that we think the rescuers and locals will face over the next few days. We even created a timeline of what we think will happen - they 'red-flagged' the most important things that will need to be sorted out and in which order - from 'rescue people' through to 'get the power back on' and so on. It seemed surreal that we were making a plan about something that is actually happening in our country right now. The children wanted to talk and talk and the questions are innocent and yet tough, many of which we have no answers to.

Monday, February 21, 2011

What Really Matters...?

We spent a great morning session working on maths apps on the iPads and iPods. There was some amazing collaborative work throughout - children tutoring other children - lots of discovering and challenges.

And then the news comes in of the huge quake in Christchurch and we suddenly remember that life is all too fragile. That our families are all too precious. We remember that we, as teachers, are in loco parentus - if a disaster befell us, then we would be the parents to these precious children and we would be their guides and their light in a dark time. We would be their blessed assurance that all would be well again.

Tomorrow, this disaster will be all over our newspapers, youtube will be flooded and there will be days, months and years of recovery. We will talk to our children about the disaster - we will remind them of what we need to do if it happens to us. And we will count our blessings that it did not.

But tomorrow, for us at least, the learning will go on. We will examine our classrooms for the safest escape routes and the best coves to hide in if it ever happens again. We will re-visit as a staff and a school and a community what we need to do if we are ever in this situation.

And tonight?
Tonight we will hold our loved ones a little tighter. We will hug our children and parents a little longer. And we will remember how lucky we are to NOT be in the place where this has happened. But our hearts will bleed for them none-the-less.

Christchurch...we grieve with you. And our hearts break with yours tonight.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


This year so far is looking like an exciting challenge. My class are fantastic, but there are some learners who don't 'fit into the box' when it comes to how they learn.

My challenge at the moment is actually HOW to cater for them best as learners. I am determined to create a learning environment that is fully inclusive in-so-far-as to make sure that they are all fully independent and fully able to participate in what we do. With 9 reading levels, this presents an interesting mix already, but I have been madly creating and finding resources online to support their learning. I wonder at this stage, when the publishing giants will finally catch on that we need online as well as hard copy activities that we can use with our classes. With my wiki as our true learning space, I have had to reinvent the wheel with a range of activities from true and false, sequencing and character studies. With many of my readers at a lower level, there is a need to have them working independently and for me to achieve this, I have to have the resources for their needs.

An iPad would be the big dream of course - having one at home already I have discovered a ton of fantastic cheap/free interactive books online and have also found some great phonics based apps and activities to support their learning (these children need to make the letter/sound connections still and also need the auditory to written connections). I initially asked for an iPhone for mothers' day this year but may be changing that request to an iPad which will end up in my classroom! The iPod touch would add the element of creation to it - the ability for the children to create their own books/recordings/videos to then share with each other. Ah, the magic money fairy just needs to pop into school for a few months!

(Oh and I must say that I was also pleasantly surprised by the fabulous National Library who gave me the links to awesome, relevant children's websites for resources related to my topics. Well done to them for being 21st C savvy!) That saved me a HUGE job too!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

New, new, new...

Everywhere I look, there are new websites to blogs to professional reading to, new, new...all day, every second of every day new images, ideas and forums are appearing online...faster than my speeding fingers, twice the speed of the sound of my screams of panic as I miss more new things...

And in the classroom, more new skills to teach, more new ideas to develop, more new dreams to nurture, more new children to get to, new, new...

And for me, after 22 years of teaching, I feel old, old, old...while the new rushes all around me!

So I am embracing the new! My class are loving the new! The new concepts are met with new smiles and new joys! The new teaching is leading to new learning! The best thing is that in with the new comes the need for the old! The children are building on their 'old' skills and bringing in the new!'s a new year, new challenges and new thinking and let's just love that the new is exciting and so very different from the old!

And for every new website, link, image, wiki, blog that I find, the class benefit from it too!

New, new, new! :)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Success comes in different shapes and sizes in teaching and learning.

We can have those light-bulb moments where a student suddenly 'gets it' after weeks/months of processing information. We can have the slow burn times when the children build up their knowledge, layer upon layer as they come to grips with new skills.

Today I took my 13 Year 3 children out of the room during the Year 4 PAT testing and got to spend some time with them on their own. We took the laptops and the challenge was to decide on a high interest theme (personal to them) and create a presentation around this.

Now remember that only 1.5 weeks ago, 3 of these children didn't know how to open the lid on the laptops! But since then, some sharing, collaborating and learning has gone on. We have been 'passing it on' and the children have become the most wonderful thing of all - CURIOUS. They suddenly want to slap hands away from their keyboard/mouse and go all NIKE on me (just do it!!!)

They astounded me today by needing so very little teaching from me. The children were bouncing across computers, helping, instructing and noisily collaborating and participating! Yay!

But the lovely lightbulb moment came when one of my children, who struggles to communicate in the hard-copy world, went from child to child showing them how to re-size photos (which she had discovered) and then how to change the text size, background colours and so on. She had realised that all of the ideas in the world don't necessarily appear as words, and sometimes we need other skills to become proficient in other ways.

Bulb on!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Out Of The Mouths Of Babes...

Tonight, while my son rolled through my class wiki critique-ing the bits on it, he asked me how hard it is to create your own wiki. He had essentially decided that if his (old) mother could do it, so could he.

It was going to be my delight to give him a tutorial and then let him see how hard it is.

Sadly, this rather back-fired on me. It is (frankly) quite disgusting to watch your 11 year old create in 20 minutes what has taken me a whole year to become proficient at. He created buttons, linked them to new pages, added screen-shots and links and so on.

And what have I learned from this?

I am old.

Oh. And kids are just incredible.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Portraits of...?

A picture paints a thousand words, it's true, but words can also portray a thousand images in our mind as well.

My class created portraits based on Pablo Picasso's works. He was the forefather of Cubism and I believe that he was most likely a rather curious character. His early works are incredible - they are photo-perfect at times, so like his subjects that one must examine them closely to see that they are, in fact, painted and NOT photographed. But Picasso began to mess with art. He tried and tested stuff that people pulled faces at. He cut and paste (yes, with actual scissors and glue, not keyboard shortcuts!) a range of face parts and he tried them in other places. He looked at the way kids painted with lopsided facial features, 2 eyes on a face that was turned sideways and he thought,'Why not?' A whole art movement began because someone dared to be different!

I explained to my children that many people don't like his work. I told them to critique it - what DIDN'T they like about his portraits? I asked them to think about what GOOD art is and what BAD art looks like. Interestingly, many of them thought that this was bad art - he messed stuff up and they couldn't understand why he would do that when he could really paint!

Well, I think this gives us many insights into why and how children think and feel the way they do about their own art, why the computer or camera is 'safe' to them instead of their own work. We are often baffled by children's reluctance to 'create' when, in their own minds, they know we are NOT all born equal when it comes to these skills! Some can kick and catch, some can write and read, some can paint and draw, some can create codes and win online comps, some can do all these things! But we can't all do everything brilliantly and the reason that I chose to do obscure and imperfect portraits where we mess things around and go outside the box, was to let them see how great it is to create without boundaries.

Perhaps this is more of a portrait, then, of us as learners. Noses askew, eyes in the wrong places, ears that are 2 different shapes, hair malformed...we are absolutely imperfect and yet we are perfectly capable of trying everything. No-one would ever know what they were best at doing or loved doing if they didn't become a little bit 'Picasso' sometimes and just mess with perfection a little...

Friday, February 11, 2011

Pass It On...

Great learning conversation with a child in my class yesterday. He asked me how to embed a youtube clip into his presentation (he is 7) and so I sat with him for about 2 minutes and talked his hands and head through the process (in other words, I resisted doing it for him).

As soon as he had managed it (with cries of "cool!") I told him that I have one important rule around our learning in Room 14. His trusting eyes gazed up me expectantly as I explained our room rule of 'pass it on'. "What's that?" he asked.

"Well," I explained, "in our class I only want to teach something once and since I don't stop the WHOLE class to show them things most of the time, it's important that you share what I teach you with someone else - in other words, you PASS ON your learning. It means that you get to be teacher and learner as well as the fact that you can practice your new skills too!"

His face lit up!

But by this stage, he had a small audience of observers who were now checking out what he had been able to do. As I stepped back, he began to show someone what he had managed to do to his presentation. "How do you do that?" asked the other child.

His response was priceless.

"Well," he said, "I can show you but then you have to pass it on..."

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Look at TEACHING 2030

Hmmm...I love the presentation...I like the information...but am I crazy in thinking that 2030 is WAY too far away to be thinking that this will be a reality for? It looks more like 2015 in New Zealand to me!

If I look at my local schools and wider community, we have a broad cross-section of the population of Auckland at least to look at and these things that are talked about are already taking place! Okay, so EVERY child doesn't yet have access full-time in the classroom to all devices and a personal laptop/IWB/iPod or iPad each, but the reality is that we are also missing a step here. The TOOLS for schools must be driven by the SKILLS not the thrills! For when the hoop-la is over and the ash is clearing, the ONLY thing that will matter is whether the kids of 2015, 2020 or 20-whenever can THINK for themselves, whatever device, app or issue lies before them!

I think that this presentation hits the nail on the head when it states that 'better teachers help all students achieve more' - we are not buying OUT of our role, we are re-writing new rules around what is needed from us!

'Teach the 'googled' learner' really only means that our learners have new and wonderful ways to find information. OUR job then is to teach them discernment and how to ascertain whether information is credible or accurate.
The list of 'ideals' for the new basics are essentially our key competencies - long ago we realised that we had to take a more 'holistic' viewpoint when looking at the learner and how they will emerge at the end of their primary years in New Zealand so now we are finally TEACHING to these ideals. If it takes other countries another 19 years to get to that point, then I pity their learners and I do not envy their teachers!
As for students 'monitoring their own learning', we all know the need for this and we are on a pathway with our teaching that takes us directly to this end. If our children are not critical thinkers and reflective learners then the journey will be more difficult and fraught with frustrations and disappointments.
Teachers and teaching institutions since the beginning of time have clung to the old adage 'it takes a community to raise a child' and for as long as schools have existed there has been the approach that we do not do this job alone. If the children know we are working WITH their parents and the wider community to teach and support their learning, then the boundaries and support networks are in place and the learning is a smoother and happier, more engaging journey more all. The opposite often applies nowadays though, with many parents working full-time in high pressure jobs and feeling increasingly disengaged from their own role as parent and supporter which makes it more disjointed when we try to seek parental support if problems arise in the classroom. The solution? Well, I guess we have to just continue to work on THIS generation of learner and change the way that they view the world so that perhaps they will be able to work more efficiently in the future.
Whatever way we look at it, the future looks VERY bright from here...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Today's Blogging Effort

We have been sitting in the staffroom today musing over the things our class could do last year when the realisation dawned on us all (yet, again...) that the difference between LAST year's kids and THIS year's kids is:
(a) a whole year
(b) a whole year of teaching and
(c) a whole year of learning
There we all were, thinking that our class were going to somehow morph into the class we just finished with! And yet, as teachers, we seem to do this EVERY year!
So, no doubt it shouldn't come as ANY surprise to anyone (and especially me!) that the adventure in writing our blog entries today took 45 minutes and that was just getting us all signed in, opened our class intranet folders, created our own new ones, found relevant photos, typed a sentence (read it again - ONE sentence...) to reflect on the learning journey so far and then we never even had time to post them! Argh!
Well, patience not being my strong suit, I am having to relearn the amount of NEW teaching that I have to do!
Anyway, today one of my children wanted to know how to do something so I showed him and told him to 'pass it on'. He then went and showed 2 of his friends and frankly, it went viral within minutes. Perhaps this 'new year' stuff isn't quite as different to my class last year as I thought...

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Class Learning Agreement

We have actually waited until 5 days into knowing one another to undertake the task of constructing a class learning agreement (artist formerly known as 'treaty').
Here is the result of much consultation and discussion, negotiation, refinement and commitment to something that reflects who we are and what we value as qualities of a learner. This was a wonderful exercise - it was the first year we did it as simple, single words (qualities) instead of statements of expectation. The children really found it hard to begin with but we worked through a few ideas and tossed it round like an over-worked salad before all of the bits fell into place and the rest came easily.

The result, I believe, is a document that truly shows US. Room 14, inclusive as learners and thinkers of 2011. I believe that it reflects an ideal of how we wish to work collaboratively and our true expectations of one another.

Our school motto is 'learning together' so they decided that this needed to be a key part of the visual representation but MORE so, the words TEACHER and STUDENTS had to be a feature too. I was kind of hoping that they would encapsulate this a bit better by putting the word LEARNER as our key word - but I think they are unaware still of the fact that they, as well as me and all of the other teachers and adults in the world, are (at best) learners too!

Wonderful Wiki!

Oh wonderful wiki, we love you! The wiki has been an instant hit this year - I had a child ask me Friday, Monday and Tuesday, "When can we go on the wiki?" I have had to tell him the real answer...ALL THE TIME! It has truly become our working space already and I can't quite believe how well the class have adjusted already.

We had a great maths session Monday and Tuesday which involved instruction around how to use the maths button to navigate and why the sites were on there. I have challenged them to find me more - sometimes we forget who our best resources are! The class have stuck to the ideal of using the sites only on the wiki during this time and this has proven really successful. I went around and was able to do a rather informal assessment of their statistics knowledge and also I was able to do some wonderful 'on the spot' teaching too.

Today we have the iPads booked and we are going to work through the reading apps and wiki sites for this.

Oh wonderful wiki, I think I finally understand you!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Google Romance

The romance is still alive for Google. Somehow they have just managed to keep developing better and better tools beyond your basic search and they are more and more refined as we develop faster and better internet connections and speeds as well as billions of sites to search through! In the quest to find an answer, the search has never been better!

Imagine my delight when I discovered that even beyond the edge of the wonderful wonderwheel from Google is the even more refined, specific and simple Google Squared. It is a breeze to use, has everything on it that I need and is awesome for teaching children how to refine searches, use keywords and locate specific information simply and quickly. If you have not explored this fantastic tool then why are you still reading this?! Create a new tab and get playing!

Google - the romance is still alive!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Truth Is Out There...

Found a fascinating overview of the development of the www growth internationally and the global phenomenon that now drives us all.

I thought it was crazy to see how telegraphs were linked close to 200 years ago - guess where the www idea came from...

Isn't that the craziest thing that you have ever seen?

I think it looks slightly reminiscent of the internet in its beginning days!

Or perhaps an indicator of the countries that were conquered by the crown...

Or maybe the slave trade routes...

Give it to your class and see if they can work it out...

So, what does the internet look like if we take a snapshot of that? Do these images make you wonder if it could ever resemble anything like this as a pictorial representation? I found this pic below which is titled "The Internet, 2003"...

Now you just think I'm messing with you, don't you?

So here's an experiment in thinking for you to test on your class:
Take this image and ask them to tell you what it is - let them use any means possible to find the answer and see how many great ideas you get.

My own kids thought it was fireworks or silly string. My husband has yet to be convinced that it is anything!

We all know that house hippos of Canada and tree octopus of the Brazilian rainforest are just a joke and sent to test our ability to trust the www but what about this image then? Are we just to believe all that we read AND all that we see?

The out there...

Watching Spaces

There are a lot of things to consider when planning for the watching spaces in the classroom. iPods are great to play and view movies, podcasts, video podcasts, music and audiobooks and this would be awesome if we had even one per class. It is often difficult to give children choices around their ways of watching when you have not booked the iPods for that session (let's be honest, we have to share the resources!) So...I am having to be creative around these spaces. My 'wishlist' consists of a class iPod (or 2 or 3...) with 4-6 sets of earphones (and yes, a pack of earphone covers) but for now, I have finally wheeled the old but still working OHP back into the room. Having almost gotten rid of it last year, I am pleased to say that it will get a good workout this year for certain! I am madly copying poems and passages onto acetates and have placed some blank ones in the Writer's Cramp (writing corner) for the children to create their own to share.

Having checked the curriculum I have found: (under 'viewing' of texts in Literacy):
- recognises connections between written, oral and visual texts
- uses their experiences and world literacy knowledge confidently to make meaning of texts
- thinks critically...evaluates...makes connections (abr)

Therefore, it is imperative that we create spaces and opportunities within the eLearning context of a classroom for the children to develop these skills. Listening skills are developed by listening just as reading skills are enhanced by reading. I also have the IWB and the laptops to be able to view the movies, podcasts etc. so the framework is in place to utilise as many different types of watching spaces as possible. Trying to fit an old TV in the room would be difficult but that does not cancel out the option of using it during the year - I think this would fit brilliantly with our theme of 'advertising' which we are focusing on during this term. Imagine being able to watch our own homegrown adverts on "TV"!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Planting the seeds...

What a great time we had today planting our class garden! When we had our reflective time this afternoon, the class were full of the joys of what we had experienced with the planning and creating of our garden - they worked so well together and there was such a lot of language and learning around what we were doing and why, the planning was done by them and they were all involved fully!

I think the garden looks wonderful and the scent of mint floating through the classroom window is divine and a sure reminder for the children of what awaits them outside. With total 'buy-in' to the whole experience we are certain to have wonderful caretakers of this shared space.

There was a moment while we were working when I looked around and realised that we are growing so much more than a garden together. In that short space of an afternoon, we planted the seeds of our class unity, our collaboration, our ability to problem-solve together, take turns, support one another and enjoy living things...all in the garden outside our room. I think we will be growing together this year for sure!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Day 1 - Hanging Around With Us!

Well, it was a big first day! I didn't realise quite how much I would need to teach around getting on to the wiki and blog. A few of the children actually didn't know how to open a laptop (?) and they were quite baffled by the workings of a wiki. We looked at it as our workspace and they experimented with wallwisher and then investigated how to use the buttons to navigate around the wiki. I was impressed, as always, by how quickly a skills-base forms with children and technology. Wow. They were really getting into it and we had a big feedback session, talked with partners about the features found and also fed forward about 'where to next' for our learning - already! We took this photo as our first photo from the class for our flickr365 project. We looked through the previous pix that I have taken and we went to explore the school to decide what we would photograph - this was a great activity and a super intro to photography!

One of the pitfalls about the class layout is that there is only a tiny mat area which is functional for groups but we struggled to do our activities with all of us moving among partners. In retrospect, there is a definite need at this stage in the year to have that real class area so that we can get to know each other and interact as a whole. I think it will evolve into a less-used-space eventually but I do need to have a class area for now. I am going to adjust things on the weekend and move a few spaces so that I have the right area for now. There can be a bit more discussion around where we want to have the class space which is a great way of focussing on participation and collaboration!

The secret spaces were interesting - the children all investigated The Collapse Inn (our class library) but became automatically quiet when they were in there! None of the children really knew what to do with the other areas and this really indicates how unusual it is to have little nooks and crannies in a classroom for most children. We are going to investigate these areas fully over the next day and into next week and tomorrow is going to be another great day to be teaching!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Shared Spaces...again...

And then there is the shared space for writing and working collaboratively...check it out!
Affectionately known as 'The Writer's Cramp'!!!

Secret Spaces...again...

Check out how our class library has transformed itself into a lovely calm haven!

Thought Leadership

What does 'thought leadership' look like?
Ever THOUGHT about it...?
A thought leader is a futurist or person who is recognised for innovative ideas and demonstrates the confidence to promote or share those ideas.
Are YOU are thought leader?
You know, I have a brain that goes at 100miles an hour permanently. I really believe that if I had been at school in this generation, I would have been diagnosed as having ADD or ADHD and although I know that this is unusual for a girl, I think it would have been a great description of me!
I have so many thoughts and ideas that rip around my head all of the time, that I cannot share them fast enough. If I could cram another 24 hours of thinking into my day, I would! I think about what would make me a better teacher all of the time. I think about what will work and then think about how to test it.
It is our thoughts, you see, that make us all so unique. Being a thought leader is a quality that we must look for in our classrooms - the children who are constantly talking are generally constantly thinking too! That was me as a learner - I would cram as many questions into a short conversation as I could! That is exactly why I love the internet - I can FIND the answers and then think up more before you can click refresh!
Brainstorming is one of the best ways to encourage thought leadership - mind-mapping is another.
"The fact is that most people don’t really know how to think. Therefore they need leaders to help them realise their potential and the power of their thoughts. They need to understand that their thoughts are of great value. They need to understand their own thoughts..."
writes my husband when talking about thought leadership.
It may sound weird, but we need to purposefully teach about thinking - how do we get an idea out and how do we develop it, test it, trial it, modify do we get others to go along with it?
One of the biggest challenges is in 'managing self' - one of our Key Competencies in the NZ curriculum. We must purposefully direct those who appear to have the most innovative ideas but also have the ability to draw others to them to follow these ideas. There are many challenges in this - there are 'good' leaders and those who need much direction or who abuse their leadership, so a huge part of 'managing self' is the ability to influence others positively.
A lot to think about...