Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Thought Leadership

Are you an innovative thinker?
Have you ever even thought about it?

Thought innovation and thought leadership is a growing idea in education, but it has been around in businesses for a lot longer. These catch phrases are used to refer to thinkers and thought-leaders of our time, those who are willing to share their thoughts freely and at the risk of being wrong or even appearing foolish.

Thought leadership is defined in two parts:
- the thinking
- the leading

We all think. We all process new ideas and thoughts. The difference is that we don't all feel compelled to share these thoughts, especially if we think they may be 'out there' or colleagues may think the idea ridiculous or perhaps just not support it. For every 2-300 thoughts that are shared, discussed and debated, I would anticipate that maybe 5-10 ever get beyond the boardroom.

But let's look at that in a real-life context:
The Wright Brothers never bothered to think about the aerodynamics of a bird, so we remained grounded...
Henry Ford gave up on the mass production theory...
Albert Einstein dabbled in banking instead of thinking...
Edison decided that nothing could hold light in a stable manner...
Alexander Bell rationalised that writing a letter was better than trying to have instant conversations!

You can see that thoughts and innovation have gone hand in hand for all of time, but what separates these people and millions of others in the past, present and future is ACTION.

It is easy to think. It is simple to dream. We can all suggest ideas but what defines us as a thought leader is ACTION. The dogmatic approach to realising a dream rather than being sad about what didn't happen.

Thought leaders revolutionise their areas of learning and knowledge. They challenge the norms and expectations. They crush pre-conceptions and they laugh in the face of failure. Thought leaders are willing to dare, lose, fail, dodge bullets. They are able to be resilient beyond anything that others may think or how they may be criticised. They think their way through issues and problems and they lead their way through to solutions. The key strategy is to be different from others!

Are you a thought leader? Are you leading the way in an area of thinking that you have not even yet realised? Are you questioning the norms and challenging expectations? Are you creating problems ready for big ideas for solutions?

Monday, August 29, 2011

What Next???

I had a hilarious moment today when one of my children asked me, "What next Mrs R?" He was referring to where he is at with his personal online learning spaces and was actually trying to challenge my thinking! I had a great conference with him about the how and where he is storing his videos, blogs and bookmarks. I set HIM the challenge then of telling me 'what next'!

So in his usual deliberate and happy manner, he set off to find out! From asking his friends in the class, to going to the 'go to' people (other than himself!) to searching on the web, he certainly took the task quite seriously. He had decided that his wiki page on our class wiki is not enough any more - he had informed me quite respectfully that perhaps he and a few others were ready to have more control over their online choices and portfolios and so on...he seemed to believe that he is ready, at Year 3, to govern his own online learning zones.

Well, after a rather in depth revisit to our class wiki agreement, some of the basics of cyber safety and so on, he decided to grab a few others who are having the same problems as him, and get me to show them all how to create their own wiki. We did a bit of this through our class's Australia Inquiry so they knew a little about buttons, navigation and adding pages. But it was a case of talking about 'how' to manage a wiki - setting it up so it is only able to be edited by them and me, accessed safely by others, set up as an educational support for their learning and so on. The afternoon was spent with my industrious little team working together, negotiating their way around the wiki and creating as they went.

At the end of the day, when we were reflecting on the learning from today, my student said, "Well, Mrs R, you did good with today's challenge! What now?" I nearly fell about laughing! I think I may have taught him how to problem-create too well!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Facing The Giants

I finally got the chance to reflect on the past 8 months as a whole today. It is absolutely overwhelming how many doors have opened, how many contacts have been made, how many new learning opportunities have presented themselves because I dared to admit that I know very little and took the risk of trying new things. Failure? Absolutely. Terror? I know it well. Overwhelmed at times? Pretty much!
The outcomes that I decided were measurable and that I believed were the driving force behind the initiatives that I have been part of are:

  • key competencies
  • digital capabilities
  • change in mindset of the student where it is not them seeing the computer as being the word processing and games and fun, but as a choice of tool for looking for information
  • Student engagement in the learning process - stops being the teacher-led process and becomes the student-led process.
  • Children are involved in the planning, teaching and assessment
  • An inclusive learning environment
  • It stops being the teacher decision making for the child, and becomes the teacher asking the child: what do you need and how can I help you to get there?
  • ipsative assessment - children layered against themselves through ongoing narrative assessment process - feedback/feed-forward - where have I come from, what am I learning now, what do I need to know next?

When I re-read these outcomes today, I was forced to confront the cold hard facts...I have achieved most of this already! My students are the leaders now, the online spaces have become an extension of our classroom or as one colleague says 'the class without walls', we have embraced the 7 spaces of learning, learning conversations have woven themselves into the real psyche of all of the students, but there is still so much more to do! I am now considering my own 'where to...?' from here so that I am pushing myself to keep on thinking into the future of my learners.

This journey has always been about challenging myself, pushing out my thinking and really expanding my own personal learning so that it would positively impact on how I teach. What I have discovered is that there are no longer any boundaries to what we can learn, how we can access that learning and when we choose to do it. We are the authors of our own story and it is up to us to etch it into our very minds so that we are forever changed by what we learn.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Devices in the Classroom

There has been a huge shift for me over the past 2 years when it comes to tools vs. skills. When the first iPods were released I must admit that I bought one, loaded all of my music and really only ever used it when walking or in need of distraction! When the next generation iPods were released I didn't bother to upgrade, there seemed nothing to be gained from being able to load other media on them - it was a device for me to store and listen to music only. As they further developed into the iPod touch generation, I really saw it originally as a mode of delivery for games and a tool for storing media.

The iPad equally underwhelmed me. It seemed like a very large screen to carry around that could do the same things as an iPod which still seemed like very little. Well, I was to be proven very wrong! The first time I actually took a iPad wrong, I loved the feel, the ease of using it, how simple it was to find and use the apps, how light it was, the amount of data it could store. In fact, my only bug-bear was probably the fact that Flash driven sites couldn't be accessed like Mathletics, but there is even a way around that now! Also, the 1st generation iPad had the downfall of no camera, but the 2nd generation do and this makes it really easy. It's the same with the iPod touch 4, we are to do infinitely more on that now that it has the camera and video capability.

Still, at that first stage, I was thinking in games and apps. Only as I approached the learning differently did I begin to plan and think differently. It was a huge shift from tools to skills. I have learnt to plan the skills to be learnt then look at the outcomes of this (as a big picture) and THEN consider the mode of delivery. I have also learnt to develop and scaffold the choices that they have for delivery, in other words, the children making their own choices within guidelines. This has taken some very deliberate planning and teaching on my behalf so that they were equipped to self-manage these choices.

The iPads and iPods have added an incredible asset to the way of learning in this generation and they have been an amazing gift to the many special needs children as they have leveled the playing field for these children. As I have mastered the WHY as well as the HOW to embracing this new technology, they have also become a true asset to my classroom and one that I would hate to be without now!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

QR codes and the humble class trip

We had a fantastic class trip this week all around Auckland. It was a part of getting to know our place in the world, starting with our own city. We decided to do a take on the old 'Sunday Drive' theme, so we started at the waterfront and worked our way into the city and then back out again.

The different spin on an old theme was that we integrated some digital skills by involving the iPods. We were able to take one per group of 3 children and the parent helpers were taught by their children what to do!

We started with a clue for each stop and then a task that they needed to accomplish while at that destination. All of these were hidden in the QR codes. If we had had Wifi at our destinations we could have included links to websites but we weren' t able to do that this time.

So the first stop was Mission Bay and they had to find a fountain and take a photo with their group standing in front of it. We also got them to sketch the volcano of Rangitoto, which hides out in the harbour. Then we spent some time investigating the beach and the playground got a good going through.

From there, we went to Bastion Point which is quite a historical landmark in Auckland that is sadly overlooked. The children loved the views and their QR challenge was to find a photo of a famous New Zealander, who was Michael Joseph Savage, the first labour Prime Minister of New Zealand. They then explored the area, the gardens, the view and the monument.

On into town...we had a fantastic time at the viaduct, exploring the new part that has been developed for the Rugby World Cup called the Wyndham Wharf. We had traditional fish 'n' chips there, served up piping hot and even including lemon slice, tartare sauce and tomato sauce, which we ate at lovely outdoor tables just outside of the Fish Market. None of the children had been to this area before and they loved looking around and playing on the huge playground, climbing up the big overbridge, running around the old silos, visiting the old ship in the harbour and viewing the Auckland Harbour Bridge from pretty close to it! Their QR clues here were to photograph a large letter M and S, photograph the orange stripes (which were on the walkway) and to take photos of the view. We watched the tram as it drove laps around the area and the kids just loved it.

From here we had a clue about the All Blacks, so it was off to Eden Park, home of the Rugby World Cup final 2011. We were incredibly lucky that a parent had arranged for our group to actually go inside and take a look at the hallowed turf, so the children went in and got to sit almost on top of the field, watch the groundsmen at work, interview a former Auckland Blues player and ask questions of the CEO to NZ Rugby's P.A. I was impressed at how grand the stadium looks and we are certainly going to have a fantastic few matches there.

Then, a very exhausted and happy crew of just over 100, climbed back on board the bus for the return journey home. The parents commented on how fabulous the day was and the children certainly loved every minute of it. A group have decided to create a QR quiz for another class to see what they learnt on the trip.

It was such a great day, with perfect weather and plenty of challenges for the kids. The QR codes ROCKED!

How To Get The Most Out Of...(Part 10)


Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.
One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, so he walked faster to catch up.
As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects and throwing them into the ocean.
He came closer still and called out, "Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?"
The young man paused, looked up and replied, "Throwing starfish into the ocean."
"I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?" asked the somewhat startled wise man.
To this the young man replied, "The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them in, they'll die."
Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, "But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can't possibly make a difference!"
As if he hadn't heard, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he turned, smiled and said, "It made a difference to that one!"

Some of the teachers in our PLN were discussing what it might be like to work in a school where we were all like-minded and where we were all on the same page when it comes to thinking, eLearning, devices and so on. This sounds ideal perhaps in many ways, especially when you work in a school where it's a real challenge to get change and also to get people on board. But would I want to work in a school where we were all on the same page at all times? And would this REALLY be possible or would teachers stagnate, stop growing, stop challenging themselves or start to really compete?

Personally, my thinking is that I would much rather work in a school where we have to think and repsond to others who are struggling with changes in education. It looks largely like my classroom of diverse learners and reflects the challenges that they face daily and throughout their time at school as well as in life.

I think it's about being infectious in a good way, kind of when people say, "I gotta get me some of that!" That's what drives me to help other teachers because we are ALL learners and I refuse to leave any starfish on the beach...even if I have to affect the tide!!!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

How To Get The Most Out Of...(Part 9)

...student teachers!

Now don't panic everyone, I am NOT going to rave on about teachers having time to put their feet up, leave the building and chillax on a mini-holiday while a student does all of the work for them, in fact, quite the opposite! If you are quality associate teacher, then you will know how much work it entails to host a student teacher in your classroom. It is NOT the cruise that some people may try to tell it as, it is NOT an easy time, but it is a wonderful experience every time, regardless of whether there are small or large challenges!

So, how do we, as experienced teachers, or they, as student teachers, get the most out of the teaching practicum that we share?

1. Be ready to learn - we as associates are going to learn plenty as we model and teach, and the student teacher needs to be totally ready to learn also. You may have had lots of learning that occurred on previous practicums but you will always learn more and there will be NEW learning too. If both sides approach the experience with open minds, ready to learn, then there will be plenty of room to grow.

2. Be prepared - know your student, know their brief and the overview of the expectations for their teaching and learning while they are with you, and student teachers must research the information on the school they are going to work in - what decile is it, how many students and teachers, any special aspects about the school, the name of the principal and the strengths of the school. Be prepared to learn on day 1 - have your folder set up and ready to go and be enthusiastic about starting!

3. Be professional - always remember that the teacher is the expert and the student teacher will look to you for what is acceptable. If you walk around with a coffee in your hand or roll back to class late after a break, then the student teacher will think that this is the norm at your school. If you approach your parents respectfully and have strong relationships with them, then the student teacher will make an effort to follow that model too. You are able to leave a deep impression on a very impressionable person, so always behave in a completely professional manner, one which reflects who you are as a teacher.

4. Put the learning first - the learning of the students and the student teacher is paramount. The inclusion of the students (either of these!) in the planning, teaching, learning and reflection is the most important thing. The student teacher needs to be a part of the whole process just as the classroom students need to be so make the classroom inclusive and encouraging.

5. Be positive - even if the experience gets hard - either for the associate teacher or the student teacher - a positive spin on things will keep you afloat when nothing else will! Stay positive and look for the aspects of the practicum that are going well, then focus together on one change that could be made to improve what is happening. There is no point in beating yourself or a student teacher up when there is a less-than-successful lesson or experience. Look at what went wrong, critically reflect on it then put it behind you and move on. We need to learn from our mistakes, but there is no point in continuously revisiting them once they have been reflected on. We learn from those mistakes when we use them to positively affect our future teaching.

The time we spend sharing our classes with student teachers is an incredible part of the foundation that builds them as future teachers. It is our responsibility to make sure that they get as much out of the experience as possible and their responsibility is to ensure that they glean as much new learning from the experience as possible. It is a tricky balance at times and it can be an extremely difficult time together, as well as an extremely rewarding time of learning together. But is always worth it, as we build the future of teaching and learning together.

Friday, August 19, 2011

How To Get The Most Out Of (Part 8) media!

It's changed the way we think, communicate and debate. It's infiltrated schools, homes and workplaces like none before it other than the www. It's out there, it's been revolutionary, it's global and it's addictive...but how do we utilise and harness the power of social media?

1. Decide on the purpose for each social media tool - look closely at how others are using the tool and then decide on how this will look for you. For example, will you have a PLN developing through using it or is it just for socialising with friends overseas? Each tool has a slightly different function but each has the power to bring the world closer so it's a case of working out why we want to sign up to it and how we will utilise it best.

2. Check all of the settings when you sign up - there is nothing worse than receiving 1,000 e-mails a day or text messages because you didn't change the settings to stop that! It is also a case of making sure that you have protected your own personal safety and privacy by adjusting the settings accordingly. A friend of mine didn't realise that she needed to constantly monitor and change her privacy settings on facebook and ended up with her page being hacked and lots of messages sent out by someone pretending to be her! All because her page was so easy to find and her privacy settings almost didn't exist as facebook has changed all of their own settings.

3. Use it or lose it - if you decide to use social media professionally to build a PLN, you have to use it. People will follow you on places such as twitter only if you add value to their learning. There is great learning to be done through these networks but you must also contribute to the learning of others - even if it just by re-tweeting someone's own messages. When you go quiet and stop adding comments, people tend to divorce you quickly and your network ceases to grow. So, get busy, even for 10 minutes a day, and your network will grow!

4. Be careful what you say...all things silly have a way of biting us in the butt if we are foolish enough to put them onto social network sites. Sadly, something that we say, do or photograph may look or seem hilarious today but it is the future that must be considered. "With great power comes great responsibility..." is a phrase coined by Spiderman that we must constantly think of when using social media. The internet is powerful tool, social media is a powerful communication tool and we must exercise great responsibility with this power. Never be so naive as to think that delete means delete forever, your global footprint can be a terrible dent.

5. Write, read and learn! There is blogging, tweeting, Facebook, Googledocs, Reader and Youtube but the list is endless and often under-utilised in different countries. The more you write, the more you read and the more you communicate, the bigger the boundaries expand outward and as your learning network grows so does your learning. Use it, learn with it and love it! Social networking has changed the way we live and it is a great thing when embraced fully for what it is - an amazing learning tool!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

How To Get The Most Out Of (Part 7)


Oh yes, the most looked forward to day of the week for most, the day that has evoked so many jokes, anagrams and reasons for wine that it is ridiculous! Sayings such as TGIF and songs inspired like 'It's Friday' by Rebecca Black echo in the recesses of our minds as we start on Monday and dream of Friday.

But what can we do to get the MOST out of teaching on a Friday???

1. Make Friday the day to celebrate with your class - build a regular reflection slot on a Friday where your class can record their most ambitious undertaking for the week, their newest learning, their most curious event, their silliest joke told by the teacher that week and so on. Make this a fun reflection so that they connect fun and learning together!

2. Make time to do the things that get put off - we timetable buddy reading across the entire school so that during every Friday, over 820 children cuddle, huddle and buddy up with other classes and share a really special reading time together.

3. Avoid making Friday your 'finishing off' day - quite frankly, who wants to do this every Friday? I make Friday the day that we START new things - it is up to us to create a label around what learning is like ANY day of the week, so why do we label Friday as 'finishing Friday'???

4. Go out for lunch - if there is no other day of the week that you manage to exit the gates at lunchtime, Friday should be the one you do it on. At one school that I worked at in England, the head teacher did the overall lunchtime duty on a Friday and sent us all, the entire staff of 6!, down to have lunch in the village. She would even ring a 5 minute warning bell for us just before the kids were due back in, so that we could bustle back. In doing this small thing for us, she built such a lovely culture within her staff because we would spend that hour together, stress free, once a week and just enjoy each other's company as people.

5. Plan a relaxing weekend when you can - a Friday always seems to come just before a Monday if we have too much going on! So try to take time to just chill out and relax on the weekend. We work very hard as teachers and one of the ways to ensure that we can give our best is to aim to rest and unwind so that we can truly function at our best by Monday.

So, it's Friday, Friday and guess what? I am on duty, have a busy weekend planned and no chance of going out to lunch today let alone relaxing on the weekend! BUT...I do have a day of starting our wearable arts planning and painting, buddy reading, recording our reflections using and much, much more! So, I am least ticking a few of my own boxes (no-one is expected to be perfect on a Friday!)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

How To Get The Most Out Of...(Part 6)


There have been a lot of ideas around the use of devices and the move forward in mobile learning, but debates still seem to rage over many things such as a computer lab/ICT suite vs. desktops/laptops permanently in classroom, tools vs. gadgets and so on. We, as teachers, have to weigh up the value that is added to our students' learning when we utilise a teaching tool well, measured against us using something for the sheer luxury of saying we have tried it.

So how can we ensure that our students are able to glean the very utmost from the use of devices on their learning pathways?

1. Know the device, but don't worry about knowing MORE about it than the students! Often as teachers, we become daunted by what we DON'T know and this can stop us from actually allowing our students to be the experts. It is not important to know all of the answers - we never will!

2. It is about the skills and knowledge NOT the device! So often teachers get this around the wrong way - we give the devices to our students to play games or to just 'check them out', or we give them a gizmo or gadgets or a glamorous activity that has plenty of bang for its buck and neglect to manage the learning outcome. Why do they do the task? It's all about the learning and this is just the method of delivery. Try to remember that not that many years ago, a stick and the sand were the tools of the time...they worked well when the OUTCOME drove the learning too!

3. Plan your sequence of skills thoroughly and then let change occur. Plan to allow the outcome to drive the next steps in the learning. The devices sometimes overshadow this process and we as teachers have the power over this part of the learning, so we should make sure we really do guide the learner all the way through the scaffolding of new skills.

4. Teach digital responsibility at all times. Although the devices may not be online at all times, it is essential to teach small bites of digital responsibility as we go. Little and often will help to really embed the need to be considerate users of devices, from online safety to appropriate use of tools and so on. This needs to weave into the very tapestry of our learners' lives so that it becomes a part of who they are as learners.

5. Let the kids play! We know that research shows time and again the power of play. By allowing the learner to explore, test, try and discover on a device, we actually hand the power to control learning back to them, we show them that we trust them to be responsible and we actually allow them to synthesize. The NEW learning is what they can then share with others - children have an amazing way of finding the short-cuts and discovering new and wonderful things without any input from us! They just need the time to try!

Oh, and don't forget to have some 'play' time for yourself too, this is a wonderful way to find out new things for yourself. Well, why should the kids have ALL the fun...?!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

How To Get The Most Out Of...(Part 5)

...your colleagues!

I love working with people. I just couldn't imagine a job where I had to work behind a desk or drive around alone, or anything that shut me away from people (and shut my mouth!)

Lucky, lucky me! Every day I get to meet and interact with adults and children, all learners, and all approaching their days differently! Bound up in all of these people though are the complexities of the relationships that we have with all of those we work and learn with, from parents to other teachers.

So, how to get the most out of your colleagues...from learning from them to getting them to buy into your ideas and so on...

1. Listen. It works with children and adults alike! We all like to feel valued and being truly listened to is the fastest way to get your own ideas listened to and bought into.

2. Learn. Take what you see from others that is good practice and weave it into your own classroom. Put your own stamp on it, mould it to fit you, but adopt it none-the-less.

3. Ask. You would be surprised how many of us get nothing because we actually don't ever ask! How silly, when we all love to be asked for our opinion or expertise, so why do we hold off from asking others for theirs? It doesn't make us look foolish to ask, in fact, quite the makes us look like we are still learning.

That's really all there is to it, I believe. It is easy to work with people, tricky to learn with people and even trickier to learn from people. But we all have so much to learn and so many wonderful resources sit under our noses everyday - they are the other people in our schools.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

How To Get The Most Out Of...(Part 4)

your class trip!

We are doing a trip next week called "The Mystery Bus Tour" around Auckland. We have decided to use QR codes and the iPods to create a map with clues for where we are going, so the children have to follow a mystery map to get us there! The QR codes with info on each place is on an A4 card at each place (I have to race off the bus at each stop and plant it!) so that they also have clues to follow and points to find and photograph. So, how do we get the make sure we get the best out of this (or any!) class trip?

1. Have an outcome - we wanted the outcome to be that our children would know more sights, locations and special places in their city. We have children who travel the world but often fail to see the landmarks and historic places around the city that they live in.

2. Be safe - plan for all of the health and safety aspects of the trip, make sure that you have thought out every 'worst case scenario' so that you have action plans ready for any eventuality.

3. Plan, plan, plan - ensure total buy-in from the class by planning relevant activities and inquiry in the lead-up to the day. Sent notices and permission slips out early and make sure you have enough parental support for the day, take more helpers rather than less!

4. Know your place - I have just spent most of yesterday driving the exact route that we are taking, timing how long we need between and at each place, as well as noting all of the safety aspects of this trip as we will be near water at the wharves. It is vital to know the place that you are visiting so that you can answer the children, staff and parents' questions and so that you can lead the learning on the day rather than wandering around unsure of where you are going!

5. Group your children well - make sure that you keep the children who need more support or monitoring with you. It may seem like 'a day out' to others, but your role as the teacher is not changing on that day. Your learners represent themselves, their school, their family and YOU so make sure you keep the 'colourful characters' in tow with the most expert adult - YOU!

6. Enjoy the day! Enjoy your children, see the learning and the experience through their eyes - you will enjoy the day most if you have planned, prepared and invested fully into their experience.

Friday, August 12, 2011

How To Get The Most Out Of...(Part 3)

...your planning!

I keep having these discussions with colleagues around how much planning we do and how often the lessons, learning and outcomes look completely different to those plans. Well, I celebrate that! For me, this means that the learning has truly come from the learner and that's what it's all about. It's kind of 'the best laid plans of mice and men' and 'leading a horse to water' and all that stuff! We can make all of the most amazing plans in the world but if those lovely learners are not engaged and have no ownership or sense of responsibility towards this learning, then what are we doing it for?

So, how do we get the best from our planning?

1. Aim for the outcome to drive your teaching - it's all about their next learning steps and how they will achieve them! Look first at the goal, the specific learning outcome, and work backwards from there.

2. Allow for change - expect the lessons to change and shift, slide and move because the children, if they are truly driving their own learning, will move the teaching in the direction that they require.

3. Be prepared to be unprepared! Oh yes, you read it right, the older the learners are, the more this applies. The class will possibly take you unawares at times as they move their thinking in other directions and this is okay as long as we are prepared to change what we teach with it.

4. Adapt your plans - make sure that as each day goes by, you are constantly adapting and emending your future plans to accommodate the needs of your learners.

5. And a box smasher! Don't even attempt to put your class into boxes - they are "futures" children and they don't do boxes! They expect and deserve for you to be flexible and adaptable, constantly thinking of new and novel ways to engage their minds and to challenge their thinking. Smash the boxes and get them thinking!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

How To Get The Most Out Of...(Part 2)

...your PLN!

Have you? Well, HAVE YOU? Have you got a PLN? Do you know what all the darn hype is about and do you even care?

PLN - it's simple! It's your Personal Learning Network and it has many different faces. It's kind of like an extension of your professional development and it's much more ongoing than any conference or training that we sign up for! It applies to every walk of life but for educators it is a way of being let into every classroom in the world if we want to be! It opens up the world to educators, allows us to offer opinions and expertise when asked for advice, gives us a forum for sharing excellence as well as a way to tailor our searches for information, answers and useful tools/links in a way we couldn't have imagined only a few years ago. While half of the world still had no idea of what Social Networking even was, the other half were exploring and beginning to utilise the power of a PLN before they even knew its name.

So how do you get the MOST out of your PLN or how do you even begin to get engaged in one?

Step 1 - sign up to as many relevant social networks as you think you can manage. I find Twitter and Facebook are the most useful for me professionally, but you may find others that are best for you. I have only bothered with these as I find that they are the most I can manage and they are the most powerful for me at the stage that I am at. I use for all of my social and learning bookmarks and this is manageable also. My class flickr account is a way to document our learning journey but it is really only for the class, their parents and I, although we do search and find other schools and other classes so this also fosters and grows our knowledge of the world around us and the learning pathways of others. Skype is used to communicate with other teachers and classes as the opportunities arise and the class have had a lot of new learning and networking through this means.

Step 2 - get writing! The more tweets you send out (thoughtful, insightful, intelligent, provoking, relevant and professional tweets mind you...) the more people will follow you. It starts like a slow burn and gradually gains momentum as you find more people to follow and they locate you. The best this I ever did was to start my professional blog (you are reading it!) and then tweet the links to each post as I completed them. It took a long time to get the snowball rolling, but once I did, it was go, go, go!

Step 3 - get talking! Make and take every opportunity to talk to other teachers - those who you meet every day at school and those that you meet online as well as others who you encounter on courses and at conferences. Ask questions and don't be afraid to ask the 'stupid' questions - remember that the only thing foolish about a question is the fool who never asks.

Step 4 - get exploring! Go online and look up everyone you can who is in education and appears to be doing all of the talking, tweeting and writing as well as all of the presenting and challenging the parameters of new thinking. Research the blogs you feel speak to where you at on your learning journey, bookmark them and follow them on GoogleReader or such. Read, read, read and then send the links out through Twitter and get people re-tweeting what you are driven to share.

Before you know it, you will be in a PLN all of your own! You will be connected in new and wonderful ways and you will have the answers to your questions in a heartbeat whenever you call upon your expert network to help you. Your PLN will shape-shift, evolve and grow, always changing to be what you need at that time to grow professionally.

How To Get The Most Out Of...(Part 1)

...your conference!

So you are off to a conference, free from the constraints of home life and planning/teaching in your classroom for a few days, relaxing away from the normal stresses of life! The question is though - how do we get the best out of our time away from this daily life when we are in a learning environment and the focus is on just that - learning?

RULE #1 - plan
The only way to ensure that you can get to experience the conference in its full glory, is to plan carefully what you WANT to get out of it. Know the area where the conference is and arrive early on the first day and where possible, to each session, so that you are able to get a good seat and be there from the beginning of each session. Plan what you most want to see, hear and experience so that you are most likely to get to do these things!

RULE #2 - prepare
Read as much material as you can before you go - from maps and overviews to going onto Twitter or other social networks and 'doing your homework' so that you know which speakers are really going to be relevant to where you are at in your learning journey.

RULE #3 - use your PLN
Check out the people who you know will give you professional opinions and advice and ask the tough questions - has anyone been to this conference before? What do they recommend by way of experiences, speakers and sessions. Seek and find!

RULE #4 - go ready to learn
When you go, make sure that you have no distractions - turn off devices for the duration of each session unless you are tweeting because of the session! Make sure that your focus is entirely on your own learning - you have set aside this time to get the most learning out of this time that is possible so you really want to give yourself every opportunity to do this.

Make sure you sleep well, get out and enjoy the local area, meet other like-minded people, eat out, have a relaxing time and thoroughly emerse yourself in the fullness of the dinners, celebrations, prize-draws and getting some new networking going!

Being able to step out of the classroom and develop new learning networks as well as to synthesize new learning is healthy and vitally important as a growing teacher.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Blazing The Trail!

It's Maths Week this week and it could easily just drift past with little or no effect on what we do, but we are a great school for embracing opportunities and running with them! Think 'Mastermind-meets-The Amazing Race'...

So...we had our big 'maths trail' today which had our 240+ kids charging around the school this afternoon at warp speed, searching for the clues and solving on the run! There were all of the elements of the key competencies with the children managing themselves so that they kept the answers to themselves, relating to others as they shared the solving with their partners, language and symbols aplenty with the quizzes and activities, problem-solving as they went from place to place, communicating with others, participating and contributing as they gathered data and shared with others what they found, fully engaging in blazing the maths trail!

The children had to find numbers on walls, solve the quiz questions in classroom windows, add room numbers and the school phone number, find shapes in the Junior playground, locate numbers on the Music room window, estimate how many hand prints are painted on the garden wall, count the stairs, work out how many windows were on one side of the classroom, solve word problems on class IWBs and more! There was collaborating and conversing, arguments and debates, discussions and deliberations! The children were engaged from start to finish and there was not a single moment when they were off-task which is really saying something for 240+ children of 7-9 years old charging like rhinos around the schoolyard!

Fun? Oh yes! Fast and furious? Definitely! Maths fun for all and learning aplenty? Guaranteed! Oh Maths Week looks like another great week to be a teacher!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

To Blog or NOT to Blog...

The big question is this: are your class blog and wiki an extension of your classroom programme or just a place to display excellent work or a real pain to keep on top of?

I began slowly 2 years ago...I eased myself into the whole thing with a small, basic class wiki. It was a hassle to keep up to date. I tried really hard to work on it regularly, but by the time I reached the first round of parent interviews, I was over it. Actually, I had completely forgotten about it.

Last year, I started with guns blazing, every hot idea in the forefront of my mind with the best of intentions. By the end of the first term I asked myself the big question: why am I doing this??? And most importantly, WHO am I doing this for?

So I stopped what I was doing. Yup, just stopped. Then I spent several weeks with my class purposefully seeking out what THEY wanted to be on the wiki, what was useful to help their learning, what websites would support their learning goals and so on. We built the wiki together and we added to it constantly. If wikis could fall apart from the weight of information, then ours would have!

Suddenly, there was a shift that occurred in the classroom. The kids rushed in every morning to get onto the class wiki. They added to their own pages and took each other on tours of the fantastic new ideas they had discovered. They supported one another and shared their skills of how to embed youtube clips, how to link to other pages, how to put slideshows from keynote onto and then embed it...the list just grew and grew...

So what had happened? Our wiki became an extension of our classroom. We became a class without walls and we all knew it. The children had an investment in their own learning and they wanted more. They were engaged in the process of planning and they were a part of the decisions around what they wanted to learn and how to do that.

This year, after finally get my head around blogging with children, we have added our class blog as part of our class without walls. This platform also provides us with a forum for reflection - not just token reflections of what we like but real, deeper thinking about an authentic learning pathway and the feedback and feedforward that drives that learning journey.

My personal blog here has become a way for me to reflect on the power of the journey that I have been on for almost 4 years. If I look back, I was stumbling for the first 2 years, tripping over everything that I put in my own way. But if I get real here, the reality is that NO journey is fun alone. And that was what I was trying to do! I was journeying in an empty car and I was trying to drive and navigate at the same time! No GPS in sight! So now, my class are on the bus with me and we are loving the ride!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Sharing and Caring!

We are very fortunate in our profession to have many opportunities to share knowledge and also to have knowledge shared with us! This takes a variety of shapes such as professional development days, staff meetings, techie brekkies, mentoring, modeling, paired teaching, class swaps, electives and so on.

Today was one such day for me where I was able to go in and swap classes with another teacher and spend time teaching her class a new skill, while she taught new and wonderful things to my class! My children learnt about writing a letter to someone and started writing an imaginative letter to a friend. The teacher who I swapped with is an extremely gifted creative writing teacher and my class were abuzz with the excitement of what they had learned long after the dust had settled!

I then worked with my colleagues class and the whole purpose of the session was to teach the children how to embed images/widgets onto their wiki page. We created a travel slideshow based on Italy as this is the country that they are comparing living in New Zealand to. They selected and saved 10 images, named them and then uploaded them onto TripAdvisor which then allows you to add a title, description and label/group the images.

We then copied the embed code, opened a new tab, logged into their class wiki and clicked 'edit' on their page and proceded to add a widget. Now, considering that this is the first time that this group of children have added any moving text (widgets) to their wikis, they were amazing! I had hoped that we would get some of them completed if we were lucky in the 40 minutes we had, but I was sure we would have to come back to the task another time. However, every child completed the task through to the final challenge - viewing each other's work! It was an extremely successful session and when the class reflected on their learning they talked about learning new skills, being able to make mistakes, feeling like experts (when they finished I asked them to act as the expert for others) and having more confidence now to add things independently to their wiki page, which is exactly what we are aiming for.

I love to work with other classes, it is so revealing to us as teachers to have those constant challenges of having to manage learning in a range of environments, ages and stages. These children were extremely confident and quite daring - although they sought assistance they did NOT want me to solve it for them or do it for them, they simply wanted some guidance and 'coaching' so that they could feel successful without me interfering. This is the culture of the students within our school and it certainly reveals how far we have come over the past few years. It is a recognisable shift of power and shows me, yet again, that we do not control the learning but our students do.

BOOM! The Knowledge Bomb Begins!

We have started our Inquiry Learning this week around the topic of Australia. We are comparing and contrasting life in NZ and Oz. Yesterday, I took in a didgeridoo and asked the children to feel it (they couldn't see it - it was covered) and think about what it could be. I gave them small clues such as that it makes a noise if you blow it and so on. I also got them to feel a boomerang - which several of them guessed easily, but no-one had a clue about the didgeridoo! This generated a lot of thinking and talking!

We then looked at the didgeridoo and after a few further prompts, one child managed to work it out! Then we moved into small groups and they worked together to write as many words and ideas as they could about Australia. There was a huge buzz around this and I was really impressed as to how well this process is embedded in my class, as they just talked, debated, added and emended regardless of what the other groups were doing and saying. Every group had quite different ideas and brainstormed really collaboratively.

Today we used the lists that we had made and organised them into groups and sorted them according to commonalities such as food, culture, places, people, animals and so on. The class found this challenging at times and there were a few tarantulas and blue-tongued lizards mixed into the group of 'places' and so on! However, we did manage to negotiate our way through this and now I am typing it to put on our wiki for tomorrow's activity!

The class discussed, debated and actually decided pretty quickly that we would present our findings and new learning on a wiki that we have started to create. So we used some time during our writing session to get a group to create the start of the wiki, settling on the style and design together, adding buttons and links for each page. And this was the group of children who couldn't even get on the school server to open their sharing page at the start of the year! Boy, did they make it look easy!

So, the wiki is up and started and I have added our links for a sort of 'intranet' without the added stress of adding to our intranet. Gee I love wikis! Watch this space for updates...