Sunday, 28 September 2014

The Great Debate - To Type or to Hand Write? That is the Question.

My first memory of sitting down to write was on my first day of school in Miss Persy's class at Bishopdale School.

I drew a beautiful picture of my family complete with a yellow spider sun and box house and Miss Persy wrote about my family underneath. She asked me to draw underneath her words so I did. A line. All the way around each of her sentences. 

I suspect I already could write as I like writing. I know that I didn't make that mistake again.

I remember writing letters to my grandmother and to cousins. We lived overseas for a while so I had a real purpose. It was a treat getting letters back. I wrote little poetry books with sugar paper covers attached with wool bows or staples. I had a lot of fun in Form 1 and 2 where my teacher allowed a group of us to write plays which we even performed on parent nights. These were usually based on books we had read and were definitely collaborative affairs. We carefully copied out the scripts for each other. Purposefully.

Even in the non exam years at high school we had imaginative teachers who allowed us to write the documents for medieval worlds. I remember a dictionary based on Jabberwocky and village magazines based on "The Sword in the Stone." We had copies of a lettering book and carefully traced or copied the fonts. 

But I'm not talking about hand writing drills. I remember going over and over letters at my expatriate school but discovering in New Zealand that my letters were not perfect enough. It was a real mission with an ink pen that had a scratchy nib and blotted the paper when I least expected it.

Handwritten essays at senior level were not so much fun. Writing and rewriting to make sure there were no mistakes - and second guessing where the grade or mark out of 20 came from.

By this time I had thrown away the cursive script as unwieldy, unattractive and belonging to my grandmother's letters. I printed neatly but had made my own style with little "a"s that looked like upside down "e"s and circles above my "i"s.

By varsity I had developed a scrawl suitable for taking down notes quickly although I still neatly printed essays, with that same rewriting I felt I needed for a quality product to impress the marker. I remember rewriting job applications many many times in order that the prospective employer would be impressed by my obvious thorough attention to detail.

My fingers still show the disfigured knuckles and sometime callouses of all that pen holding.

Then I stopped writing. I wrote comments on essays as an English teacher and my own banda sheets but I no longer "wrote". No audience, no purpose, no time.

Along came computers. What joy to type a letter which I could revise and send out to friends and family. I loved setting out the Parents'Centre newsletter. Why? 

An authentic audience. The ability to write and rewrite. The ability to satisfy my OCD tendencies with a beautifully typed piece of text.

I've promised myself this blog post for some time. I've read arguments about handwriting and typing. I'm not finished and I don't believe any of the pieces of research I've seen are conclusive.

I do know that writing is about joy of expression, meeting needs to communicate and choosing the best available tool for the job - my choice of tool.

I know students who didn't read a book until they wanted to read the road code.
I know students that only write in exams as a means to an end; but they text or use Facebook.
I have seen the "aha" moment on faces when Grandma replies to a post on a blog. 
I've heard students talk about the joy of writing on a laptop because they hate their handwriting style.

I enjoyed writing because I was creating. I do a pretty good two finger typist thing and would hate typing lessons just like I hated handwriting drills and other "have to complete" things. You know when you have to fill out a form or do a long survey? No joy there!

My 22 year old daughter completed her degree online. I completed my post grad paper online without ever touching a pen or paper. I actually made a point of it. I didn't want to rewrite text off bits of paper. I hate the piles of paper on my school desk that other folk have given me and that still require homes; while my computer drives are neatly filed and easily accessible.

So if I'm completing everything digitally and online, I wonder how my students will be communicating ten years from now?  We worry about the fine motor effects of not writing and the neural pathways that are not being formed, but should we? Are we not making other future focussed neural pathways? Developing our brains rather than our pencil holds?

Pam Hook's collection of research -

Thursday, 25 September 2014

I'm a Learner of Mandarin

Lilli leads us through the numbers.
Lilli is our Mandarin language assistant. She's in New Zealand for a year as part of her degree and she is assigned to several Rotorua schools where she takes classes in Mandarin language.
In order for her to do this, a registered New Zealand teacher needs to be in the room.
Wednesday after lunch sees me in the language room with half of W3.

I sit next to Ellie who is mildly uncomfortable that Mrs Hyde is in the seat next to her.

Concentration and fine motor skills.

Lilli leads us through folding a booklet with Chinese numbers and basic sayings.  Fortunately I get it right. Phew!

Now she writes the first five numbers on the board and leads us through the pronunciation. I learn that the macrons tell you how to say each word - flat, slide up, slide down.

We repeat this with the next five numbers.

We learn about the significance of red as a lucky colour and view some intricate cut paper shapes from China. It's our turn and I learn a lot about the paper folding and scissor skills of the students.

All too soon it's over...but I've enjoyed the experience. No finishing work at the back of the room for me. I'm a learner.  I might even learn a new language!

Red paper cut outs are a Chinese tradition.
Showing off our creations.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

"Build it and they will come" - The Inaugural Educamp Minecraft

Thanks +Michael Fawcett for providing this!

It started at the first Connected Taupo meeting. Steve Katene and I started to say "What if...?"

We started a Google doc and Monika Kern joined in.  It seemed like a great idea...

A few months later, we contributed to the Education Aotearoa magazine and somehow the idea got printed as an event happening in term two.  All of sudden the pressure went on to actually make it happen!

A few tweets went back and forth and finally a date was settled on in Term 3. Educamp Minecraft went onto the Educampnz wiki -

Kassey Downard, Monika and I put our heads together - literally - in a Google hangout and came up with a programme loosely based on the educamp format (see the wiki).  We used Twitter to invite known users and the #edchatnz crowd.  I emailed local schools and the Connected Rotorua group.  Our Home and School committee catered soup, rolls and cake and Monika and I sorted out details like chocolate fish and coffee on the Friday night before.

Saturday dawned and we were down at school sorting out all our last minute details.  And we were off!

Twenty six folk arrived from as far as Keri Keri and Wellington.  Natalie, Steve and Wendy brought students and Kassey had six of our Mokoia kids on site to both present and tutor.  The teacher experiences were fantastic.  Shaun Woods skyped in from Christchurch.  Students from Richmond and Te Kowhai Schools presented their creations; so did our kids.

After lunch, akonga had the opportunity to play in the "sandbox" in Kassey's classroom or talk to Steve and Michael with the pod of ipads Steve brought from Napier.

Here is the Google slide:

Highlights for me were:

  • the passion of educators who came together from all parts of the North Island to join together for a Saturday of sharing expertise and learning from peers and students
  • the development of a Google community for Minecraft teachers - ttps://
  • the student voice from a range of students from different schools, age groups and backgrounds
  • the detail, collaboration and problem solving implicit in the student projects
  • the success of the day - it all fell into place!
Thanks to everyone involved.

Here is the Storify:

Other reflections:


Visitors from Bruce McLaren Intermediate in Auckland and Te Kowhai School in Hamilton.

Mokoia experts sharing their Hoot city collaboration.

Sandbox time.

Akonga at work.

A Mokoia student talking through the PC version with the ipad experts from Richmond school in Napier.

The teacher questioning the teen experts.

Working with Mr Katene.

Steve brought this pod of ipads with him.

Connected Educator Month

I found out about Connected Educator Month at the #Edchatnz Conference:
It's an honour to be asked to help out and be coordinator for Rotorua.

Marnel van der Spuy, Alex Le Long, Anne Eastcott and I met to come up with some ideas.

The first is a Teacher Chat run like a face to face Twitter chat.  Alex took part in this at the conference so she has been volunteered to coordinate the questions at our Connected Rotorua meeting on Friday 24 October at Western Heights High School at 4.30pm.  It's the start of Labour weekend so we hope we get some people there!

The second is Pass The Blog -

The tricky thing is to get everyone to post! I think it will need a concerted effort this week.

You could join us: