Monday, 27 October 2014

Frogs and Snails and Puppy Dog Tales

Image attribution
In it there is a spaceship
and a project
for doing away with piano lessons.

And there is
Noah's ark,
which shall be first.

And there is
an entirely new bird,
and entirely new hare,
an entirely new bumble-bee.

There is a river
that flows upwards.

There is a multiplication table.

There is anti-matter.

And it just cannot be trimmed.
I believe that only what cannot be trimmed
is a head.

There is much promise in the circumstance that so many people have heads.


Recently my middle daughter, now an adult living away from home, admitted that one summer she had an accident which she hid from us, her parents.

We live on a long straight suburban road, just below the bit where the uphill incline starts to steepen. With a group of friends, predominantly boys, she took the challenge and long-boarded down from the top.  She's always been our "Xena, Warrior Princess," taller and stronger than her sisters, and always able to beat the boys in any sporting event at primary level.

But this time she came off, knocked herself out and skinned her arm from shoulder to wrist.  With a national rowing competition coming up, she decided to hide the whole event from her family, and suffered for a number of weeks under long sleeves and from the unknowing knocks and bumps of her unsuspecting family members.

While the story was told, the other kids in the room only laughed knowingly.  And while my husband rolled his eyes, his mother too, can recount the stories of her four children on their farm, three boys, including lucky car accidents, spotlighting and running over neighbourhood roofs.

It's what kids do.  And especially boys. It's about that risk and the fellowship of risk that belongs in childhood...which goes on until the mid twenties for some.

And my reaction mirrors the reaction of many teachers of writing when they see the "blood and guts" or toilet humour in the writing of boys. Really? Did you have to do that?

Ralph Fletcher, a father of four boys and a teacher of writing, addresses my concerns in his highly readable book, "Boy Writers."

He reminds me that the life of boys is very different from the life of middle aged female teachers.  I know that my students enjoy listening to the weird and wonderful writing of authors like Paul Jennings:

Finally it is time for bed. Cynthia changes into her nightie in the bathroom and then joins me in the bedroom. 'The cat's on my bed,' she says. 'But it doesn't matter. I like cats.' She pulls back the blankets.

And screams. 'Aargh. Cat poo. Filthy cat poo on my pillow.' She yells and yells and yells.

Just then Dad bursts into the room with a silly grin on his face. He goes over and looks at the brown object on the pillow. 'Don't let a little thing like that worry you,' he says. He picks it up and pops it into his mouth. But this time he does not give a grin. His face freezes over.

'Are you looking for this?' I say.

I hold up the bit of plastic poo that Dad had hidden under the blankets earlier that night.
(from 'Funniest Stories", 2005)

Do I accept that the boys in my class might also want to write like this?

In a series of short chapters, ideal for after planning quick reads, Fletcher outlines his findings, anecdotes and reflections, ending each with a list of "What Can I Do in My Classroom?"

Ideas he covers include:

  • giving boys choice
  • accepting their humour
  • understanding their unique voice
  • the place of conversation
  • handwriting and fine motor skills
  • why violence has a place
  • relationships
  • why fun is important

He leaves us with four main points to better nurture and support struggling boy writers.
1. Just let them write
2. Take the long view - you want them to want to be writers.
3. Consider pleasure.  Is it fun?
4. Think relationships. "We're not teaching writing - we're teaching writers."

As a mother of girls, this is a book I need to put in my kete along with Celia Lashlie's excellent text, "He'll Be OK - Growing Gorgeous Boys into Good Men"(2007).

It's a text I'll be buying several more copies of for our teachers as they launch into the second year of an inquiry into improving writing for boys and "reclaiming their voices."

Related blog posts:

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Embracing the Tigger in Us - Reflections on #Ulearn14

I love how I feel after Ulearn conferences and this has been the best so far.  It's taken me two days to sort, chew, digest, and ruminate over what are my major "take homes" and what I will look at first on Monday.  So here goes:

1. Friendship

Last year I met a lot of Twitter frequenters face to face at #Ulearn13 as I did at the #Edchatnz conference.  This was a chance to get together again and there were still new people to link with for the first time.  I got asked to say a few words at the Twitter Dinner on Wednesday night and these really encapsulate the way I feel about the educators I've met through Twitter: we get to know each person by their contents before we see the cover and we appreciate that we are all on the same page. (Someone tweeted it out but I can't for the life of me find it in the stream!)

I opened my house to fellow tweeps as others have done for me, especially +Caroline Bush in Auckland. our fellowship allows us to support each other and if it means we can go to more events more frequently, then great.  The social aspect is an important part of these conferences.  It's a chance to mull over ideas in a safe and comfortable environment.  It's that whole dynamic of having all your needs met.  We all need acceptance and to feel valued by our peers.  I genuinely get joy from all the friendships.  It blows me away that +Dean McKenzie and @dwenmouth found family, friend and school connections after a few minutes talking.  I loved hanging out with @nlouwrens and @mattynichol and to see them on the Saturday when they were waiting for their flights.  It meant a lot to be able to ensure that +Craig Kemp was welcomed and felt included by his Kiwi colleagues.  These are but a few of the experiences.

2. Connectedness

Friendship is part of this but it is more.  It's being part of the collective of passionate educators all
dedicated to lifelong learning.  It gave me huge satisfaction to see the teachers from my own school get how powerful this is.  That the Twitter stream is filling up with their tweets gives me enormous satisfaction and will need nurturing.  There is a definite buzz when you are "followed" or "retweeted" that makes you feel you are on the right track.
I love that this amazing group of women is now excited and energised for term 4 rather than regretting that the holidays have drawn to a close.  They have purpose.  They are excited by Universal Design for Learning and @KatieNovacUDL.  I've challenged them to present the inquiry that they are now purposefully planning and present it at #Ulearn15.  I am going to request that the Board plans to send the whole staff next year.

3. Akonga

I loved that we see we are all learners together.  Thirteen year old Thomas did an amazing job at our Minecraft Magic breakout.  It was his video, his ownership of the narration, his understanding of the programme.  Empowerment.  Tuakana teina.  The "aha moment" that being talented is not about being "below" the National Standard for writing.  His communication skills were exemplary.

Our kapahaka roopu blew everyone away with their Thursday morning performance to the 1700 strong crowd.  They were leaders, talented, strong.  I don't think they realise how special they were.  It is my job to make sure that they take this experience and run with it.

4. Learning with "e's"

I admit it.  I was self conscious about my over tweeting.  Didn't want to look like I had a problem and didn't want to cheese anyone off.  But I wasn't going to use pen and paper.  "E"-devices are now my way of life.

I tried to embrace the Google docs but I had lots of connectivity problems with those.  Something to do with too many folk trying to share, it was suggested.

So after a sigh, I went back to Twitter.  Why I had I left this? I love Twitter! I love 140 word summaries.  I love the interaction with others as I reflect.  Definitely a learning moment which I see others like +Leigh Hynes share; here's her blogpost.

My presenter lanyard takes its place.
I mentioned connectedness; it's also the collaboration we can have from "e"_platforms. I was able to plan and present a breakout with a group of educators I met online.  We planned with a Google Doc, created a Google slide and talked on a Google hangout.  It's "e" for empowering!

I read a great blogpost this morning about the amazing group of "e" for educators that are the "efellows".  I'm proud of the fact that I know so many of them this year and in 2015.  And it's all about "e" for education these days.  Some teachers and schools still think this a geeky conference for computer geeks (as if that is unpalatable) and they couldn't be more wrong.  Ulearn is all about good practice and real learning for all.


Not least is excitement! I loved this conversation this afternoon:

5. Embracing My Tiggerness

I need to be me.  I Tweet. I shriek. I hug. I laugh.  I love learning.  And no such thing as being too-Tiggerish, @fuse711!

I loved that I saw it and heard it in +Tom Barrett 's session and in  +Steve Mouldey 's session.  He also refers to it as being an "excited puppy."
It's not a persona - my own persona - that I embrace at school.  Interestingly, the feedback I got from my colleagues was that they liked this persona better.  So that is a huge take home for me.

6. Extended and Disrupted Thinking

Unless we get out there, we don't see where pedagogy is going.  As educators we need to constantly reflect on our practice and it is an honour to hear the ideas of others.  Just as modern learning spaces are about knocking down walls, modern learning practice is about knocking down barriers to learning.  What follows is a list of the keynotes and breakouts I attended and storifies from my connected educators!

  • Breakout One - Presentation : Modern Learning Environments: where learning takes place - +Mark Osborne 

"This session will explore much of the research into where learning best takes place. We will look at the drivers that are seeing many schools re-examine their physical learning environments as well as the research into their effectiveness. In particular, this session will look at ‘the site’ (your school’s location and its relationship to your community), ‘the structure’ (what size, shape and configuration the building should be) and ‘the stuff’ (furniture, fittings, equipment and technology). We'll also look at a number of case-studies of effective modern learning environments." 

Mark took us on a journey through the different paradigms of learning.  He looked at how our lives have been affected by technological change and why that should mean a change in learning practice.  He looked at schools such as Ngatea with Neil Fraser and Karla Hull; I feel really privileged to have been there and to consider them my friends!

From Nick Mason +fuse711 -

  • Breakout Two - Presentation : Teaching and Learning in a Community of Thinking - Yoram Harpaz

"This workshop will initiate the participants to the processes of teaching and learning in a community of thinking – a framework that my colleagues and I created and facilitated in Israel and elsewhere. The theoretical background of the community of thinking is based on five “atomic pictures” – of learning, teaching, knowledge, mind and educational aims. The practice of the community of thinking is based on three stages: fertile question, inquiry, and team and communal concluding performances. The workshop will facilitate the participants in posing fertile questions, guiding research, and producing concluding performances."

I wanted to go to this because the Community of Thinking is our Problem based learning Model.  Some clarification for me.

  • Breakout Three - NoTosh : Design thinking for innovation and inquiry - +Tom Barrett 

"Working together we will use the design thinking process to immerse ourselves in some of the chunkiest issues crowdsourced from you and the wider education community. We will define the real problems, generate new ideas and even begin prototyping some of our thinking. In addition we will begin to consider how this creative inquiry can be used in the classroom with our learners. Yes all within 75 minutes! Brains-on, Hands-on!"

My biggest take home was embracing my Tigger side!  Loved the collaborative approach and structure of design thinking and will add more as I digest it.

What is design thinking?

Minecraft Madness, Trailblazing and hacking other Minecraft tweets from #ulearn14 

  • Breakout Five A - Taster :: "Modern learning started in libraries" - so how do you create a future focussed library? - +Georgi de Stigter 

"The ever changing landscape of education has left one thing unchanged: the role of a school library. Even in a digital age students still actively seek out a quiet, open and non-threatening space where they can find what they need, when they need it. But libraries are sometimes full of restrictions around security, limited internet access, and laminated rule cards, and this isn’t really modern or future focused. Once the doors close at the end of the day, that’s it, opportunity to visit over. A future proof library on the other hand, is the complete opposite. This presentation will cover the journey of the recreation of the library at Hobsonville Point Secondary School, a modern learning environment opened this year. It will highlight the process of developing a vision and executing it, whilst discussing successes and learning opportunities that arose along the way.  If you are interested in re-envisioning your library for the future, please come along and find out more."

I've visited Hobsonville Point schools but didn't get to the library! It was great to see Georgi's journey.  The library as a space is evolving.  It's a topic much at the front of my mind right now.

  • Breakout Five : Making the most of your Google Drive using apps, add-ons and extensions - +Leigh Hynes 

"An introduction to some much loved add-ons, extensions and apps for Drive and Chrome that you can make work for learning in your class.  Learn how to use and get your students using these extras in Google Drive and on Chrome."

I arrived half way through.  Must get back to Leigh's presentation! Always useful material.  I asked her to come and support me at school with GAFE.

  • Breakout Six - Presentation : Creativity is not just for the arts

“This isn’t art, why are you asking me to be creative/draw/make something?”

"In all subject areas now we are looking for students to develop innovative ideas. If we want students to come up with innovative or creative ideas we need them to practice being creative. Build their creative confidence. As a geography and social sciences teacher, my journey to developing students creativity has seen me bring all kinds of tools to the classroom with me: chalk, post-its, pipe cleaners, tennis balls, boxes, QR codes, multiple devices, robots... All in the aim of getting students to think more creatively. If you are looking to increase your students’ abilities and confidence in being creative, then this may be the session for you!"

Leanne's storify

More Ulearn14 Storifies:

+Kirstin Anderson-McGhie  My Ulearn Related Tweets ; Things to remember from Ulearn14

+Marnel van der Spuy - Presentation Ulearn 2014

+Alex Le Long  - ULearn14 - It Truly Was the 'Mother of all e-Learning Conferences

+Kassey Downard  - #Ulearn day 1     #Ulearn day 2      #Ulearn day 3

Vanessa Cannon - Ulearn14 Reflections

+Tamara Yuill Proctor - Ulearn Tweets

+Pam Hook - Bridget Casse - SOLO Taxonomy in the Early Years

Jenni Markotsis - Ulearn - I Learnt

@jeanettem1 - Reflecting on Ulearn2014

Thursday, 2 October 2014

(Modern) Learning Environments

"She (was) a Mod" - but not today.

I'll be honest. It's taken me a while to explore this topic, for two reasons:

I took it literally. I was in an existing, older environment, with no power over changing "how we do things here."

The term grates on me. It's another bit of jargon. It's fashionable. It's a trendy term to throw around. Sorry Stephen Heppell, Mark Osborne and others who have been part of this conversation for ages. It wasn't in my "to do" pile.

I fell into the trap. 

Modern Learning Environments are not about the age of the school, the amount of glass, the trendy green, geometric, vinyl ottomans or the orange, corduroy bean bags. It's about how kids want to learn. Actually, about how each of us want to learn, including me.

A light goes on. I start to take notice. The twitter stream starts to ripple with how teachers in traditional schools are recreating their classrooms.

from "Teaching the Teacher"

Anne Keneally uses her efellow year to explore modern learning environments and I send out a challenge in our school for teachers to get their students to redesign the classrooms. Not much changes.

It is not that simple when you have a long tradition of classroom layout in your heads - even for the students. It's about deep and meaningful inquiry into how we like to learn. Without that, we fall into recreating traditional models or being mesmerised by the furniture catalogues and all that lime coloured vinyl - which our budget won't cover. Sigh. But it's not about the trappings. 

The word modern though, does conjure up a particular look. But how long will "modern" be modern?  I've seen a traditional classroom stuffed full of modern furniture that was showcased as a modern learning environment. I've seen an older block with walls punched out to make open spaces and one end furnished with old, donated, comfy sofas. Another modern learning environment.

We really need to delve into how we like to learn. We need that other modern gem, "student agency." We need learner voice and I'm a learner too, so why not start with me?

I liked school. I liked collaborating at school. I didn't think much of any of my classrooms; cold, rattly, grafittied, wooden chairs that ate your tights. 

For individual work, I preferred to wait till I got home. One of my favourite places was spread out on the floor with books all around me. I wanted space and I wanted it on my own. When I was reading I stayed in my small bedroom or tucked myself into a sunny corner of our sun porch, another private, enclosed space.


My own kids begged me to be allowed to come home to study, especially in their senior years, nearing exam time. The school was too rigid in its timetable, the teachers were boring, they were reviewing stuff they already knew, other kids were mucking all sounded very familiar. I have to say I was torn between meeting their needs and being a school leader who couldn't condone truancy! 

So let's look at that middle word: "learning". That's the key. Where do we learn best, as opposed to "do school"? Where you learn might not be where I learn. Whether extrovert or introvert we have different needs and at different times. And how do we learn?

I love to discuss things to clarify my own thinking; I read and I write to reflect. I like listening to other experts in their fields - but I want to choose to listen to them and I can't be under stress to take it in. I need to be well fed and watered, warm but not too warm and be able to at least, for a time, shut out any worries in my life. I like to be in an ordered environment; my room has to be tidy wherever I am. Sometimes I want background noise and sometimes I need silence. I want time to consider.

And does "environment" mean a building? I've talked about the spaces I like. But how else do I learn? 

I love my digital devices. I love that they allow me to connect, converse, collaborate anywhere I want to: on the sofa, in my car, in the doctor's waiting room...I love that I can talk with someone in Singapore or Orlando. I love that the only barrier about time is that I need to sleep sometimes when people are working elsewhere in the world. I love that I can replay or rewind that learning if I can't be there. I love that I can learn anywhere anytime. I love the word ubiquitous. It rolls off the tongue.

So now I'm watching how you want to learn. If you choose to play Minecraft, could that be a learning environment for you? Why am I spoiling it if I call it a learning environment? Is learning only a school activity that has been prescribed in a curriculum document or examination prerequisite? Of course not! 

Gone are the days when a school leader told me that it was unsuitable to call a game at school a game. It needed to be called a "learning activity". Oh dear. That sort of says that fun is not allowed.

We know better. We acknowledge that learning happens through play: life lessons like collaboration, creative thinking, problem solving, give and take, communication, disappointment, resilience, all take place in the sandpit. Hang on - these are pretty important tools that a citizen needs in their kete. 

And what of the teacher? How does that role fit in to a real learning environment?
I think of the teachers who have had the biggest influence on me:

  • My form 2 teacher who allowed a small group,of us to write our plays. We were fully immersed and presented them to real parent audiences.
  • The junior high teacher who let us explore the imaginary back worlds of novels like "The Sword in the Stone" about Merlin and Arthur.
  • My mother who always supported learning by attending every interview; who filled a chest of drawers with cuttings and project material.
  • My friend Sara who showed me that every four year old's "why" question was important and who could discuss why clouds were pink at sunset and why the sky was blue. Our kids were allowed to paint their faces and dig huge mud holes in her backyard.
The adults were there for the children: making sure they were safe, picking up the pieces, refereeing disagreements, scaffolding understanding, modelling good practice, making sure there were available resources, watching that the children ate and dressed warmly.

So if we learn through play, by being in comfortable, flexible spaces, or even uncomfortable outdoor risk-taking environments, face to face or virtually, in the real world or in worlds we have created online, let's get on with it. We are individuals and don't go out into the world known as boxed sets: "class of 2014."

It's time for real conversations about learning and the learning environments that have always worked. Forget the modern. Learning is not schooling. And modern becomes "how we do it around here" too quickly. And that's the point.


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