Monday, April 14, 2014

What Are EduIgnite Events And Why Are They So Special And Important?





Last week I had the privilege of being involved in EduIgniteRotovegas.  Have you heard of these events before - or been to one?  If you haven't then I'd absolutely recommend being part of this movement.  First, a little bit about EduIgnite.

EduIgnite events enable educators to meet together - either face-to-face, or virtually, to share their interests and passions, and to support each other in their professional learning journeys.  Presentations are short and snappy and the theme is one of energy and enthusiasm - just what we need at times, particularly as this can be such a pressurised profession.

“Fast-paced, fun, thought-provoking, social, local, global—Ignite is all of these and more. It’s a high-energy evening of 5-minute talks by people who have an idea—and the guts to get onstage and share it with their hometown crowd. Run by local volunteers who are connected through the global Ignite network, Ignite is a force for raising the collective IQ and building connections in each city.  And, via streaming and archived videos of local talks, local Ignites share all that knowledge and passion with the world.”  EduIgnite - Emerging Leaders

I loved the description on the main website - Ignite - "Ignite is a geek event in over 100 cities worldwide."  As a self-confessed geek, this was music to my ears and I had wanted to become involved for some time.

My Twitter PLN is very important to me and, as chance would happen, a message popped up on the Monday night - three days prior to the event - asking if anyone would be keen to join in.  Without a great deal of thought, I tweeted back that I would love to... and before I knew it I was involved - and presenting!  No pressure at all and yes, I could have something ready by Thursday.  (Secretly... YIKES!!  What have I done??)

There was no need to panic.  We had a practice using Google Hangouts - many thanks to Sonya  (@vanschaijik on Twitter) and also Monika (@Belchick1 on Twitter).  I had all the theory behind Google Hangouts but little of the practical side.  I'd absolutely recommend using this tool - it has huge potential for flattening and flipping the classroom.  For more information about Flattening the Classroom, please check out the work of Vicki Davis@coolcatteacher on Twitter.
If you'd like to know more about using Google Hangouts in the classroom, please click here.

My presentation was on changing how we provide homework - and in fact changing the whole concept of homework.  This links back to a previous post and the presentation slides are included here, along with the link to the TeachMeetNZ wiki where all our presentations are stored - it's a fantastic professional learning resource too.  My presentation recording and slides are also here.

The session itself was a great way to learn more about what drives our colleagues - there is a lot more to EduIgnite Events than just sharing practice.  It's about learning - ours and the students - and can also be a reminder about why we got into this crazy profession in the first place.  It was just such a fantastic opportunity to share with others, but one of the things I loved the most?  Hearing about what interests and drives others.  You can hear the enthusiasm when they are sharing.  We need more of this, especially in challenging times - just so we don't lose our passion and we can help support others to retain and grow theirs.

Many thanks to Marnel (@1MvdS on Twitter) and Anne-Marie (@mrs_hyde on Twitter) for organising this event in Rotorua - it truly was a privilege to be part of this growing community and I'm really looking forward to many more of these!











Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Not Another Interruption!!! Valuing Learning and Teaching

Over the years the issue of constant interruptions to our learning and teaching has at times frustrated me and sometimes made me very annoyed.  I've been told that it's just part of being in the classroom and that it happens 'in every school.'  Don't get me wrong - I've been just as guilty as some, at times, of being the one interrupting and sometimes for a very irrelevant reason, particularly when I've been part of the senior leadership team and may have momentarily forgotten my manners and/or what it's like to be in the classroom full time and interrupted without good reason.

We all know what it's like.  You're in the middle of something that is exciting, the students are engaged, they're sharing the teaching and learning and the discussions are amazing and then it happens......  The door opens, or the phone rings - for the 40th time that day, or the intercom goes - for the 30th time that day...!!!!!!!  (A slight exaggeration but most of you will know exactly what I mean and it's not restricted to any particular country or situation / level - it's a global 'phenomenon'.  (Maybe that's not the right word so please insert in there what you think fits your situation - and also feel free to share that in the comments following this post!).

In my second year of teaching - a little while ago - I started to question what we were valuing in our schools if we were allowing these constant interruptions that had little or nothing to do with learning and teaching to continue.  Fortunately, I had just arrived in a new school where our Principal felt the same way.  As a staff we began to question our practices and routines in the school.  We had senior students who were 'monitors' in the school which, while it did give them leadership opportunities, some of them - particularly those who had the role of taking the daily notice book around the school - could be out of class for up to two hours...a day.  We questioned how this was valuing the learning and teaching in our school.  Yes, it was helpful to the running of the school but there were many more leadership opportunities in the class room if that was the reason for the creation of these jobs.  It was not making the learning important.  We can't waste a minute of learning time -  it's too precious but wasting it was precisely what was happening.

Imagine if the same students were out of the classroom every day for two hours a week - that's 10 hours a week of learning that is lost and cannot be recovered or made up.  You can do the math on how many hours that would be a term, etc.  (Another side of this argument - hours out of class due to family holidays is about to rear it's head in this post).

The discussion around this involved the whole staff - not just the teaching staff - and it was incredibly powerful.  We decided that there would no longer be non-essential interruptions and that we would use as many digital tools as possible to cut down on unnecessary interruptions, e.g. email, school website, intranet for daily notices, etc.  The intercom was only used in an emergency and there were no telephones in the classrooms.  The difference was palpable - and noticed by everyone, from staff to students.  We were a school whose staff and students very obviously, and publicly, valued learning and teaching time.  If there were any non-essential interruptions, students would comment on their learning time not being valued.

So, if I'm arguing that we need to value learning and teaching and not interrupt it unnecessarily, then what are my thoughts on the following article which appeared in some of New Zealand's media over the past week?  (I researched this a little further and there are an incredible amount of articles about this issue on the net).

I'd love you to read the article, form some opinions - you will already have many on this issue -  and then I'll carry on.

Pupils pay heavy price for cheap holidays

If I'm so against unnecessary interruptions, then where so I stand on the issue of parents taking students out of school for family holidays during term time because it's cheaper?  (And, is this in fact the only reason why they do it.  I don't believe it is - work opportunities, learning opportunities and family commitments all play their part too).

Where do I stand then?  Well, it depends - and I'm not fence-sitting here, truly.  If it's just a holiday in the island sun then I'm pretty much against it as I also am if it is going to interrupt NCEA (in New Zealand) or other Senior exams, courses etc globally.  However, if the family holiday is an 'experience of a lifetime' and includes opportunities for amazing learning and putting into practice what is being learned in the classroom then isn't this what we want as teachers and learners?  Don't we want to flatten the classroom walls and develop our eLearning / Blended learning environments to extend well beyond those walls?

The opportunities of being able to explore the globe and really understand some of the main issues that relate to what we've been learning in the classroom surely shouldn't be passed up.  What if your inquiry has been about global poverty and ways to combat this issue and one of your students has the opportunity to travel to a very poor country where this is their main issue, because his/her family is involved in an organisation helping alleviate poverty in that country.  How powerful would that learning be?  Doubly powerful if the digital tools now at our disposal are used to communicate the issues with the class back home through videos, blogs, etc., and create discussion and debate.

If it's travelling through different countries and experiencing different cultures then isn't that learning too?  We are arguing that eLearning is 'anytime, anywhere' learning which includes Blended and Mobile learning but then we want to restrict it to what happens in school by way of us saying that students can't be out of school during term time.  To me, this doesn't make sense.  I want my students to be engaged, critical, creative thinkers who have empathy for others and who want to make a difference to their world.  Don't these experiences help them to become connected global citizens.  For me, that's part of my goal as an educator.

There is an argument - which is valid - that they can wait until they are older and travel then when they've finished school or university.  I would argue that the earlier we help develop our global citizens the better and it's even more effective if we can link any classroom learning to the world outside the classroom which makes it relevant and real learning.  It has a purpose and it 'flattens the classroom'.  If we are saying that educational trips can't be taken, what message are we sending to the wider community - that the only 'real' learning can happen in the classroom?  I think this is the opposite of what we want.  I know it's the opposite of what I want.

So let them travel and learn and become global citizens as early as possible - within reason.  Please don't take them out at crucial assessment times in their senior years and I'm not sure how the 'week in the sun on the island' is supporting the goal of global citizenship but use the tools we have to really connect through digital learning and teaching tools.  Apply the pedagogy of eLearning and I think we can really develop something special with our students and expose them to real and relevant learning which can only strengthen what we are trying to achieve in our classrooms.



Sunday, January 26, 2014

Homework - What's the Alternative?

In the past few days, and indeed over the 16 years I've been teaching, there has always been the debate over homework - Do we give homework?  Should we be giving it?  The research says it doesn't work.  The research says it DOES work.  How much is age-appropriate for the different levels.  Parents want it so we give it.  Parents hate the amount - it's too much, too little, and on it goes.  It really is hair-tearing-out stuff!!

I think we're going about it the wrong way.

We want our students to become confident, connected learners who question, debate and create their own knowledge with our support.  I'm not convinced that homework in its current form achieves this.
An example.  Spelling lists.  The students learn their words - they may even put them into sentences.  We test them, they do well on the test.  Try testing the same words a few weeks later, (I've done this to prove in my own mind the  value - or otherwise - of this method of 'learning' words).  What happens?  Their stellar results often slip to well below par, unless we've combined that learning of spelling words with learning and knowing the spelling strategies or using the words many times in daily writing.  If we're just giving lists to rote learn then most of our students will 'remember' the lists but they won't learn them or transfer that knowledge into their long-term memory.

I've asked students about homework many times over the years and have consistently received the same answers - It's boring.  We do it because we have to.  I already know this....  It's too hard, it's too easy - often from the same student in the same week!!!  I don't need to go on because you've heard them all too.  The idea behind homework is that it is designed to reinforce the learning in the classroom but does it really do this?  Unless it's tailored to individual learning needs and is personalized to those needs, then I'm not so sure.

So what's the alternative then?

Preparation for Learning - or, as my class shortened it to - Prep for Learning.

I wanted to find a way that engaged the students more fully in what we were learning in class.
We use our blogs for many different learning tasks so I wanted to harness the enthusiasm the students had for blogging in some way.  We've used our class blog and our Literature Circles blog as the basis to make a change and it's been one that has stimulated class discussions and changed our attitudes to learning towards developing an eLEarning philosophy - that our learning happens anytime, anywhere and in so many different ways.  Not just in school but anytime - this was the key part and also included the parents in their learning in a much deeper and more meaningful way.


  • The main philosophy around Prep for Learning is to have the students thinking about the learning they are part of all the time.
  • Questions are posted on the blog prior to new learning to get the students to begin thinking about the learning that is coming up.  This can be in any learning area.  For example questions can be posted prior to an inquiry to get the students to Tune In to new learning / ideas. (Check out Kath Murdoch's website - one of my favorite Inquiry gurus!)  In maths, it could be a new Geometry topic coming up and you want to know what they already know and understand.  (The Prep for Learning can be a great formative assessment tool too!)
  • Students jump on and add their current thinking in preparation for discussions in class.  This means that they are coming prepared to think, debate and join in the discussions.
  • Sometimes students will go a step further and take ownership of the learning by posting further questions for others to think about before they come to class to discuss them.
  • The purpose is also to engage thinking in the learning areas.
Students still read every night - often joining in the discussions on the Literature Circles blog, and they still have their maths Basic Facts but the main 'homework' is now all around engaging in their learning by participating in thinking about and discussing that learning.  The isolation of filling in one sheet for the whole class for homework has gone.

Another bonus - you are building very strong home and school links by parents and caregivers being able to see what their children are learning - and they are also encouraged to join in and add their thinking too, as are our global collaborators.  This gives the learning a whole new and very powerful bonus - local and global collaboration that really does impact teaching and learning in a concrete and very relevant way.

Yet another bonus - most parents have commented on their child's renewed enthusiasm for school and learning and best of all - they don't have to fight to get 'homework' completed!!  Has to be a good thing!!

Students who don't have computer access at home don't miss out either as they get class time and have requested computer time before and after school, and at break times, to be able to join in the online discussions.

Our students are 21st Century learners.  We need to adapt to their way of thinking as consumers and creators of knowledge - not vessels into which knowledge is poured and then 'spat out' again without any meaning having been made of it.





Saturday, August 3, 2013

Exploring Digital Citizenship

I've been thinking a great deal about who a digital citizen actually is and am about to begin exploring this concept with my students.

The following graphic is an interesting one but I'm wondering if it is a generalisation and whether the reality for the students in my class is different to what is presented here.  I've already argued that we are making assumptions that our students are Digital Natives... but that's a post for another time...

Part of my research for my final Masters paper is around building a Community of Practice for my students so there is a lot of reading, planning, thinking and questioning going on for me at the moment. In developing a strong CoP for my students I want to be able to challenge my own assumptions as a teacher and learner and start from scratch to build this community alongside my students.

Stay tuned for many posts and self-reflections on this.....  In the meantime, check out the infographic below and the links and I'd love to read your thoughts on this.


The Use of Social Media in Schools
by obizmedia.
Explore more infographics like this one on the web's largest information design community - Visually.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

ROOM 14 LEARNING JOURNEYS: Last Weekend's Learning

Sharing the learning with my students whom I always view as fellow students and teachers because we learn so much together.  I'm looking forward to getting their thoughts on the SAMR model of tech integration. 

We have a motto that is very important to us:

"We are all teachers and we are all learners in our learning environment."  This underpins everything we do and we are constantly learning from and with each other.


ROOM 14 LEARNING JOURNEYS: Last Weekend's Learning: Last weekend I went to EducampChCh to share MyChatPak and also to push my own learning further.  Everyone loved what all of you have been do...

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

ROOM 14 LEARNING JOURNEYS: My Learning Day at Educamptt

ROOM 14 LEARNING JOURNEYS: My Learning Day at Educamptt:   I had a fantastic time at Educamptt in Whangarei.  Have a look at the Google Presentation below and see what tools you could u...

I've shared this with my class too.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Had a fantastic day in Whangarei yesterday at Educamptt2013!  So many resources and ideas and it was great to share MyChatPak with everyone so that they could see why we're so passionate about this teaching and learning tool and the ways in which it can help students develop confidence and share their learning with their families and the wider world.

Check out the Google Presentation from yesterday.  Would love to read your thoughts.  Most of the slides have live links so all you need to do is click on the images and it will take you to a whole lot more fantastic information.