Thursday, October 28, 2021

All You Have Is Time - So How Are You Using It?

The title of this post is credited to the amazing Jase Te Patu, (Ngāti Apa, Ngāti Ruanui and Ngāti Tūwharetoa), one of the Keynote Speakers at uLearn21. Jase is a leader in the field of Mindfulness for Children and wellbeing.

Jase helped us to explore Te Whare Tapa Whā and challenged us in such an honest and open way to really look deeply at what we are doing in our lives that stops us from having a balanced Whare. The meaning of Hauora is Hau-o-rā - the "vital essence of the sun." It is all about energy and balance. 

In 2019, Jase spoke at TEDxWellington. This is the recording from that conference.


Wellbeing at Te Kura is central to everything we do - not only for our students, but also for ourselves. We have regular PLD around Wellbeing utilising the work of Lucy Hone and Denise Quinlan. Te Whare Tapa Whā is frequently explored at our Huinga Ako and forms an important part of My Korowai. If we don't focus on our wellbeing, learning and teaching can't happen successfully for anyone. 


Each week at Te Kura we have our Huinga Ako. These are usually face-to-face, but are all online at the moment due to the Lockdown in Tāmaki Makaurau. I wanted to be able to take what I've been learning over the course of the year at Te Kura and combine what I had learned from Jase.

At today's Huinga Ako, we used the same activity that Jase did with us. I created the four pou (pillars) on a Jamboard and we discussed what each of the pou could mean for us in terms of our Hauora this Term. What are some of the things we can do to take care of our pou over the course of the Term? We related this to our Ngā Mātāpono. 

Here is what we've come up with so far. The most exciting thing for me? The fact that this was a group of students supporting each other's Te Whare Tapa Whā, and that they were still online tonight adding to their kete of tools to look after Te Whare Tapa Whā. We will continue to revisit this and develop our kete for each one. Jase challenged us to do this. Do we go back to our kete enough? Do we support others enough to revisit their kete? Wellbeing is a team effort. 

A final thought from Jase - and this one really hit home for me:

"We spend two minutes on our dental health but some of us no minutes on our mental health." 

What are you going to do this Term to balance the pou on your Te Whare Tapa Whā? 

"Make [your] wellbeing a MUST each day."

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Citizen Science in an Online Learning Environment

During the uLearn21 Conference, I attended two sessions on Citizen Science. This is an area that has really piqued my interest - probably because I've held a long-time interest in flattening the classroom, connecting with mentors, and finding opportunities for learners to connect with the world around them.

I've had a long time connection with ePals in the past. This is an amazing platform where you can connect with people from all over the world, share learning and teaching and also experiences. We even had a shared Wikispace - remember those! - where everyone collaborated on their learning. It was about 2010 and exciting times.

Attending the two sessions on Citizen Science brought back a lot of the excitement I had for those days. The first session was a short taster session presented by Carol Briesman and Cathy Bunting. They provided a fantastic summary of what Citizen Science is:

"...scientific work undertaken by members of the general public, often in collaboration or under the direction of professional scientists and science institutions." (Eitzel, Cappadonna, Santos-Lang, Duerr, Virapangse, West, et al., 2017).


  - Access to mentors

 - Access to larger data samples to work with

 - Being part of the scientific process

 - Grow science capabilities and connect to the Science community

 - Encourage students to 'think like Scientists'

 - Build student agency / whakamana

 - Exploring possibilities in terms of future careers and, most importantly,

 - The chance to make a difference in the world.


I must own up to having a bit of an obsession with Design Thinking and the opportunities it offers our students to connect with the world around them and make a difference. Empathy is a key component of Design Thinking and this also kept coming through in the presentations on Citizen Science.

This is a nice summary of what Design Thinking is....

This is a great summary of what Design Thinking can DO - especially when learners run a project....

This was a Makerspace Project at a previous school. I supported students to learn the skills and we learned more about the Design Thinking Process by working together to create an awesome space - The Creator Ops STEAM (named by the project lead - one of my 13 year-old students). 


We are currently in Level 3 in Tāmaki Makaurau - and we're not sure how long for. I teach at Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu - The Correspondence School, where we are mostly an online school with face-to-face catchups once a week when we are at Level how can I make something as powerful as this work? What do I need to do as a teacher to make this work and how can I use my experience as a blended learner and teacher to make a difference in the learning of my students?  We also have a Citizen Science Module available for our students - how can I use this and extend the learning from this starting point?

The second person who presented was Matt Boucher from Thorndon School in Wellington. Matt shared what he has been working on for quite a while with a range of students and contexts. The more projects he shared and explained, the more ideas I had for how this could work in our context at Te Kura. Matt's passion for what he has created really gelled with my Teacher Inquiry and the questions I have around bringing more Science into an online learning environment and how that could possibly work well. 


 My next steps will be to explore the resources at the links below, and watch the recording of the uLearn21 sessions again. From this, I will develop a plan that fits in with my Teacher Inquiry around bringing more Science into our learning environment at Te Kura and how that can happen no matter what the situation. My big question is around how we capture the real time excitement around experiments and thinking like scientists. I think Citizen Science could provide most of the answers for this question.

Exploration Links

Science Learning Hub - Pokapū Akoranga Pūtaiao

                                              Science Learning Hub - Pokapū Akoranga Pūtaiao

National Geographic - Citizen Science

                                            National Geographic - Citizen Science

National Geographic - Citizen Science Projects

                                                     National Geographic - Citizen Science Projects

Citizen Science New Zealand - Facebook Group

                                                      Citizen Science New Zealand FB Group

These will be enough to kick off the exploration and thinking as well as ideas for how we can make this work in our particular learning environment. Stay tuned! 


Sunday, October 17, 2021

Aotearoa e tōnui nei | Thriving Aotearoa uLearn21

The theme of uLearn21 was Aotearoa e tōnui nei - Thriving Aotearoa. I am always excited about uLearn and have been attending for many years. Due to our current situation in Aotearoa, this year's conference was online. My excitement was tempered a little bit by Tāmaki Makaurau heading into Week 8 - or is it 9? - of our current lockdown. We've had four so far and this has been the longest. I'm always a bit of a Pollyanna, but this one is even getting on my nerves, so I wondered if I could be as enthusiastic as I have been in the past about the incredible learning that is uLearn. I needn't have worried. You know that saying about 'something you didn't know you needed?'  I always know that this is a conference I need, but this year's one had something extra special. It came along at the right time and has given so many of us an incredible boost, along with awesome tools that we can incorporate into our practice. 

Most importantly, it made us think, question, reflect, and have a driving need to take action. The four keynote speakers, alone, created so much energy that the ever-present focus on lockdown just disappeared.  There was so much incredible food for thought over the two days that there will need to be many blog posts to not only reflect on what I heard but importantly, to reflect on what action I will take in my life and teaching practice to make and support changes needed - not only personally, but also in terms of Education in Aotearoa. I am incredibly fortunate to be able to learn and teach in a kura that is already so well on the way in this journey of thriving. 

As a bit of a taster, here is one of the Keynote Speakers presenting at a recent TEDxWelington. Jase Te Patu has a very special way of connecting with his audience and challenging us to be more and do more. 

                                             Jase Te Patu (Ngāti Apa, Ngāti Ruanui, Ngāti Tūwharetoa)
                                             TEDxWellington 2019

Having an online conference has many benefits including:

 - People who dislike crowds can participate more confidently;

 - If you have hearing loss, you are more than ably catered for - the sign language interpreters often stole the show!

 - As all sessions are recorded, there is plenty of time to be able to go back and revisit those that really got you thinking and, importantly, to be able to watch the sessions you weren't able to attend because you were at another incredible session.

As a conference that is inclusive, this is a fantastic example. 

Although the theme was #ThrivingAotearoa, I noticed another theme that seemed to run through nearly every session I attended - and also the ones I've watched since - the theme of space. Space to think, space to dream, space to be listened to (and heard), space to be individual and unique self, space to just be.  This theme, particularly in the current challenging climate seems to me to be just as important as the main theme. 

Perhaps it is this 'space' for what we need individually that leads to us thriving? What space do you need this Term to be able to thrive?

Friday, December 18, 2020

Looking Back To Look Forward -




2020 has been a year of many things to many people. For many of us, it has changed our focus and we are reevaluating what is important to us.

After many years of not being able to work full-time and of thinking that my career and love for teaching was in the past due to various health issues, a corner was turned and 2020 has turned out to contain so many more positives that any other year to date.

This year, I was hired to work at a very special school - Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu - The Correspondence School. This is Aotearoa New Zealand’s Correspondence School, but it is not the Correspondence School of old. This is a truly innovative and ākonga-centred learning and teaching environment that has our ākonga firmly at its heart. Our philosophy is as far away from a ‘one size fits all’ philosophy as you can get. We have a ‘one size fits one’ philosophy. You hear it in the daily conversations with colleagues, ākonga and their whānau. You see it in our actions.


We have just changed to a continuous reporting system

Instead of report-writing twice a year which, in actual fact, causes a lot of disruption to learning and teaching and with a finished report that is generally out of date by the time it reaches our ākonga and their whānau, we have ongoing learning and teaching where feedback and feedforward is ongoing and seamless. (ADD MORE and link to articles, research and Te Kura website)


Ngā Mātāpono are the principles we follow. They guide us in everything we do.

and it is at the heart of everything we do.

The five Guiding Principles also include two Capabilities and Dispositions each that we want to support our ākonga to develop. Together, these are:

Kotahitanga - Care / Resilience

Whaitake - Curiosity / Contribution

Whakamana - Agency / Optimism

Māramatonutanga - Sense Making / Creative Thinking / Innovation

Whakawhanaungatanga - Collaboration / Connection


My Korowai is our cloak which links past to present and to the future. It is never finished as new learning, experiences and connections help to grow and strengthen it as it envelopes our ākonga. It is our ‘connector’ if you like. It tells the story of all the different parts of the learning journey our ākonga are on.


Big Picture Learning is all about personalising learning and keeping our ākonga (learners) at the heart of everything we do. It's about connecting learning to the real world and finding opportunities to support our ākonga to find their way in the world. It is Inquiry Learning or Problem Based Learning at its best.

This form of learning and pedagogy is my passion and I am incredibly excited about the coming year and how I can incorporate these changes into learning from and with my ākonga.

We are constantly evolving and it is an exciting ara to be on.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

I Can Meet the Needs of Gifted Learners in my Classroom at All Times - Let's Be Honest and Bust that Myth

This week is Gifted Awareness Week and the theme is all about Mythbusting.
There are so many myths about giftedness, gifted learners and gifted education in general that it's sometimes hard to know where to start, so I'm going to start with a very personal post which is all about my journey in gifted education - and it may just surprise some people.


When I was training to be a teacher in the late 1990s, we received very little in the way of learning about any aspect of gifted education.  In fact, the common mantra seemed to be in line with the image below and we were taught to believe that we could meet all of our learners' varying needs in our own classrooms and learning environments.  Honestly, do a search of this message and it's everywhere - even on coffee mugs!  And it still persists today.  Did I also believe this?  Absolutely I did!

The word 'differentiation' became the catch-cry through which we could ensure that all learners' needs were met.  This is great and does work to a certain extent, as long as there has been extensive professional learning and development (PLD) around it.  How many of us can honestly say that we have received that?

I spent a lot of time learning about differentiation in my own time. My learners and I always planned our learning together - at the beginning using the old separate curriculum documents and later on when the revised New Zealand Curriculum  came out in 2007.  My learners were engaged, owned their learning and, according to the data and my observations, they were all progressing very well and thriving in the learning environment.  Something was still bugging me though about the learners I could see who were standing out for so many different and unique reasons.  Something wasn't gelling with me in my observations.

Yes, I was extending those students who stood out in a traditional academic way, but this was always enrichment at the same level - it wasn't acceleration which is still a bone of contention in education circles. (For more information on this, click here). I started to question whether this was actually extending them at all - or challenging them enough.  I also started to notice as a new teacher that there were students who amazed me with their thinking and their creativity who didn't really fit the mould of being academically talented - we didn't use the word gifted because, as in the photo above, this was not really something that existed according to the powers that be.  The belief that you always took all learners horizontally across the curriculum level, never to the next level, was so strongly entrenched that you didn't really question it - until you could see that learners were switching off.  And what of the learners who were not in the so-called academically talented group - how were they being extended and was it really all about how successful you were in what was valued the most?


Habits of Mind was always a foundation of learning in my classrooms from Day 1 and I started to question what I was doing the more we engaged with the concepts in this philosophy.  The more discussions we had, the more certain learners outside the traditional realm of what was judged to be talented, stood out.  I needed to make sure that I was meeting their needs.  I continued to question my practice and my beliefs around the word and concept of 'gifted'.

In the early 2000s I was fortunate enough to teach in an intermediate school that had a withdrawal programme for learners identified as gifted. This was really the start of me questioning my practice - why did we need a withdrawal programme when my classroom environment should be enough? What was I not able to do in the classroom?  The more I experienced what was happening in this programme and the more open I was to learning, and the more I could see how much this programme meant to the learners involved, how it was changing their attitude to school and learning.  The most important knowledge - I could see how powerful this programme was, how powerful and important it was for learners to be able to connect with like minds.  You can read about this in the Aotearoa New Zealand context here. I began to learn from the learners about what worked for them. I also learned so much from the teachers who were leading the programme. My practice and thinking started to change dramatically and I wanted to know and learn more.

In the mid-2000s I was lucky enough to attend a session on gifted education with one of the authors of the paper in the previous link.  This was run by the now New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education.  While I had started to read and learn about gifted education, I still had the residual of the mindset that "I'm a qualified teacher and I should be able to meet all learners' needs in my classroom." These sessions opened my eyes even further and raised my awareness to the point where there was no way I wasn't going to start questioning what we were doing to meet the needs of our gifted learners - and gifted learners absolutely do exist and they are often not your academic stand-outs. If you want to read more on this, check out "Gifted Children Do Exist - Here's What Happens When We Deny It."

From: Not So Formulaic

It was also about this time that the concept of Student Voice was gaining traction.  I had always planned with my learners but how much voice did they actually have and were they just being compliant or were they really engaged and owning their learning?  There were so many questions I had around this, especially as I began to question my beliefs around giftedness.
I read Clarity in the Classroom and this was a real turning point, particularly in using the power of student voice to change my practice.

So What?

Being honest and reflective in our practice and acknowledging that we can't meet all of our learners' individual needs in our learning environments without adaptation and flexibility is not a sign of weakness or failure as a teacher - it's a sign of strength and reflection and it shows strong advocacy for our learners, particularly as we find the best way to meet their needs. It shows that we understand their individual needs and will do whatever it takes to meet those needs.  It is always, always about our learners.


  • Challenge your thinking around giftedness and gifted education - it's a matter of equity for our learners. Gifted learners matter as much as those who have learning difficulties - in fact some of our gifted learners can be found in these groups - they are our twice- or multi-exceptional learners.
  • Join in discussions and join groups focused on gifted education and be open to ideas and conversations.  You could join Gifted and Talented Teachers (NZ) which is the group I started.
  • Be aware of the research and other publications out there. Giftedness is backed by evidence. It is not elitist or the domain of 'pushy parents.'

  • Have a look at some of the ways you can celebrate your gifted students - not just this week but throughout the year.  Some ideas can be found here, and here.

  • Understand what true differentiation looks like and how it can be used to meet learners' needs.

Above all... be open to the ideas and evidence that gifted learners exist and it's a matter of equity that their needs are met. Don't be afraid to be a Lone Nut or First Follower...

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Should Our Students Participate in the Climate Change Protests...and Should we Support Them?

Over the last while you will have seen the news articles in the print media, seen reports on the news and in social media about the upcoming Global Protest Against Climate Change on March 15, 2019.

Article from Stuff 09/03/19

You will have heard the arguments for and against.  So should our young people be protesting and should we support them in this protest against climate change - a global movement?

The short answer is yes, they absolutely should and we should absolutely support them.

We keep saying that our students don't care, don't have empathy, aren't interested in current events and issues and yet, the minute that they do show an interest or a passion for change, we want to shut them down and we belittle their efforts with comments in the vein of the students just wanting time off school.  So some are saying to mark them as truant. This is just plain wrong and smacks of someone throwing a tantrum.  Why not mark it as an unjustified absence? Why choose truant?  Or could we perhaps do the right thing, in my opinion, and mark them as a justified absence?

Are we really listening to - and understanding - what they're saying - and do we really believe that this is just about a day off?  Yes, that may be the case for some but we're really doing our young people a huge disservice if we continue to minimise their beliefs and opinions. To be honest, it's insulting to our younger generation.

The New Zealand Curriculum (2007)

The New Zealand Curriculum is held up to be a world-leading document. Perhaps it's time for some of our educators to carefully revisit its content and intent. It is full of examples of requiring our learners to be "...lifelong learners who are confident and creative, connected, and actively involved" (NZC, 2007, p.4).  This statement, by the then Secretary for Education, Karen Sewell, appears in the Foreword of the document and underpins everything else.  This is the "...starting point..." (ibid).

The Values, Vision, Principles and Key Competencies sections all go on to discuss participation and contribution as essential aspects of learning and teaching programmes (see for example pp.7-10).
According to our document from which all learning and teaching is derived, our goals are to help our learners become individuals who can contribute locally and globally and stand up for what they believe in. We want them to connect to their wider communities - again both local and global.  We want and need them to be critical, creative thinkers who problem solve and problem create - that's how change happens.  Isn't the current local and global protest the perfect opportunity to connect our learners to the real world context - to apply learning and teaching in a meaningful and connected way.  It's making learning real and flattening the classroom walls.  In 2012 I blogged about this in a post It's About Authentic Learning - Dancing with Change.  My thoughts have not changed on this. Students will lead the way and are encouraged to do so in the NZC - if we facilitate this for them - and trust them.

At every level of the Social Sciences section of the NZC, the Achievement Objectives include those designed to encourage this independence - with our support and guidance - the goal is to help them become confident and connected individuals who can think locally and act globally. Again, the current protest is the perfect opportunity for this. What better way to connect the current situation and learning to the events of the past, to economic and social issues, to place and environment. If we fail to support them in this, we are missing a valuable learning and teaching opportunity and, even more importantly, our students are also missing out on this valuable opportunity.

This is agentic learning at its best - it's what we as teachers strive for in our students. They're taking responsibility for their learning and applying it in an authentic context.

We say that they're too young to make a difference, that what they're doing will not change anything but then we turn around and want to stop them from even trying.  History is full of people who were told that they couldn't make a difference because they were too young.  We only have to think back to the protests of the 1960s and 1970s against the Vietnam War and to protest Treaty of Waitangi issues, and what about the 1981 Springbok Tour?  As a very young student I attended some of these marches and was proud to do so. Was it because I wanted time off school or to follow the crowd - no, it was because I strongly believed that this was the right thing to do and I wanted to be part of a collective voice. Why should it be any different for today's young people.  For so many, this is also about having their voices heard - locally and globally, also one of the goals of the New Zealand Curriculum (see for example pages 8, 12, 13, 30, 39).

The upcoming protest on March 15 is a global one.  Instead of shutting down our students who want to have a voice in this issue, should we not be supporting the fact that they want to take action so that there is a brighter future for our planet.  Have they struck a nerve with some of us...because we know we should have done more...should have done what they are doing now?  It's time for the adults to support them - not shut them down.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

A Celebration...and a Caution

Last week saw the exciting announcement from the government around increased recognition and funding for gifted education.  Dr Tracy Riley of Massey University has blogged about the latest developments and provided a succinct background of the history of provision for our gifted learners over the past 20+ years in her blog - Gifted Learners: The Heart of the Matter.  This is recommended reading and focuses on what is needed in order for provisions to be successful - and equitable for our learners. As in the title, the learners are the focus of Dr Riley's post.

To give another side or perspective to the recent announcements, this post will focus on what is needed in order for educators to meet the needs of this unique group of students.


What do Teachers Really Need?

What's on Offer so Far?

Te Kete Īpurangi (TKI) - This is continuing to be updated and provides a wealth of professional learning and development resources for schools and other professionals.  It's exciting to see the changes on the site and I would absolutely recommend this as one of your resources to add to your tool box or kete.

Awards for Gifted Learners - this new initiative will provide opportunities for gifted learners to undertake special and unique learning opportunities either on their own or as part of a group.

Increased funding for One-day Schools (MindPlus through the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education, NZCGE) - these exciting learning environments provide a tried and trusted experience for learners to be challenged in their learning.  They provide a crucial environment where like-minds can connect. This is a key aspect of provision for the social and emotional development of our gifted learners.  There is also a wealth of resources available for Professional Learning and Development (PLD) from this organisation.

Other PLD is able to be accessed through the Network of Expertise - Gifted Aotearoa, a collaboration between some of the main organisations involved in gifted education in this country (REACH Education, NZCGE, NZAGC).  These organisations, along with giftEDnz are access points to invaluable PLD.  They are currently offering a range of initiatives but how do we as professionals take responsibility to sustain this learning once we've finished a course, qualification or programme? 

The key idea here is taking responsibility for our own learning - just as we expect our younger learners to do.  These PLD provisions will only be as effective as possible if there is sustainability built into what is offered but it is unfair to leave it solely to the organisations involved.  This is where communities of practice, particularly blended CoPs that offer asynchronous learning (any time, any where learning) and learning that is owned by its members, really come into their own.

Sustainability of Programmes and Supporting the PLD

Communities of Practice

What is a blended community of practice and how does it differ from a community of learning?  I've blogged about this many times over the years, see here and others listed below, for example.  My Masters' research was in this area, so it's a bit of a passion due to the fact that it is owned and created by the members in the community. It is not a top-down model. It is a learning environment that matches what we know to be the most effective for our students. This also applies to our teachers' learning.  Teacher agency is at its heart; it is ongoing and constantly changing to meet the needs of the learners.  It's an environment where everyone learns from and with each other - no hierarchy - everyone has expertise.

Additional posts on CoPs
Communities of Practice - this outlines the basic premise of a CoP and what it needs in order for it to be successful, particularly in relation to blended CoPs which have an online and face-to-face component and have proven to be the most effective in changing practice.

CoPs were developed by Etienne Wenger - this video is from one of his presentations. An 'extra' if you are keen to learn more.

Why the Caution in this Post?

Although it's exciting that we have a government that acknowledges that our gifted learners have unique social, emotional and learning needs and is prepared to put its money where its mouth is, we need to also do our part in ensuring that there is much open and honest discussion around this area of education.

We can't continue to sit back and adhere to that old chestnut that "Every child is gifted, they just unwrap their gifts at different times" or we will be failing to provide a learning environment for a group of learners with research-based unique needs.  This is a matter of equity.  Yes, all students have gifts, but not all students are gifted.  We need to stop ignoring the wealth of research that backs this up.

The recent announcement of increased funding and recognition is a powerful step in the right direction but it absolutely must be backed up by professional learning and development at all stages of teacher education - from pre-service to inservice... and it must have sustainability built into it or it will just be another PLD provision that has a start and end point before we move on to the next area.  This is not an easy ask and this is why it is so crucial to get it right this time.  

Gifted learners have unique social, emotional, academic and cultural needs and the area of gifted identification is very broad.  There is no quick fix after many years of  piecemeal approaches to gifted education and PLD in gifted education.  The government has stated that there are more announcements to come, and hopefully sustainable PLD will be a part of those announcements.  We've got some fantastic organisations willing to provide the PLD, it's how we sustain and support those learning opportunities that will be key to changing practice for our learners and teachers.