Provoking curiosity


What is this?

A few weeks ago there were old tape decks were about to be thrown out.

So I left them on a bench and in my classroom. Sure enough the students spotted them.

They started pushing buttons.

Pulling ariels.

Making sounds.

Turning knobs.

This was old technology to them.

Curiosity is the most important ingredient in learning but is also the one quickly forgotten when teachers plan units.

We rush to check boxes and create work for the students to do.

How much time do you leave your students to play?

To wonder?

To make silly noises?

By leaving some trash about the classroom my students could play with the past.

Weekly Reflection – Gone Quiet

It’s been almost a month between posts.

Over the last few weeks of term school production gradually took over my life. By the end of term I could barely think much less write something resembling a coherent blog post.

This is not to say that production was all bad. I enjoyed teaching dance, finally got my head around final cut pro and created some awesome effects for the show. The kids relished the chance to perform and I had that proud teacher moment of seeing my students up on stage being awesome.

However being the resident AV geek has its drawbacks. Putting together music, movies and images for 110 minute show while also trying to teach full-time was not a good combination. Instead of feeling exuberant, as I normally do at the end of a creative project, I wanted to curl up in bed for a week.

And that’s pretty much what I did during school holidays.

For the first time in two years I haven’t travelled away from Wellington for a conference. It would be an understatement to say I’ve had a pretty good run of PD this year. On one level I was glad for the break, but on the other, the frenzy of tweets from ulearn made me a little envious of all the marvellous connections and MAGIC that comes from being in the same room with your virtual staffroom.

So I find this a very slow start into the final term of 2013. I’m hoping this post will re-ignite blogging as I’ve got a number of posts running around in my head.

This term I’m looking forward to

Makey Makey magic (hopefully with other classes)

Organising Market Day

Walking with my students to squash

Finishing up a special year-long project

I’m not looking forward to

Saying goodbye to my Year 8s and their families. I’ve taught these students for 2 years and have witnessed some amazing growth in these kids. While I appreciate it’s time for the students to move on the urge to blubber will be there at that final assembly.

Weekly Reflection: Shall we dance?


Image by author


Just under 4 weeks until production and the scene I’m in charge of is… 1950s rock and roll dancing.

I’m one of those clumsy sorts who is forever falling over and dropping things. For that reason my dancing strictly to the gym to limit the chances of doing damage to myself and others.

Yet here I am in charge of scene of teaching 20+ kids how to dance.

A nightmare?

I think so.

Fortunately one of the kids in the group happens to enjoy rock and roll dancing as a hobby. I am also lucky that one of the teachers at school is an accomplished rock and roll dancer so between the dancer and the other students I’ve managed to pick up enough steps to choreograph 90 seconds worth of dance.

When you can’t dance 90 seconds seems like an eternity when faced with helping 20+ kids on stage. While I have been firmly outside my comfort zone some kids have been in their element. One of the joys of production is seeing the kids who might not be sporty, good at maths or literacy shine. One of my students remarked ‘they were born for this.’

Sir Ken Robinson often talks about how every education system on the system has the same hierarchy of subjects: numeracy and literacy at the top of the pecking order, followed by science and humanities with art and in particular dance firmly at the bottom of the pecking order. The current obsession with childhood obesity has given PE/fitness a bit of a boost however dance is often forgotten about.

In fact as children migrate through school, dance is something that we tick off once every year or so through production barely even touching even one of the four arts strands in the New Zealand curriculum: Understanding the Arts in Context, Developing Practical Knowledge in the Arts, Developing Ideas in the Arts, and Communicating and Interpreting in the Arts.

A few moths ago I stumbled upon a Ted Talk premised on the idea of replacing powerpoint with dance. The idea behind the talk was that not only can dance help explain scientific concepts it can actually help scientists with their work.

Yet I can’t help wonder why we can’t value dance for its own sake. Our preschoolers and junior primary children know that it’s lots of fun to dance but gradually that joy it is educated out of them. We tell them to sit down and stop moving and get on with the serious business of learning.

A few years ago I remember walking down Nanjing Road in Shanghai and stopped to see a huge open air class of ballroom dancers out in the morning. I couldn’t help but wonder would New Zealand be a more happy and healthy if there was dancing in the streets?

Weekly Reflection – on your way to Disco

This year I volunteered to be the teacher in charge of Student Council which also means I’m the teacher in charge of organising the school discos. Officially the student council run disco but there are limitations to 11 and 12 year olds organisational skills.

Organising permission slips, tickets, posters, food sales, lighting, music, prizes, decorations not to mention cleaning up afterwards is a big job. I must admit that I was expecting the weeks leading up to disco to be frantic.

It wasn’t.

The reason?

Google docs.

Ticketing has always been a logistical nightmare. 18 classes to keep tabs on and each kid needs to be issued with an individual ticket so we know how many kids we’ve got inside in case of an emergency.

So I set up a google spreadsheet. Each classroom teacher filled out their student names on separate tab. I filled in the ticket number and then mail merged the information into a ticket. The result was that each child was issued a ticket with their name on it.

When the night came, the teachers in charge of ticketing could easily cross off kids on the master list so we knew how many kids were at the event very quickly.

I also had a google doc going for the student councillors. Music is the most important thing for disco so each student had to go back to their class and get the top five songs. From there I could share that doc with the teacher coordinating the playlist. The kids designed posters which they then shared across the network.

The week of the disco I circulated a google doc with some of the jobs I needed teachers for. The teacher put their names next to the duties and added other jobs I had forgotten about to the doc. In short I was able to tap into the collective knowledge of the teachers in the school without having a giant meeting.

While having nice weather and some awesome staff does help to keep events running smoothly, I’ve found technology helps so much in helping to keep big school events manageable.

Weekly Reflection: I got me the midterm blues

There’s something about the middle of term which seems to send me into depths of despair. I think it’s that point where I look down at my massive to-do-list and wonder how on earth I am going to muster the energy to check those items off. The beginning of term energy has evaporated and a rejuvenating holiday seems a long way off in the horizon.

It’s weird that almost 365 days to the day I’m back in the same slump: tired, grumpy although not as cold this year owing to an abnormally warm Wellington winter.

I have a terrible habit of over-committing myself and then paying the price for that later. With reports looming, a school disco and talent contest to organize, moving house, my first ever conference speaking engagement in the next four weeks.

Possum meet headlights.

Then there’s the niggle of novopay.

My salary increment, due at the end of the January, still hasn’t come in. On one hand I know I shouldn’t be complaining. After all, everyone knows you don’t get into teaching for the money. I can still pay my bills and will get a nice backpay when the increment finally arrives. Nevertheless, when you’re having a crappy week small things like this start to become a big deal. Particularly as like other teachers I’m powerless in this situation. Aside from having a grizzle to my lovely office manager and a surly social media update, there’s not much I can do apart from wait.

Despite my despondency there have been some positives.

Quadblogging has been going well.

After a few weeks hiatus, I made sure that passion projects aka 20% time weren’t something that just got pushed to the side during a busy week. A lot of teachers might baulk at the idea, letting kids go off and do their own thing is surely a recipe for classroom chaos? But I’ve never had any problems with classroom management during passion projects as the kids are so engaged in their learning.

As with anything in teaching how you set up a task will dictate its success. My students write their learning intentions at the start before they head. This sets up the sessions to be purposeful for the kids as they are the ones setting the goals.At the end of the session the kids are asked to reflect on the session and decide which of the learning areas and key competencies they used during their project.

What has been gratifying has been watching kids from different social groups come together in order to collaborate on a shared passion. What has also been amazing is when given the choice about what they want to do, how many of students have chosen to write. Movie scripts, creative writing, managa cartoons.

At the end of the term the kids are going to put on an expo of their learning so they can share their passions with others. While the students were adamant in not inviting their parents, they did let me invite the school leaders to come in. We are already marking days until the expo down and I’m looking forward to the kids showing their peers and the senior leaders their passions.

The students have also been putting together documentary films after seeing the film I am 11. I was amazed when I looked out at my classroom during morning tea to see students who boldly declare they hate writing staying in of their own volition at morning tea time to write a script. Kids who don’t edit their writing carefully editing films to get their message across.

So much peripheral stuff can easily obscure us from the things that matter.

Be brillant where it counts, in the classroom.

Weekly Reflection: I can’t believe they didn’t know *that*

As a Year 7/8 teacher, I’m sure I’m not the only one who has in times of frustration complained that kids these days just don’t seemed as clued in as the kids of yesteryear.

They’ve been at school 7 years and still don’t know the four times table.

Their work is littered with text speak.

They copy and paste without pausing and thinking.

Sometimes it is easy a middle years teacher to place blame on those at the lower level not doing their job. But here’s the thing, I don’t consider it part of my job to prepare kids for high school.  Maybe I need to stop expecting teachers from the years to hand me the perfect students and accept my students for who they are right now.

It is my job as a teacher to find out where the kids are in their learning and help  move them along.

I was reminded of my responsibility this week during a class read aloud of The Wave when one of the characters made a quip about the school newspaper office being Anne Frank’s attic.

Quickly realized that only one student knew of Anne Frank.

Was this a case of primary school letting me down or a teachable moment?

Rather than tell my students who Anne Frank was, I challenged my students to find out.

“Anne was born in Germany,” one of them piped up.

Keep reading!

“She spent years living in attic” another student found out.

Keep reading.

“She was hiding from the Nazis because she was Jewish.”

Keep reading.

“Then someone told the Nazis about Anne’s family hiding and she was sent to a concentration camp.”

One of the students noticed that Anne died only a matter of weeks before her camp was to be liberated.

A silence fell over the room.

Keep reading.

Her diaries were kept safe and then they were published.

Would Anne’s story have been so powerful if she had survived the holocaust?

In focusing on what students didn’t know, I could easily have missed a learning opportunity.

Our students are not the same.

They were never the same.

How often in focusing on deficits of our learners do we miss the potential for learning?

Weekly Reflection: Learning to Let Go

When did you let go?

Image used under creative commons licence.

At the end of the week I jetted away to Bali for the Apple Distinguished Educator Institue in Bali. I was pretty stoked when I learned of my selection back in December. Since then I’ve crossed days off my calendar and been doing the happy dance with increased frequency  but the realities of  the trip didn’t really hit until Thursday afternoon when all of a sudden I was struck by a terrifying thought; ZOMG someone else is teaching my class for a week.

Sure I’ve had the odd day of release here and there for various bits of PD and working on the Teachers & Social Media reference group last year but this is the first time I’ve left my class for an extended period of time. All up the trip encompasses three weeks due to Easter and I will be missing an important school event, the annual Fun Run. So on Thursday I had a sudden attack of the guilts and panic attacks and spent way too long at school dotting all the Is and crossing all the Ts for my absence.

As I wrote up instructions about my class and its personality for the reliever,  I wondered if primary teachers by virtue of teaching the same group of kids for the year are susceptible to shouldering the burden of  thinking: ‘I am the only one who knows how to teach this class.’ While the result can be an empowering sense of mama bear “RAWR! YES I AM THE TEACHER” it seems like it comes with a heavy tax.

By casting yourself in the role of the superhero teacher you risk burning yourself out. You don’t sick days because it seems like more work to prepare for a reliever than to battle on with the flu. You say no to PD opportunities because you worry that your plans won’t be covered to the T and the kids might be unsettled by your absence. And all of sudden there you are; frazzled, isolated and probably battling a lengthy flu because you didn’t take any time off to recuperate.

So once I sent off my plans I decided to enjoy my week ahead and stop stressing about my absence from school.

Does the reliever teach concepts differently than me? Meh, who cares: as long as the kids get exposure to the concept I’m happy. Did the reliever get the kids to put the markers back in the right place? Eh, as long as the kids know where to find them, then no problem. Did the reliever follow my plans exactly? Bah. As long is the class is happy and learning, it’s all probably fine.

Phew another teaching milestone reached.