Monthly Archives: January 2012

Rima hanga – five things

At the end of 2011 Allanh K asked her Year Four students to record five things that they wanted their new teacher in Year Five to know about them.
This year, Allanah found out another teacher was using the activity with her students too.
Allanah has begun the “5 things I want my teacher to know about me” meme for learners from her blog, and here are mine…

I want my teachers to know that….

  • I learn by seeing ideas in action, and by reading. I struggle to transform lectures into understanding unless you provide a transcript, visual cues or activities
  • I am passionate about learning and will not ask for help until I have explored every other option I can think of
  • I like to think and weigh up options/alternatives before committing to one answer
  • I will correct my spelling, word choice or tweak a layout until I am satisfied that it is as close to how I imagined it as possible
  • I will support others to do their best and think that failure is not trying at all/not believing in oneself.

What would be your five things?

"Five" CC Image courtesy of woodleywonderworks on Flickr

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Kupu āwhina – advice

As I began blogging and building a PLN on Twitter, I came across a lot of supportive advice on how to do stuff. It really helped in using my time efficiently and stopped me from making some rookie mistakes. I’ve been thinking about how I could pay-it-forward, about what kind of helpful advice I could pass on. And I came up with ‘how to be an effective online learner’.

Here are my top 5 tips for successful online learning:

#1 Network:
Many online courses come with some kind of shared space for students online. These spaces are designed for students to discuss, collaborate and share their learning – if your learning was a solo endeavour only reliant on your contact with your tutor, they wouldn’t bother providing these. So, use them.
The best way to begin is by courteously responding to other students comments, either by agreeing with, elaborating on, or questioning what they have posted. Be mindful to treat these public spaces professionally and thoughtfully, as they are viewed by students and tutors – it is not the place to link your personal Facebook account and tell your entire course to ‘friend’ you, or to get involved in disagreements or criticism of the course, staff or other students. Once you have built up some contacts, you can have more casual conversations via email, Skype or FB 😉

#2 Back-up:
Online learning can be the equivalent of a triathlon for your computer, some days you might be building a slideshow while downloading documents, talking on Skype and uploading photographs. I nearly lost my whole first year’s work when my laptop suddenly gave up on me. Other study-buddies have had computers break in transit, breakdown or get stolen. You need to find some kind of back-up for your electronic files, so that if the worst does happen you can claim insurance and carry on. I use an external hard-drive; other people choose to use Google docs or to save their files to disk. Whatever you choose, make sure you back-up regularly.

#3 Experiment:
Throughout your study you will get opportunities to showcase your learning. This is the time to experiment with tech tools! Don’t wait until you have an assessment worth 30% due to begin fiddling with slideshows or tools you have never used before. Often, there will a choice of presentation method for non-assessed learning projects and these are the best times to experiment. If you are asked for an art piece, you can draw something, take a digital photo and upload it, or you could begin experimenting with photo shop editors. If you are asked for a report, think about making it an online slideshow. There are a lot of tech tools available, best to get a handle on them when stakes are low, rather than waiting until an assessment is due.

#4 Schedule:
Online learning provides a lot of flexibility. You could begin your day at noon, in your pyjamas, if you so choose. Online learning can be so flexible that you might find yourself taking a week off mid-semester or you could end up working through the midnight hours so regularly that people begin to suspect that you are in fact a vampire. To ensure you don’t fall off the study wagon, or end up devoting all your time to study, set yourself a loose schedule and try to adhere to it. This might be as simple as setting a daily start and finish time, or setting a timer so you go to the gym each day. Keep your schedule realistic and make sure you think about everything that is important to you: study, family, friends, fitness, food, whatever, and set aside some regular time for those things.

#5 Hot-spots:
Know where your nearest (or cosiest) Wi-Fi hot-spot is. You never know when some electrical or internet failure will occur, and knowing where you can get re-connected can stop a whole lot of anxiety while your connection is fixed. You can even make visiting a local hot-spot part of your weekly schedule just for a change of scene or to catch-up with other students, if there are any in your area. It could be a public library or a café. My hot-spot is currently a McDonalds, so I can happily sip a latte mid-morning while my weekly study documents download (for the cost of a coffee, I can download up to 50MB without using up my own precious data limit).  A map of free NZ Wi-Fi hot-spots is available from here.

I hope that some or all of these points are helpful to you and happy studies!

If you also have a tip or hint to share, please add it in the comments.

"Morning coffee and Twitter" CC Image courtesy of Rubenerd on Flickr

Kauhanga – open space

Excitement! My course work for this year has begun arriving at my door.

To add to the excitement, one of my courses has decided to go paperless. What this means for me is the course work, text readings and resources can be downloaded from My University website – there will not be a large folder of paper texts couriered to my door!

This method of delivery is great for me, because I have spent a few hours (um…days, actually) downloading these same texts. My digital archiving is limited to content that can be sourced digitally off the internet and it still leaves me with a large pile of paper. I am tempted to shred, soak, strain and squish it into recycled A4 and then print my CV on it (so very tempting…highly impractical though). My inner Lorax gets uppity at the sight of all this paper getting filed in my garage.

Having instructions and resources digitally available is becoming a critical part of modern learning – I take great pleasure in being able to load my weekly text readings onto my Kobo and read them poolside while my kids are swimming. If I’m going somewhere for the whole day, I pack up my laptop and endeavour to read and do some written work. Modern learning is no longer tied to physical resources that are held in one place. Resources, if you are connected, can be sourced online and are only a click away. I can learn at a library, café, sports field or playground, if I so choose.

What could this possibly mean for future learning spaces? I’m not sure myself – there are some excellent people out there in the world crunching brain cells together on it. The one image that I do keep coming back to when I think about though is Nell and her primer, from Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age.

A quick summary: Nell is a young girl growing up in the (future) slums, who accidently receives a book designed to educate its reader by responding to her environment and adjusting its content accordingly. Essentially, The Diamond Age explores the convergent dynamics of technology, education and relationships in a not too distant future. If you haven’t read it, please consider reading it. Even if you don’t enjoy it as a novel (surely you will) there are some interesting implications for what the future of teaching and learning might look like (note that this book was published in 1995).

One of the themes in the novel is that Nell’s book is interactive, not just between Nell and the book, but between Nell, the book and Nell’s teacher/surrogate mother, who plays a huge part in teaching Nell and keeping her safe, without meeting in person. Another theme is Nell’s constant movement through her real-world, she has no defined and constant learning place – her learning space comes with her, in the form of the interactive book (sound familiar?)

This suggests to me that no matter how compact, technical or proximal the delivery method of education becomes, that the student-tutor relationship will always be vital. Students need to know that their learning is planned with care, is responsive and appropriate for them, in both subject matter and level of challenge, and that someone is there to support them when they are stuck, wherever they are.

What do you think of, when you think about learning spaces of the future?

My learning (old course texts make excellent seating)

Whāinga – goal

In order to set out on a path of transformation, you must have a goal to aspire too. The goal shouldn’t be so far out-of-reach as to be unreasonable, but just far enough to be a real accomplishment.

A few years ago, I initially had one goal, “become a teacher”.

Most of my subsequent goals have been short-term assignment-based goals. Early on in the process of ‘becoming a teacher’ I realized that to keep motivated, I also needed to find a way to make it fun. Which begged the question: how can four years of online learning be made ‘fun’?

My University has a great online learning environment, Moodle, but it is a world away from sitting in a room with 40 other people and having casual chat about the course content. At one stage I did feel isolated and unmotivated, so I set myself the task of transforming my study from an isolated process of learning – to one that was social and supportive. There have been periods over the course of my study where I have been out of contact with other students for weeks (internet malfunctions), and other times when I have been speaking to them almost every day (collaborative projects).

It’s true, I admit it: studying online is not the most social of learning methods.

Adopting a network of study-buddies, from strangers online, takes work, but has been so worthwhile. Over time, my study group has developed from answering questions on the online forum and the occasional emailed query, to Skype messages, lengthy emails and even lengthier Skype calls. Out of a study network, a social and supportive learning community sprouted, a PLN even.

On the outset of final year, I’m still a student, but also on the cusp of joining the teaching family, so this year is the final phase of transformation from student to teacher – and it seems like the right time to actively seek out a teaching support network, people who are willing to share ideas that will ease me out of my student mindset into a teacher mindset. I’m still in Stage 1, but have found some fabulous people already (some who are wonderful enough to comment on my blog and if you click on their names in the comments you can view their fantastic blogs). There are also loads of other people who don’t comment on my blog who I follow on Twitter or via their blogs because they generously share their ideas about teaching and learning with anyone who has internet access – being professional role models from a distance, so to speak.

My goals: to listen, learn, blog, and adopt a ‘balanced’ PLN.

Goal wordle (made by me at tagxedo.com)

Whakaumu – transform

Last week I stumbled across #ntchat on twitter – lucky it is the summer holidays in New Zealand and I can indulge in browsing online at my leisure.

I’m not a new teacher yet, but by this time next year I sure hope to be. So, I was essentially eavesdropping on what new teachers talk about.

The focus of the days #ntchat was on positive transformation – identifying an aspect of your teaching that you want to improve.
Of course setting goals is a good idea – but why would a new teacher already need to set goals for transforming their practice?

Then I imagined these two scenarios –

Scenario 1:
Teacher A started her new job in a fantastic school with wonderful children. She began the year by implementing all the great ideas she had learned at training college. Teacher A didn’t set any particular goal but had secret aspirations of being awesome at everything: behaviour management, literacy and maths teaching, correspondence with parents, inquiry learning (this list could go on…).
Near the end of term 1, Teacher A felt a bit stressed. The literacy rotations hadn’t been as enthusiastically received as she had hoped, and she hadn’t sent home a weekly newsletter to parents like she planned.
At the end of term 2, the literacy rotations had improved but then the maths programme stalled because she was spending her planning time writing the weekly newsletter to send home, and camp was coming up, so even more time was needed to plan for that. Teacher A was feeling overwhelmed but struggled through to the end of term 3, when she approached her mentor and confided that she felt like she wasn’t cut-out for teaching and although she loved her students, things just hadn’t turned out the way she thought they would…

Scenario 2:
Teacher Z started her new job in a fantastic school with wonderful children. She began the year by reflecting on all of the great ideas she had learned at training college. Teacher Z decided that she would really like to learn more about literacy teaching and approached her mentor to explain her goal, and together they discussed some professional articles and ideas.
Near the end of term 1, Teacher Z knew she has developed really strong literacy rotations which the students were responding well too, because she had collected some anecdotal notes and assessment data on her students’ literacy skills. She sat down with her mentor to reflect on what was working well, and sent home a newsletter to parents sharing the work of the students and showcasing their literacy strengths. Teacher Z could see that camp was coming up at the beginning of term 3, so she set herself another goal to work with her mentor to plan a good event, and to learn about the school’s camp policies and procedures.
At the end of term 3, Teacher Z felt like she had learned a lot and that her students were benefitting from her refined skills and knowledge. Teacher Z had developed a supportive professional relationship with her mentor and together they planned how to make Teacher Z’s second year just as successful…

Teaching and learning are part of a cyclical process of finding out what works and reflecting on what could be better…

What aspects of teaching and learning are you transforming in 2012?

"What the caterpillar calls the end of the world..." - Richard Bach

Whakaatu – presentation

5 weeks until university opens for 2012.

I’m not sure what to expect – I haven’t received my course guides yet.

What I do know is that I get to spend my first week of study away from the books and in an actual classroom! Yes – excited about that.

Over the last three years, I have had 18 weeks of face-time in classrooms, in 4 different schools, and with 4 different age groups, ranging from new entrants to year 8’s. I have learned a lot and am looking forward to finding out what age group I will get to work with (actually this time, it’s not up to My University. I have already been placed with an Associate in a fantastic school and it will depend on what year group she is teaching this year).

Every school has a unique atmosphere, and it has been an education in itself getting a handle on the different resources available in each – from the brand new schools with their interactive white boards and laptops – to the schools with ‘old-fashioned’ whiteboards and handful of desktop computers. What works in one classroom isn’t going to work everywhere, so I’ve had to be pretty flexible and innovative no matter where I’ve been, depending on what has been on hand.

One thing that is universal is the practical/professional teachers’ dress code. Something that my fellow online students and I have had had a few good laughs over in the past – when we have got it wrong! I have found that most schools frown on jeans and ripped t-shirts (no, no, not through experience – I always ask in advance, gees). Most schools just want you to turn up looking tidy.

I have heard of several less common clauses, such as the ‘no open-toe shoes’ clause (hmm, maybe a safety precaution?) and the ‘no midriffs or g-strings showing’ clause (what – no g-strings showing!) Surely, that is common sense and no teacher male or female would turn up for work with their skimpy underwear on show…good grief.

But even less well known are the ‘dressing for the classroom’ hints and tips you don’t get warned about, such as:

  • don’t wear the top which looks fine when you’re upright but flashes all your cleavage when you stoop for a dropped marker…
  • beware of the shoes with the large lace loops which are certain to get caught on the smallest of low-lying hooks in an effort to trip you up (I had another student tell me about this after he hooked his shoelace on the lace-hook of his other shoe and went crashing to the ground, through a plastic storage box – ouch!) Closely related to this is…
  • the beautiful drapey blouse which is determined to snag on every not so-low-lying hook, no doubt it will also be painting day, he he he…
  • wearing heeled shoes on sports day is just bad advance planning, especially if you’re in the gym and left with the choice of either wearing heeled shoes or slippery stockings (no doubt if this is the case, you will also be wearing the skirt which will fly up over your head when you slip over the glossy gym floor in said stockings).

High-heeled Nike's in hot pink...anyone?

Do you have hints you’d like to share for dressing practically (but professionally) in the classroom?

Whakawhanaungatanga – relating to others

As a thank you for the warm welcome to the blogosphere, I thought I would share a positive experience about inclusion that I had while out on one of teaching placements in 2011 – a lesson idea that incorporated one of my favourite resources Teaching Tolerance, and some classic Kiwi content Kia Kaha.

The lesson was scheduled the week after Australian school-boy Casey Haynes became international news for fighting back against bullying. The lesson was used in an environment where respect for others and team work are already being taught through everyday dialogue and celebrated at school assemblies.

Teaching Tolerance is a web-based initiative for promoting inclusive learning spaces. I found it in my first year of training when I was writing an enormous essay on countering gender stereotypes in classrooms.
Kia Kaha is the New Zealand Police’s anti-bullying initiative for schools.

I opened the session by showing this youtube clip  (I was working with 7-8 year olds but they thought it was alright – a nice way to ease into a serious topic). Afterwards we brainstormed what ‘tolerance’ and ‘relating to others’ might look like and mean. All the students got the Big Idea that it was about accepting different kinds of people – even people who can be annoying.

I used the ideas from Teaching Tolerance’s ‘Gender doesn’t limit you’  – teaching the students responses that they could use to challenge intolerant discourse, “Give it a rest, no group is best” and “You can’t say [boys/girls/you] can’t play!” (which became a favourite).

I explained that students would be in groups of 4 to make a small movie (using a digital camera) about a situation where there is an opportunity to demonstrate tolerance. Keeping ‘on-theme’ the students then took the initiative to peacefully self-organise into groups!

I asked them to suggest school situations where they have possibly felt that someone was intolerant or where they felt excluded. Point to note here: nearly every student suggested a playground setting, which indicated to me that the playground is where intolerance and exclusion occur most.
So, we moved the learning outdoors and I gave them their cameras and the freedom to choose a scenario where they would first act out a ‘normal’ interaction – followed by the demonstration of challenging intolerance and relating to others. After a quick reminder to use their rote responses, they were off. (All the digital cameras were pre-set to film, the students only needed to turn them on and press ‘record’ – many of the students were already very comfortable with using them and could refocus, zoom, pan etc. with no issues).

The learning overview took 15 minutes, so we had 25 minutes to film and some groups produced multiple short movies – I did have one group who went from producing a rugby scenario (getting picked for teams was a hot issue) to a zombie apocalypse (sigh) but they continued to show tolerance by being very inclusive of the zombies, so … not completely off-task.

Post filming, we had sharing time – each movie was screened on the interactive whiteboard with explanatory commentary from the team who created it. Many teams also included disclaimers about how their group had worked together – who had the initial idea, who filmed, any issues that arose where they had needed to negotiate. One group had even made four clips so each team member had a chance at being the camera-operator, the star, the director etc.  I made sure to praise their fair treatment and respect shown for fellow team-mates.

I would love to be able to share these short films, but they are not my creative works to upload. What I can share is the idea, the sources and the encouragement to give it a go.

How are you promoting skills students can use for relating to others?

Links to the NZ Curriculum: Health & PE; Drama; and the Relating to Others key competency.