Sunday, 27 August 2017

Stepping Up

Like most new teachers, I tend to find school trips pretty stressful. I take frequent head counts of the children, have a bit of a korero beforehand about my expectations and how the day will run and I keep my tamariki close to me at all times. However, up until this point my school trips have been pretty simple to manage. I have often been accompanied by several other classes (and teachers) and I often only have to guide my students through an enclosed and controlled area, such as a museum or theatre.

That all changed this week as I escorted the year sevens from my class on a week long camp to the Bay of Islands. This camp would involve kayaking, spending the night in the bush and visiting numerous locations. The thought of this was pretty daunting and I even had a few nightmares in the week leading up to the camp! I was all too aware of the headlines about disasters that had occurred during school camps. I was also a little worried that my students would begin to forget some of the things that they had just learnt, such as the maths concepts I had taught during the previous weeks.
                             My students practicing their skit about Bush Survival

However, as soon as our first activity had begun I realized how wrong I had been to dread the camp - it was amazing! My students were able to learn so much about New Zealand history from the museums and tours that we attended. They had numerous new experiences and learnt skills such as bushcraft that they would remember for life. I saw so much value in every activity and had so much fun, when Friday came around I would have been happy to stay on (despite being exhausted)!
A huge challenge for me was sleeping in the shelter we built
For one thing, I managed to include a lot of mini lessons over the course of the camp. As we spent time every day travelling around the Bay of Islands, I spent about 15 - 30 minutes over all each day to facilitate a mini maths lesson in the car. As my students are really enjoying the maths at the moment they actually began to ask for this on our journeys and we managed to work through the learning that I had left for our year sixes back at school. I also spent about 10 minutes with my group each day writing about the places that we had visited and putting them on a timeline. This supported them to build a conceptual framework around the topic and illustrated the connections between the places that we visited. After dinner we reflected on the experiences we had, set goals and filled in a PMIS chart about the activities.
I even got to go back over a water safety lesson that I taught in term one - we got in the huddle and HELP positions, skulled, treaded water and swam a distance.

Another really important aspect of the camp was that I developed really strong relationships with my learners and they got to know one another a lot better. All of my year sevens worked so well together and my group illustrated really effective and supportive teamwork. Some of my students who don't usually work together had the opportunity to do so and it was so lovely to hear them remark on this on our final night, stating what they did not know about the others in such a positive way.

One aspect of my teaching philosophy is that I seek to support my students to develop an understanding of themselves, their beliefs and their perspectives about different matters. I could definitely see my students learning new things about themselves on this camp,be it that they love kayaking, or that they discovered a new food that they like, or discovering deeper things, like how to help a friend in trouble, to be resilient or to try new things, even if they did not think that they would enjoy them.In particular I saw some of our Māori tamariki take more pride in their culture and using more of their language.

I am so glad to have had this experience and I know that I will draw upon my learning here for the many camps to come.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Honoring the Treaty

In a few weeks time my learners and I will be heading off to Russell for a school camp focused on the Treaty of Waitangi and the history of New Zealand. To ensure that my learners can connect with this topic, we have been studying history and the Treaty in our inquiry lessons. 


This was the first time that my learners had investigated the Treaty in depth and many of them were quite surprised by what they learnt. In particular, they were startled by the fact that there were two versions of the Treaty and that the land wars occurred shortly after the Treaty was signed. As we investigated the clauses of the Treaty, there was much discussion around how it is used today. Many of my learners thought that it would contain laws much like those that we follow today. This lead onto a discussion about the partnership between Māori and Pakeha and the importance of learning Te Reo  Māori and about Māori tikanga.

As a class we reflected on the fact that we have a weekly Te Reo lesson, sing waiata, discuss whakatauki and learn a little about Māori customs or tikanga. However, I discovered that there are many gaps in my learners knowledge; some were unaware what a hongi was for example. To remedy this, I planned some lessons that would cover different areas of Māoridom. We looked at powhiri and marae protocol for example and made traditional Māori bread (Takakau).

I have written before about taking extra university papers in order to learn some Te Reo and the fact that I seek to use the langauge and Māori resources wherever possible. However, by studying this unit my learners have become more aware of the importance of using Te Reo and they are beginning to ask more about Māori tikanga. Despite having these conversations before, I believe that they lacked the knowledge to truly connect with what I was trying to stress. I am now really looking forward to the camp and to watch my students as they engage in authentic experiences around the Treaty of Waitangi.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

High Expectations in STEAM

I love presenting new information to my learners, particularly when it leads them to finding new interests. At the end of last term we investigated different times in history which lead to discussions about etymology and language. This was a great hook for my learners and I had a group of boys who began to read texts about medieval times and King Arthur, while other students became fascinated with geography and foreign languages.

This term our school is focusing on architecture, which has presented a wonderful opportunity for us to investigate 'STEAM' subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths). I am hoping that this topic will be just as rich and engaging as our previous inquiry and it will allow me to cover different areas of the curriculum.
Student create activity about insulation
We kicked the week off with a Science Intensive, where we spent four days investigating different scientific and technological concepts. Each teacher was responsible for covering one topic and the students rotated around the four senior classes. My science intensive covered chemistry and I focused on the states and changes of matter with younger students and atoms and molecules with the year seven and eights.
Building a bridge from a single piece of paper
In class we have been comparing the different resources and types of buildings used by different cultures. We also looked at design and investigated engineers and their careers. I challenged my students to create a stable bridge in my year six technology class and there was a lot of rich discussion and problem solving taking place.

Following the design specifications
While the students have been exposed to a lot of content over the past two weeks, they have coped with it well and a lot of learning has occurred. I believe it is really important to have high expectations of learners in these subjects and to support them to interact with these concepts. If they are introduced and enjoy such topics at an early age, they could go on to study them at high school, university or to pursue a career in a STEAM field.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Creativity Empowers Learning

This week our staff meeting was run by Fiona Grant, who came to talk to us about the way that creativity empowers learning. As our  Manaiakalani pedagogy is 'Learn, Create, Share' our students are given regular opportunities to create and to be creative.

However, not all create activities are equal. When we consider the SAMR model, we know that we can design activities at the Substitution, Augmentation, Modification and Redefinition level of the model. We know that we cannot always design tasks at the top two levels of this model, and that substitution has its place.

                                                          image by Sylvia Duckworth

Fiona reminded us that often Modification and Redefinition level tasks can be more time consuming than those at the Substitution and Augmentation level. However, students can achieve a deeper level of understanding in these higher level tasks. Fiona suggested that we consider the concepts that we are teaching; we must decide what we can teach in a shorter substitution session and what would be best explored in depth through a task at the redefinition level of SAMR.

We also considered the cognitive load of these create tasks. While some require the students to simply recount their experiences, others require the students to have a deeper understanding of these experiences. I have decided to make an explainer video as my next create activity for inquiry and writing, as it requires the students to have a deep understanding of the content and to consider how they can best represent and explain the key ideas.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Making Progress

I have just completed my mid year assessments and I am reflecting on what has supported my learners this term. To support my own observations and data, I have sent surveys to my learners to discover what they have found most helpful in each of their lessons.

1. Student Agency and Workshops
As part of my dissertation, I have been using a workshop approach to teaching maths a few times a week. My learners select which workshop(s) they need to attend and choose the activity aimed at their level. To support the learners when they are not with me, I have provided videos portraying the content that was covered in the workshop and materials. I have found that the students have been able to select the correct workshop and activity for their level.  They noted that the small group environment, materials and time with the teacher were very helpful.

The students also have two problem solving lessons a week which I facilitate but let the students take the lead on. This means that we have a balance of teacher led and learner led maths lessons, which the students also found helpful.

2. Reciprocal Reading
This has been a huge hit with the learners and they can now run this with little teacher intervention. It is great to see them holding debates and discussion about the texts and trying to challenge each other with the questions that they are asking.

3. Fluent Reading
I noted that some of my less capable readers were not able to read fluently, so we made this a focus and we used Screencastify to record them reading aloud with expression. This was particularly beneficial for the students on the colour wheel, who have become far more fluent readers. Thanks to Clarelle who is working on this intervention for her dissertation.

4. Meaningful Experiences

I have tried to create as many language experiences as possible this term, which has been very beneficial to the students writing. However, it has also been wonderful to see the students apply their learning in real life or different contexts. For example, using our fractions and measurement knowledge in our class cooking lesson. I found that the students can consolidate and deepen their understanding of concepts this way. This was particularly apparent when we constructed Pompeii and I listened to conversations about the different parts of the volcano that they were creating and which Roman God their temple would be associated with.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Te Reo Māori

As someone who completed the majority of their schooling overseas, I cannot say I experienced any Te Reo Māori lessons when I was at school. As such, when I began teaching last year I was a little unsure of how much Te Reo is usually taught and how these lessons are structured. Naturally, there is a lot of variation between courses and different ideas of how best to support the development of the language. Fortunately, I was able to experience Te Reo lessons first hand as I enrolled in two different courses as a student.
                                                    Learning about the colours

While I was a student at Auckland University, I took a linguistics paper in Te Reo Māori which helped me to develop an understanding of the structure of the language and supported me to build a basic vocabulary. As I still struggled with pronunciation and wanted to learn more about Tikanga, I enrolled in a course at UNITEC. This course was free and I would urge other educators to enrol, as I found it hugely beneficial. We went through the basics of the language, but looked at pronunciation,  tikanga and kapa haka.  The tutors in this course were wonderful; the activities that they provided were engaging and we all came a long way in a short space of time.

                                                                                                               Our Matariki Video
I now use a combination of " Ka Mau te Wehi!" which is the programme followed by my school and the lessons from my Kura Po classes at UNITEC. I have found that my students are just as engaged in the activities from my classes as I was and I can tell that much learning is occurring in these lessons.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Encouraging Collaboration and Problem Solving

This term I have sought to facilitate discussion between my learners and to step out of group lessons so that they are student led. I have utilized strategies such as reciprocal reading, maths as problem solving and circle time to encourage this. I have also highlighted the importance to work with others during our class PB4L lessons.
Team Building Sport Games

Within these PB4L lessons, I have facilitated a number of activities to foster team building. We played team building sports games, technology challenges and the famous toothpaste activity. One of the most engaging and successful activities that the class has participated in has been Breakout Edu.

A PB4L Challenge

The students were respectful, supportive, collaborative and engaged throughout the game, which was very rewarding to observe. Part of this success could be due to the amount of focus that we have put into team building in the past, but the Breakout had my students captivated and they have requested that we complete another game as soon as possible.

Our first Breakout was simple as the context of the game was designed for younger primary school students. However, as this was their first experience with the game, I felt it was important that they learnt a little more about it before the challenge is increased. The students have suggested that I facilitate a slightly trickier game at the end of term, which I am already looking forward to.