Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Manaiakalani Leaders Study Tour

As teachers, we know that nobody is an pedagogical island: you cannot learn within a vacuum. As such, taking inspiration from other schools is an integral part of bettering our own professional skillset. Which is exactly why I was so pleased to be able to visit and participate in a teaching environment that was so different from my own.

On Friday 19th March the MDTA cohort joined our school leaders to attend a tour of Stonefields school and to participate in various workshops. This experience made me more aware of how a modern or innovative learning environment functions: my own practice will benefit from the new ideas that this trip inspired.

Making Learning Explicit

Explicit learning was the focus for the Stonefield teachers, ensuring that they have a firm understanding of the learning cycle and understand the terminology concerned with learning. Even in junior classes teachers would facilitate vocabulary lessons using the Stonefields learning words as a focus. To reinforce this understanding, diagrams, words and phrases associated with the learning cycle were visible throughout the school.

Stonefields Learner Qualities
Metacognition and Self- Regulation

 The children were not only aware of the learning process in teacher-lead sessions, but were able to apply it when planning their own inquiry focus for "breakout" or inquiry time. The students had the freedom to engage with a range of topics from planning a trip, studying plants or learning to program a basic video game. It is fun for the students, and gives them the chance to lead their own learning through personally developed lines of inquiry.

I thought that the notion of being stuck in "The Learning Pit", a metaphor which describes being stuck or confused in ones learning, to be very powerful. The children are taught that The Pit is, in fact, a positive place to be and are taught strategies to climb' out of it: That the children should want to experience The Pit. This may sound surprising, but by entering and subsequently climbing out of this situation, the children learn self-efficacy and get the chance to demonstrate precisely what they have learned. This illustrates the process of self-regulation and encouraged the children to be resilient in the face of difficulty.
The Learning Pit 

Construction of an modern learning environment (MLE)

One of the workshops I attended discussed the construction of modern learning environments. There are many misconceptions surrounding these spaces, and some people imagine them as large classrooms with brightly coloured furniture and beanbags. However, in reality, much thought is put into the design of an effective MLE. The design of Stonefields was purposefully orchestrated to be  optimal for the needs of teachers and learners both.

An example of the various spaces that are used in the classroom
    At first when I visited Stonefields I was overwhelmed, I felt that the environment was so unstructured and I could not imagine what it would be like to teach there. Now that I have spent some time at the school I realized that I misjudged the situation. Yes, the children were working in different spaces around the hub, but learning was occurring. I could not believe how articulate the children could be when talking about their school, learning process and inquiry topic.

This experience has caused me to view modern learning environments in a new light and I will be sure to apply this learning in my own practice.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Create to Learn

Creativity is one of the fundamental ways that we, as humans, express our individuality. At this point in their lives, our children are beginning to define themselves as people within their friendship groups, the school and greater society. Essentially, creativity is a means for them to construct a sense of self.

This is perhaps why the Global Creativity Network asserts that creativity is the most fundamental of human rights, a notion supported by Manaiakalani - after all, 'Create' is part of our learning model.  As such, our students are given daily opportunities to express themselves in this way.

The first thing that comes to mind when many people think of creativity in schools is art: painting, sculpting, drawing. This is the focus of my school this year and my students participate in art lessons a few times a week.

This is, of course, a means to express ourselves creatively, but ultimately we teach the subject in a far more holistic and wide reaching way. For example, the students also participate in Create activities in reading, writing, maths and inquiry.
Experimenting with paint

The students certainly enjoy their opportunities to create, but as educators, we must consider the nature of the tasks that we offer. They must support or cause learning, rather than being implemented merely for the sake of it. There must be both rhyme and reason, a pedagogical purpose in the chaos of creativity.
Using perspective
During our MDTA session, we focused on the idea that not only could we create artifacts to represent our learning, but we could also learn during the process of creation. I decided to implement a lesson using create to learn, after being inspired by our session and Ken Robinson's TED talk.

In this lesson, the children will be asked to identify and express numbers visually in the same manner as the picture below. This session will inspire the children to think creatively and see numbers in a new light. They will need to find the relationship between the numbers and their factors, using the formations as clues.
This session was formulated as part of the Week of Inspirational Math designed by Jo Boaler. 

This could have been taught traditionally through pure integers. However, I hope that the visual connection with mathematics will engage a number of my learners who otherwise might have switched off. I believe that this unit will encourage children to use mathematics in a creative, investigative and collaborative way.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Thinking Critically

In the modern world where truth can often be concealed, we must be able to sift fact from fiction. This is also the case for our learners, who must make sense of the information presented from various sources on the internet.

During this week's MDTA PLG, we discussed the importance of teaching critical thinking in our classrooms. We considered how this could be covered in a various subject areas, including guided reading and social sciences. Caleb, an MDTA graduate, talked us through how he fostered critical thinking skills in his learners by discussing current events with them. He described how solo taxonomy can be used to support learners in developing this skill.

Solo Taxonomy Model - HookED

As I attended a professional development workshop regarding solo taxonomy at the beginning of the year, I intend to foster critical thinking through the use of this framework. I have introduced various critical thinking activities to my learners, including the hexagon task from HookED and the predict map, which supports students to create predictions.

FullSizeRender (4).jpg

In this session my learners filled out hexagons related to writing a narrative, they then had to find and justify links between individual hexagons. This lead to a rich discussion between my learners about the features of a narrative.

After engaging in discourse regarding critical thinking in both this PLG session and our university lecture earlier on in the week, it is clear that children can benefit greatly from partaking in critical thinking activities. Amy and I will concentrate on introducing critical thinking activities to more curriculum areas and will be facilitating discussion regarding current events. I am quite excited to work with our learners this way!

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

The Success of Many

Some would say that racism pervedes every aspect of New Zealand culture. But nowhere is it more important to be aware of racial prejudices than in the education section. 

On Friday, Pat Snedden (chair of the Manaiakalani Education Trust) delivered a kōrero that required us to consider racism in New Zealand. He began by recounting the efforts taken by Ngāti Whātua to reclaim the land that had been wrongfully taken from them. It took great effort on the part of Ngāti Whātua, but they rose from occupying a tiny amount of land in the 50’s to reclaim their land and becoming one of the most successful iwi in New Zealand. 

This reminded us of the racism that has occurred in this country and the relevance that this has to us as educators. We cannot allow racism to present itself in our hidden curriculum and we must speak out about such matters. It is so important for our learners to feel empowered and proud to be who they are. There is still much to be done to ensure that the treaty is honoured and equality is reached.

Pat then directed the discussion back to us and the role of Manaiakalani. So many are willing to accept the underachievement of Māori and Pasifika children, presenting a perspective of pity and hopelessness - in some ways, worse than mere apathy. 

Our Manaiakalani Forebears had the courage to challenge this view and to attempt to make a change. It is now up to us and those working alongside us to carry forth this vision, to empower our tamariki. Our success will be created by us working together with a common goal: the empowerment and achievement of our children.