Friday, May 5, 2017

We Broke Out!

After famously attending three sessions on Breakout EDU at the Google Summits in Auckland and Wellington (and attending one with a fellow Habitat Learning Coach) we decided to give it a go in our Habitat to get a positive start to term 2 this year.

For those of you who don't yet know what it is, Breakout EDU is a classroom version of escape rooms. Learners are given a task which involves finding clues to open up locks to break into a box. Each game has a story to go with it to make it interesting and often the clues are related to a specific are to help the learners consolidate their knowledge.
Given that we had 90 learners we decided to split the children into 4 groups and run two sessions concurrently and then two more later. We chose to use a game based off of If You Give A Mouse A Cookie, but changed the objective that a mouse had come in and stolen some of my lego, which was locked up in the box.

Though I've played several games before (ISTE 2016 Champion) and even helped out with facilitating one, I had never done so by myself before. So I was very nervous and very worried I might make a mistake. The great thing about Breakout EDU is that they have very detailed setup instructions including a step by step video. Once I sat down with all the materials, it was quite easy. I really enjoyed hiding the clues throughout the habitat.

The actual implementation of the game went alright. We had a number of adults in the room who had never experienced it before and we discovered many issues with the way the clues were set out (they had a particularly hard time figuring out that a pot of pencils was actually a clue. But, as we stepped back and gave them tiny little hints, they did manage to figure out all of the clues and open the locks. As was to be expected, the learners didn't really talk to each other about the clues. One of them had decoded a message as to where something was, but didn't understand the message. She left it and walked away but didn't tell anyone. Later, when some other children were told of the clue, they immediately understood and found the key. It was a good talking point when we had our post-game reflection.

This was a really good chance for our learners to learn some real world problem solving skills. They had to think in ways that they hadn't had to previously. They also had to work together and talk. I think when we do this again, there will be a marked improvement in their communication skills (and the way they look at the clues).

So my next plan is to keep on doing these every now and then - the learners enjoyed them and I enjoyed doing them. Eventually I would like to start making my own games. At the moment they seem a bit complicated, but all I really need is a few hours to sit down and think when my brain isn't worried about other things. Given that we're making some big changes in our habitat at the moment, it's not likely that will come about any time soon, but one never knows... 

Google Summits - Times Two!

This year I was fortunate enough to be accepted to present at both the Auckland AND the Wellington Google Summits put on by the Ed Tech Team.

Since the beginning of the year, as can be evidenced by my lack of posting regularly on here, I have been very busy and overwhelmed with the implementation of new ideas at Ormiston School where I was put into a habitat for the first time. So a lot of the drive that had previously been in me had slowly disappeared.

But these two Google Summits gave me my drive back. It's funny how you don't realize what's missing until you get it back, but I had mostly disconnected myself from my core online PLN and was suffering because of it. Coming back to these summits and spending four days with my tribe was extremely helpful in sparking my drive to make innovative change.

My four sessions went fairly well. Two were on how to use Mystery Hangouts (or Skype) in the classroom to connect with other classrooms globally and to promote critical thinking skills and problem solving, while the other two were on how to use Google Forms to make Choose Your Own Adventure stories. After some sessions last year that were more of me talking than of the participants actually, you know, participating, I made some changes and made sure that the majority of each session was a chance for my colleagues to try something new. For the Mystery Hangout session we ran a mock Mystery Hangout. For the Choose Your Own Adventure session we actually made our own Choose Your Own Adventures. Further to this, it gave me more ideas of what I could share in the future (and I'm going to keep some of that on the down low for now).

One tangent that these sessions sent me on was to create some sort of resource for teachers to connect with each other so that they can do a Mystery Hangout. I had used a padlet in my presentation to collect details of classrooms that might be interested, but on my long drive home from Wellington and after a suggestion from one of the attendees there, I am currently working on a small website for NZ teachers to find each other for these Mystery Chats (not trying to favour one over the other). So hopefully I'll find some time to complete that task soon and then share it with my PLN to get a global group of people who want to connect with NZ schools.

I also had the opportunity to attend several sessions at the summit which have led to some new thinking and tools for me to use in the classroom. Over the four days, I attended three (yes, 3) sessions related to Breakout EDU. Two which let me experience the game play (I've done it a few times before, admittedly) and once where we got the chance to brainstorm and look at the process of designing games. I'm actually quite interested in using this in the classroom (and we actually trialled it this week - but that's another blog post) so it was good to get my brain thinking about what we could do and how we could do it.

Another session I attended included using the G Suite Apps on iPads. This has long been an issue for me in the classroom/habitat. Often we say we have 40 some odd devices (for 90 learners, mind you) and 10 of those are iPads, which don't have the same functionality as chromebooks. However, we were given some tasks to try on the iPads and I managed to figure out how to do a variety of things on it that I had previously thought would be difficult to do.

There were also a few sessions on Computer Science and coding. One was a reiteration of the CS First session I attended last year, and this helped reaffirm the need for coding in the classroom. They have a variety of modules that learners can go through to practice coding. This got me thinking about the ways in which we can add coding to the curriculum and embed it through other subjects. I've made some tentative plans to work towards some practical, hands on coding in all areas. A second session I attended shared lots of resources for higher level coding. One resource that stood out in particular was the Khan Academy and Pixar joint venture: Pixar in a Box. Mainly geared towards older learners, there are certainly some aspects that can be used at the primary level. And don't think I haven't contemplated learning how to digitally animate and change careers! Probably not though...

I also finally attended a session put on by Angela Lee on Virtual Reality. Having worked with her for ages and ages, I've never actually gone to see her present. It was very helpful in that I now know how to use both Google Expeditions as well as another application that allows learners to make their own 3D virtual world: CoSpaces. These are two things that we're examining to add to our curriculum throughout as many areas as possible.

Overall, I was pretty pleased with the four days at the summits - and I quite liked the drive as well (it's always nice to see the green of New Zealand). It's given me a new focus going forward and sparked that fire in me that has recently been in hiding.

Friday, March 31, 2017

PMA Conference

Last Saturday I attended the 25th annual Primary Maths Association conference at the beautiful Waipuna Conference Center. Though I don't recall it being said (that of course, doesn't mean it wasn't said) there was a clear theme running throughout the day: Proportional thinking. Now this doesn't necessarily mean proportions, ratios and percent - but it does refer to multiplicative thinking. This, according to many speakers, is something we need to focus on as many learners are yet unable to think this way.

The keynote speaker, Shelley Dole, spoke of a three-step process of representing mathematical thinking for learners. The first is enactive - acting out the problems. This is probably something that is lacking in my practice at the moment. In the week since, I've tried to bring this back into my problem solving. The second is iconic - using diagrams or manipulatives that represent real life things. For example, this would be using things like counters, place value cubes, etc. I've been doing this to a degree, though including diagrams is something that I will work on adding (pun intended). The last is symbolic - which is using numbers and symbols to represent those mathematical ideas. This is something that we rely on quite a bit, and while necessary, it's important to remember that that doesn't have to be the only thing we do.

To be honest, a few of the big ideas in the sessions were not new to me, but it's always good to get a reminder of these things AND there were some practical things that I can use in my teaching.

One session I attended, called Learning Through Play, had a few ideas of things we as educators could use to make the learning of our learners more interesting. There was a lot of talk about using literacy to connect with mathematical ideas. A lot of this was about using stories to create math investigations. I like this idea, though it was very juniors based (read: Year 2 or under). It did remind me of the wonderful (American) resource of the Math Start books. Despite the obvious issues with the currency books, these are really great. I've brought my set back into school and am planning to share them with my learners shortly.

Another really important tip that was shared in this session was that learners should be encouraged to answer their questions in full sentences  - not just in one-word answers. The facilitator mentioned that this can have wonderful effects across all learning areas.

The last session of the day included a massive amount of practical real world maths problems. The facilitator gave us heaps of example questions using ratios and proportions that are real world problems. What I liked best about this session was that we had time to go around and have a go at solving them (note to any presenters out there: get us doing stuff or at some point, most of us will just tune out).

It was a good day to spark some thinking in me. I've always enjoyed math as a student, though that can be a challenge when it comes to teaching learners who don't share my excitement. I hope to use a good deal of the ideas in the coming weeks!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Down With Rainbow Vomit!

Recently, I read an article online about how much decoration on classroom walls is useful. It has been a long-standing observation that the majority of learners, while they do notice things occasionally on the walls, don't really care too much whether or not they are decorated in what can colourfully be described as rainbow vomit (a term which was not coined by me, but by a former colleague of mine - also, that pun was completely intended).

I wouldn't say that I've been one for a classroom full of white, bare walls. No, I think every learning area does have to feel inviting and warm. But often, I feel like there is a lot of pressure to make things look good, just for the sake of them looking good and bright and shiny. Style over substance, in other words.

As someone who can easily get distracted, the main points in the article are very relevant to me. Too much visual stimulation (or auditory stimulation for that matter) can actually make it difficult for learners (or in my case, adults) to stay focused on the task at hand. The researches actually tested this theory and had two sets of children in two classrooms - one bare and one decorated. Their initial findings were that the children in the bare walls room retained more of the information given during the lesson. Obviously this needs to be replicated on a bigger scale, but it makes sense.

For what it's worth, I've taken a multitude of approaches when it comes to what's on the walls in my classroom (sadly, though, I don't have many pictures of these to share and those that I do have are hidden away in the maze that is my file structures on Google Drive and my external hard drive). I've had the big displays to get children interested. I've tried individual spaces on the wall for learners to display what they've wanted to display (which turned out to be a lot of work for me as many of those spaces were in inaccessible spots or too high). I've put up work in progress.

My personal opinion, based on my patented logical thinking and looking at the situation from many angles is that anything put on the walls has to have a purpose - and that purpose begins and ends with the learners who are in the environment. Everything put up has to be for them. Not for leadership, not for the parents, not for ERO.

I think walls should be always changing, with the learners taking ownership of the majority of things on them. Obviously there needs to be organizational things on them, but that shouldn't take up too much space. The environment should be clean and welcoming. One thing I'd like to add is plants, or other calming things. Leaner made art should be put up (though I would argue that if you have 25 or so copies of almost the exact same thing, it's not really art).

This has come at an interesting time when we're trying to decide collectively as a team what to put up in our Habitat. This has certainly given us something to think about.

Friday, March 3, 2017

In Defence of Play Based Learning

Recently a colleague at work shared this ARTICLE with our whole staff and asked for our thoughts.  In an act of clear click-baiting curiously titled Why I Don't Like Play Based Learning, the article does not actually have anything against Play Based Learning, but rather against the "hijacking" of the term by some educators.

The problem, the author asserts, is that some educators are making their normal (i.e. boring) tasks more fun by adding games to things such as literacy or numeracy tumbles. This is not play based learning. Play based learning is literally a time or chance for learners to play and explore their world. One of the main things I want my learners to realize is that no matter what they do, they are learning something. I told this once to a class of mine and one boy made a smart-alec remark (admittedly, I see that as a positive), but I turned it back on him and said "You've just learned how I react to silly remarks. Next time, you'll probably stop and think before you do." His expression when I said that was priceless.  The point I'm trying to make is that no matter what a human being is doing, they are learning something in the process.

In my opinion this disconnect between actual play based learning and what some educators call play based learning stems from educators wanting to do the "latest thing" but not actually understanding the why behind it or not being willing (or able) to let go of the structure that has been indoctrinated into them. As educators, we need to go deeper and understand why we do what we do - all of it.

I've had some interesting discussions around this idea lately and it has always been something I've thought about as it pertains to my practice. One of the few things I actually remember from my University days is a simple formula (which I may or may not have already shared on this blog):



This is very relevant when it comes to play based learning. If we allow learners to play, that reflection can actually be more powerful than any other direct acts of teaching that we could provide. Yes, they do need some direct acts of teaching, but it is my belief that play can motivate children to want to read. To want to write. To want to learn how to manipulate numbers. Obviously in reality we need to teach these things regardless of desire, but we can use the play to make learners desire.

For our part, I do believe my Oresome School does offer a great assortment of play based learning opportunities for our learners. The pictures throughout this blog show our morning provocations and our loose parts playground.

I think, as educators, we need to make sure that we ask ourselves why we're doing things and then actually make sure that we acting consistently with those reasons.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Back From My Disappearing Act or Welcome to 2017!

So, I've been a little absent from the online community for the past few months. There have been various reasons for this, but basically life was good and then it wasn't. Both the good and bad events made me think deeply about what was important in my life. Some things were missing (and to a degree still are) and it caused me to ignore a big part of my life - my career.

Without going into details (I want to avoid giving TMI), there were some issues about the people surrounding me in my personal life (though, I should also credit the amazing and supportive people who helped me through this - and continue to support me in many ways). Being a foreigner who moved here along about 5 years ago, I do not have a support network. It has been difficult to deal with the stresses of being a teacher and of being a person in that context.

I think the thing I learned, or rather the thing that was reinforced, is that every educator needs a good support network beside them. Every educator needs to have something beyond their school - a reason for working. Despite many of us viewing our career as a calling, at the end of the day it is a job and we need something beyond that.

That being said, today was my first official day back from the holidays and though I was not in a great headspace I feel in a much better headspace. I can't say I'm quite ready for the new school year, but I'm definitely feeling more ready for it than I was a week ago.

Today we did a lot of different sessions on a lot of different topics. My biggest takeaway from the day was a session we did on collaboration. We were put into groups and given the following task: Work collaboratively to lift one of your team members as high as you can. After some great ideation where we all shared some amazing ideas and built upon each others' ideas we decided to use the elevator to lift one person. When we went downstairs to actually do it, we came up with a variety of other ways in which we could not only lift our person (we lifted her into a chair and then lifted the chair up) but also how we could collaborate (we had a pretty long chain reaction of people that got her into the elevator and pushed the buttons).

Afterwards we discussed the skills involved in collaborating and realized that we need to be cognisant of teaching the specific skills that learners will need when we ask them to collaborate. As adults (who are used to working in teams) we often forget this fact as we have learned this skills over time. When our learners come next week, this will be a good place to start with, as we'll need to get to know each other and do team building activities. I'm looking forward to creating a collaborative habitat this coming year.

Later in the day we discussed one of the unique ways in which OrmPS shows learner achievements and progress: Narrative Assessments. For more information, I'm sure someone will be sharing these at an educamp or Google Summit or uLearn, but to make a long explanation short, they basically show what learning was done, often with pictures and other artefacts and include next steps. They are to make learning more visible and not just ticking boxes. To practice making these, we watched the video (below) and worked in teams to make a narrative assessment of the man in the video.

Going forward I'm going to look at ways in which I can do these narratives in an innovative way, so any ideas are appreciated in the comments (though we do have lots of ideas that we've discussed and tried at OrmPS already).

Monday, October 24, 2016

Science Unleashed: Making Motorized Cars

I'm super far behind on my blogging. I've actually already had the third Science Unleashed lesson, but I've not written about the second.

After the first night, I was very excited to get back to the North Shore (without the wrong turns this time!) and see what Chris had in store for us. When I walked in, there were a variety of some really cool things on the table: motors, cardboard, propellers, battery packs. This was clearly going to be a fun evening.

We were again working in partners and our task was to make a vehicle that moved. We had a certain amount of time to build our first prototype and test it, with very little direction - except for the basic concept of the car and how we could potentially make it. My partner and I quickly discussed what we wanted to make and divided up the tasks. We made our vehicle quickly and when it didn't really go, we looked at the problems - the wheels were a bit sticky and not turning easily, the motor didn't have enough power - and decided how we would modify it.  We made smoother wheels and added a second battery pack (some may say this was cheating, but I'm not among them).

Here's a video of how our test worked out at this point:

Afterwards we had the conference like we had the week before, but instead of just discussion what we could potentially test and change, we came up with a plan of who would investigate what. We ended up looking at whether or not weight made a difference or if more power made a difference.  When we tested these as a group, ours went quicker than everyone else's - most likely because of the extra battery packs.

Again, we had a discussion on how we could improve our vehicles.

What was interesting today was not necessarily what we did, but how our scientific community evolved from week to week. We learned from our mayhem the week before and became more organized in our methods, which led to us being more successful in coming to a consensus in the end. I'm going to give Chris the benefit of the doubt and say that this was his plan - get us to create our own community. I look forward to the last two sessions (spoiler - the next one was pretty good too!).