Thursday, 25 September 2014

Engaging Kids Today with Dan Haesler

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about gamification. Not my longest, finest, best researched or most thought out blog post ever but if you want to check it out you can do so here.  It was a blog post on the fly, written as part of a challenge during a day long professional development day with Dan Haesler.

I attended the day as part of a team of teachers from my school. (We form the 'digital learning' committee, and as a team advocate for, facilitate and support digital learning in our school community.)   On the surface the content seemed to be a funny, engaging mix up of all the great ideas of the moment. It was polished, it was engaging and it was personal. It was enjoyable and I came away buzzing. BUT… Later that night when I started reflecting to my husband I couldn't come up with anything particularly new.  Don't get me wrong I loved the session. I was NOT disappointed.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and my thinking has changed somewhat. It was engaging. It was personal. It was polished. And… It was practice changing. It was inspiring. It was foundational to some of the small by vital changes I've already made in my classroom.   It might not have had any new ingredients compared to anyone else but by golly, Dan put the ingredients together in way that came up with a fair trade artisan made chocolate truffle instead of the canteen's stale rock cakes.

So, what made 'Engaging Kids Today' such a powerful learning experience for me? Dan asked more questions than he answered. He forced us to think. He moved through his material at a rate of knots.  And he demanded action.  The last session of the day was given over to the gaming session during which I blogged on the fly. The game was all about putting our money where our mouths are in the search for connection.

One of the most powerful reminders of the day, for me, was that the power of technology is in the power it has to connect people. This has driven the changes in my classroom. We have recommitted to twitter and are engaging with people on a daily basis.  My students chose to participate in Kid President's #Socktober social media campaign and use the internet for 'good rather than evil' (you can read our class blog about it here or my own post about it here). The students are blogging regularly and we've signed up with Quadblogging. We're still hoping to get involved in a mystery Skype but that's a work in progress at the moment.

I can hear many of you asking 'but what does this have to do with learning?' My answer is simple, and combines a few thing Dan said that day. It's all very well to prepare our students for the future but the future is tomorrow. If we can't engage students today then we have no hope for the future. So, how do I get my classroom to be so engaging that my students would choose to be there even if they didn't need to turn up? Connections. With me, with each other and with the world. How do they make those connections? Often in writing, other times in video, other times in designs. All of which need to be learnt. The learning enables the connections which in turn feed the learning.

It was a BIG day, and I'm incredibly grateful to have been involved.

There were a number of us live tweeting through the day so you get a good idea of our immediate reactions to Dan's presentation at this storify made by Jess Ottewell a year 6/7 teacher at the host school.

This relates to all of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers… Really.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Learning about Learning Science

A learning space at ASMS
Another one of the opportunities I've taken this year has been a 5 day course about teaching science in the upper primary years. The course was co-run by the amazing Australian Science and Mathematics School (ASMS) and the Department of Education and Child Development. The ASMS is a senior high school based at Flinders University of South Australia  (my alma mater - woot woot) and which, clearly from its name, focusses on Science and Maths ed. The school is right on the FUSA campus and has amazing learning spaces. Everytime we went there I came away just buzzing with ideas for our learning spaces.

Anyway… I digress.  (Something new? Not.)    The course was open (through application) to teachers of year 6 and/or 7. Preference was given to applicants who applied in tandem or groups of teachers from one school. I applied with two of the other teachers from my unit and we were all successful. The course was taught by staff from the ASMS and focussed on the Australian Curriculum strand of Science as a Human Endeavour  and developing participants' skills in teaching from an inquiry position. Much of our time was spent learning through activity: plenty of 'take home' hands-on learning experiences.  You can imagine how the little groups of teachers from different schools all buzzed with ideas building on each activity. I've no idea how the trainers managed to get through everything on their agenda - we were a rather rowdy class!

The structure that the trainers were keen to impress upon us as best practice is one that I remember well from uni: the 5Es Teaching and Learning Model.  Have you ever used it?  It's a strong scaffold around which to build a learning progression.

  • Engage: capture students' interest and activate prior knowledge.
  • Explore: hands on activities that are student directed and force them to collaboratively wrestle with a new problem or set of ideas. 
  • Explain: teacher provides conceptual clarification for ideas developed during the exploration. Important that this happens after the exploration, but it's ok to cycle back and forth between the two.
  • Elaborate: collaborative application of new knowledge.
  • Evaluate: review; evidence of learning.

It's important to remember too that each stage in this progression can, indeed should, have assessment built in - either for, of or as learning.  Hearing a broad range of assessment methods was thought provoking. And a little affirming. Our team all uses a really broad range of assessment strategies across for, of and as learning. My commitment to action from that session: get students to self and authentically peer assess much more often than I currently do.

The next part of the course involved developing an inquiry unit of teaching and learning to deliver to our classes. We then came back together to discuss our progress. Now, I'm going to let you in on a little secret that I'm sure my colleagues won't mind me sharing… We came up with the draft of our unit in about an hour.
A big part of our hour was spent formatting this pro forma. Shhhh!

And then finished putting together the unit in another hour AND then taught the majority of it in two days. (They were full days - dedicated to science.) It's not ideal but you know what? We learnt a lot about how we need NOT to plan in future and the four classes in our unit  learnt a LOT about electrical circuits. It might have seemed like it was a rush job to put together and teach but I think a more accurate description is that we pulled together as a team and worked incredibly well and incredibly collaboratively.

The five day course was an interesting process for me. Occasionally I felt a little frustrated because the 5E model was presented almost like a new concept and it's not. (Certainly not to anyone who's finished uni in the past 5 years.)  However, looking around the room I remembered that most of the people there finished before then although most of them had worked with the model before anyway. I guess it was my expectation that I'd learn more NEW models? That being said it was a good chance to review the model.

I enjoyed looking at science (as a subject) through the lens of the Science as a Human Endeavour strand. I don't think many of us do it very well yet. I certainly don't. It comes across in various aspects of my programme but rarely as part of my science programme. I need to work on that.  

Stay tuned for a wrap up of our unit of teaching and learning about electrical circuits.

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 1 Know students and how they learn
Standard 2 Know the content and how to teach it
Standard 3 Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning
Standard 5 Assess, provide feedback and report on student learning
Standard 6 Engage in professional learning
Standard 7 Engage professionally with colleagues, parents/carers and the community
(Is there someway I can pull a standard 4 out of this and go for a full house?)

Tuesday, 23 September 2014


One of the exciting opportunities I've taken this year has been to train as a SMART Practice Trainer through a programme auspices by the Department of Education and Child Development. Have you heard of SMART Practice before?

SMART stands for Strategies for Managing Abuse Related Trauma. It's not a programme, or an extra thing to do. It's a way of thinking and acting. It's a way of creating environments and relationships that support our students who have experienced abused related trauma.
PRACTICE is an acronym  of the characteristics of relationships and behaviours that fit within the strategy.
  • Predictable (children who have experienced trauma thrive on predictable routines, and often see any change as a threat)
  • Responsive (whilst behaviours can be challenging and overwhelming, the responses to that behaviour need to come from a place of understanding the trauma-based origins of it)
  • Attuned (children who have experienced trauma often have little or no way of understanding themselves or their responses and need someone else who is attuned to them to help them learnt to better understand their own reactions) 
  • Connecting (children who have experienced trauma need help reconnecting to their own feelings, responses and strengths)
  • Translating (integrating experience through building stories of understanding often requires someone to help translate those experiences into manageable stories)
  • Involving (children who have experienced trauma often struggle  building peer relationships)
  • Calming (children who have experienced trauma often live in a high state of arousal and benefit from consistent and repetitive experiences of calm environments)
  • Engaging (children who have experienced trauma have little experience of supportive adult-child relationships)
We spent the first day of the training looking at trauma and brain development, the second day at training techniques and the final day (quite some time later) reviewing our initial live training experiences and building further knowledge bases and training strategies.

The main purpose of this course was to build a phalanx of SMART Champions who can deliver a 'taster' (of a longer course) to other teachers. It's a sound premise: getting those of us in the classroom talking to other teachers about some strategies they can use the very next day AND whetting their appetite for more in depth training.  The reality for me, though, was so much more.

Side note: Before I go any further I want to explain trauma. The trauma we're focussing on here is complex relational trauma. This trauma happens within relationships (often significant relationships), is often ongoing and carries a stigma of shame and isolation. This is distinct from so-called simple trauma such as a car accident, bushfire, death of a parent.  It's a tough call to make because the research often shows that simple trauma will often bring to light or even cause complex relational  trauma BUT in and of itself simple trauma tends to be more 'socially acceptable' and there are typically open support mechanisms around to help.  I am NOT saying that simple trauma is SIMPLE. I think it's poor nomenclature but I'm working with what I've got so… I'm sorry.

Trauma has a HUGE impact on the human brain.
These brain scans are of three year old children.
Already the difference is huge.
I'll admit that I've not done the longer course. In fact I hadn't even done the online mini-course (available here if you'd like to do it) until after dinner the night before I started this course. I've done a little neuro-development through some of my undergrad subjects which meant not too much of the content of this course was new BUT presented in tandem with the impact of trauma as sustained during or at that developmental period was both confronting and exhilerating. It's something that makes perfect sense but I'd not explicitly considered before. For example: a child who experienced trauma in utero, while his brain stem was still developing, will always have a rapid heart beat, and trouble self-soothing.  Or the child who experienced trauma during the first couple of years of life while her
cerebellum was developing and who now at 12  still has trouble with motor function: she's clumsy and struggles to hold a pencil to write. Or any child who has ever experienced trauma and can't remember where they put their homework because the door slamming shut was a trigger for their amygdala to switch on, their cortex to go offline and all access to episodic memory is immediately gone.  Phew! The connections were vast and so easy to apply.

Better than the intellectual lightbulbs that were pinging all over the place, was the message that there are simple strategies that through attuned and responsive relationships can be put in place to help these children.  That there is HOPE.  And that I, and many of my colleagues, already use these many of these strategies without realising it. Or explicitly realising the deeper impact of our actions.

One of the other 'take home' messages for me was that time doesn't heal everything. As a society we hear it all the time… I, personally, have been told it many times in the last couple of months since Dad's passing: 'you'll get over it, time heals all'. Um no. Actually I won't. He's still dead. Time doesn't fix that. So why would we ever think that the passage of time will heal the injuries sustained by a child who has experienced trauma? What will help is processing and reintegrating the experiences. I know from this simple trauma I've recently experience that talking about it and making sense of it has helped me find peace. I still have moments - like hearing his voice on voicemail (how's that for a trigger!) - when it's hard to breathe but I'm explicitly learning strategies to deal with it. So we need to remember this for children whose trauma is complex and relational.

Which brings me to my last point - for now, anyway  - that we need to remember that the site of the injury MUST be the site of the healing. If the trauma happened in a relationship, it needs to be healed in a relationship. The relationships we build with all of our students help each and every one of them but especially those who have experienced trauma. As teachers we have a tremendous opportunity (and responsibility) to provide these children with a site to heal. We are NOT therapists, but we do get more time with these children than anyone else.

Stay tuned for SMART Part II about how we went preparing for and delivering our first training session and what impacts I've seen in my classroom and the school.

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 1 Know students and how they learn
Standard 4 Create and maintain supportive and safe learning environments
Standard 6 Engage in professional learning
Standard 7 Engage professionally with colleagues, parents/carers and the community

Thursday, 18 September 2014


Superquick post... A call to action... My class have jumped into action to support the #SOCKTOBER campaign as explained in this Kid President video:


In short: for the month of October (starting NOW because the first 1/3 of October is in our school holidays) we are collecting SOCKS (and whatever else people are kind enough to donate) to help improve the lives of those people in OUR LOCAL COMMUNITY who are less fortunate than us.

If you are local and would like to support my class please less me know.  If you are NOT local and would still like to support my class, we'd love that too... Contact us on twitter (@The67VRPs) and we'll work something out. Perhaps a skype chat of support?  If you're not local and would like to start your own mini-project like us... GO FOR IT!

Sunday, 14 September 2014

I'd like the menu please...

Some lessons just work well don't they?  A few weeks back I had one such lesson that I came home and raved about to my husband.  His response? "Don't tell me! Blog about it." Yes well, I didn't do it that night and I really wish I had.

Since then there've been a mountain of other great lessons but that particular one still stands strong in my memory because I truly felt like I was meeting the individual needs of every student in the room. Actually, I wasn't. They were all meeting their own needs.

At that point we had been working on our topic for a couple of weeks, and the usual broad range of abilities had emerged.  That's no end of fun  when you have a couple of students for whom the very concept of a fraction eludes them and others who can manipulate fractions inside out and upside down. So what's a girl to do?  I set up a learning menu of eight different learning activities that required no or very little teacher lead instruction - either because I'd already introduced it or the instructions were provided. [Side note: Until recently I'd never known that this particular method of teaching had a specific name…I thought it was just something that teachers 'did', you know?]

I started our lesson by referring back to the capacity matrix (if you're new to Langford'a capacity matrices, here's a quick explanation with examples) that we had developed against the ACARA Achievement Standards earlier in the unit. I outlined the available learning activities and matched them to the various capacities and capacity breakdowns and then handed it over to them. They each had a copy of the capacity matrix and hurried off to work on the areas they individually needed to work on.

No surface is off limits in our room!
As I moved around the room it was such a kick to hear students discussing and struggling with fractions. Yes, struggling! We celebrate the struggle: it means taking a risk and really learning something. We encourage each other to get uncomfortable and even have our own name for the feeling (the itchy tag feeling). The other exciting part for me was that the discussion was all about concepts rather than process. I'm a big believer that there's no point in teaching math processes if the conceptual understanding is missing. With fractions the processes are actually fairly mundane once the concept is grasped.

The lesson sped by so quickly that by unanimous vote we extended our time. I was able to spend time with each of the student either individually or in small groups: observing, prompting and coaching. What I noticed was that every single student was learning something different. They had each picked the area they needed to develop and that's where they were putting their efforts.  Even those working together had slightly different learning goals. LOVE IT!

Our end of lesson reflection was another learning opportunity. Different students had discovered different things whilst doing the same thing but upon reflection learnt from each other. How powerful is that?
This was designed by Krissy Venosdale.
You can cheek out her other posters on flicker
Or buy it (like I have) here.

Of course, if you'd walked into our room during this time it would have looked like absolute bedlam! But you know what? I don't care… Everyone was learning and at the end of the day that's what is MEANT to happen in classrooms right?

I have so much more to say about fractions but won't overload this post with it all. In the meantime: I hope everyone's enjoying the change in season!

Oh, and if you'd like a copy of my capacity matrix drop me a line. We think it's pretty impressive.

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 1 Know students and how they learn
Standard 2 Know the content and how to teach it
Standard 3 Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning

Saturday, 13 September 2014

For the Mamas and the Papas!

The students in my class are on the precipice of - or have already plunged right into - adolescence. It's a challenging time. For everyone. I say this without judgement of anyone because three of our children are the same age or slightly older, so I'm feeling the pain challenge as a parent too. If you ignore all the physiological changes for a moment it becomes pretty clear that most of the other challenges stem from RELATIONSHIPS. Relationships with themselves, with peers, with teachers, and perhaps most importantly with parents!  

As the teacher I have the privilege of being able to speak into most of those relationships. Not so much with parents though. Don't get me wrong I speak with parents ALL the time, but I'm not always there to support my young people in making choices that build stronger relationships with their parents. So, what can I do about that? Well,  I take every opportunity I can to help them articulate the positive value they place in these relationships.  Mothers' Day and Fathers' Day are two very obvious examples of when this can happen. So here's my take on the process this year:

For the Mamas:
My class  has an almost unanimous
 aversion to the colour  pink.
Don't ask! (I don't know.)
We made very simple origami inspired cards.  On the front of pre-bought cards (yep, I went the cheat's route and bought cards) we attached hand made mini envelopes into which tiny slips of paper with notes of appreciation were placed.  The envelopes were made of tiny squares of scrapbooking paper, and would probably have been a whole heap easier to fold if it hadn't been embossed paper but hey… You live and learn right? I used a guillotine to pre-cut a whole pile of squares so that our focus could be on the writing aspect. To fold them we turned them so that they sat like a diamond and then folded the bottom corner up and the two sides in. We used a tiny dab of glue to hold those closed and then folded over the top.  As you can see in the photo the top sat up a little which we though looked like an invitation to open them up and see the note inside.   On the inside of most cards was written  'Congratulations Mum, I'm awesome'.  I SWEAR I had nothing to do with that. Much. Anyway, the cards looked lovely and, based on the feedback I received from parents, were very much appreciated.

For the Papas:
This one was really fun, and again quite simple to make.  Out came some store bought cards again and we made iDads. Our school is a 1:1 iPad school so this seemed funnier to us than it might to others.  We drew a simple iPad shape, and using foam tape attached mini apps that represented relevant activities for each of our fathers.  We trimmed the corners from the cards and used a white sticker as the button.  Easy! On the inside the fun really began.  Each card has a Google logo and search buttons.  As you may have read in my last post about paint chips and descriptive writing we've been developing our descriptive writing skills so we put these to good use. The search term of the day was, of course, each child's father's name, and the search results were the descriptive sentences they'd written. Neat huh?

Love you Papa!
As I designed these iDad cards I kept thinking that my own dad would get such a chuckle out of them - after years of rolling my eyes at his dad jokes here I was creating my very own. The day my students made their cards marked seven weeks since Dad's passing.  I didn't finish my model card, and none of my students asked why. I anticipated that it was going to be a God awful difficult activity, but… But… It wasn't. Throughout the day, even before we'd started the cards, most of my kids had been checking in with me: asking about my dad; giving me hugs and expressing their sadness for me; and saying,  in the words of one usually very prickly young man, 'life sucks Mrs RP, and I know we're not your darling daddy, but we love you'.  These kids leave me speechless sometimes. 

This post doesn't relate to the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers but it does relate directly to my dad so…

Papa… Happy belated Fathers' Day. xxx 

Monday, 8 September 2014

What's the time Mr. Wolf?

Our current unit of learning in maths requires my young people to work with time. Our pre-assessment showed that many of them have somehow missed a lot of the skills involved in reading analogue clocks so I've paused our official unit to redress this. 

I started with a review of my understanding of the sequential development of reading time. Recognising that the reading of digital time is significantly easier, I started with a recap on the parts of an analogue clock face and their roles. I went right back to basics and we made interactive clock faces inspired by this pin

My research highlighted that at this age confusion about the hour and minute hands is often still prevalent, and this has been the case for many of my young people. Another point of confusion in our class is about hand movement.  We've worked hard to remove this confusion and today we had quite a few a-ha moments. You know the ones:
"So it takes an hour for the big hand to go all the way around, but the little hand only moves  between two numbers in one hour?"
Tic Tocs! 
"There are five minutes between two numbers but also an hour!"
Yes indeed!

Next I pulled out the big guns: a packet of Tic Tocs!  (For readers outside of Australia: Tic Tocs are a round iced vanilla biscuit (cookie), with clock faces embossed on the underside, made by Arnotts.)

Our white boards.
I pulled out the first couple and read the time. Using the clocks that we made the other day the class had to show me the time on their clocks. Moving on pretty quickly I started drawing the time (on an analogue clock) on my white board and asking the class to write the digital time on their show-me boards. Still moving pretty quickly I started giving a ranged of elapsed times - forward and back. Is back also called elapsed? Prolapsed? Hmmm.
The clocks were essentially cast aside by some children as understanding developed. Other children continued to use their clocks to self-check.   The high flyers worked in 24hour time, challenging themselves to make word problems to match my elapsed times.  (Yes, I did scribble them down for future use!)

You may be able to see here that each number on the clock
has a flap. Underneath has :05 or :35 etc.
Our very last step in today's lesson was by far the best hardest ... Eating the Tic Tocs! Tomorrow we'll use this new understanding with our 'official' unit on timetables.

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 1 Know students and how they learn
Standard 2 Know the content and how to teach it
Standard 3 Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning
Standard 5 Assess, provide feedback and report on student learning

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Describe it to me?

We've been delving in descriptive writing over the last little while. We've looked at poems - even written a couple; but have focussed on creating rich descriptive writing of our own.  We've described all manner of things, but the most challenging has been colour.  Yep, describing colour.  Does that qualify me for that top rank of sadistic teachers who set horribly difficult learning tasks?  Well, maybe not but it sure does push me pretty close to the top. Especially when you consider that we've dipped into this particular pot of fun TWICE! Both times with paint chips - such a variety of colours!

As a side note: how awesome are paint chips? I mean, seriously! What's not to love? *sigh*

The first set of paint chips were those 3 shade of one colour kind. My young people had to write similes  involving the colour of their paint chip. They were peer reviewed by at least two other people using 'two stars and a wish' and then conferred with me.  The results were impressive. Some examples:
Not the world's best photo but gives the general gist!

This pink is as warm as a hug from my grandma. 

Yellow is as bright as a sunshiny morning. 

Grey rolls like grey ocean waves under storm clouds.

Not bad hey? These ones are pinned up on our classroom door. They look great!

Our second foray into describing colour was a little harder. The paint chips were larger but all one solid colour and had to be described using a variety of techniques.  The same peer review and conferring process was used,  and we left a couple of days between writing and reviewing. Lots of changes were made, which highlighted for the class the place of time in the writing process.   The results here ranged from 'um, oooohkay' to 'woooooooow!'

My favourite descriptive writing activities are still underway. I'm hoping to share some of those with you once they're done, but I'll leave you with idea that the first couple of days of spring arrived and we all went outside into the yard. The kidlets spread out around the school, soaked in some vitamin D and described (in detail) one thing they saw. We did this twice, and I gave detailed feedback. One piece is being chosen by each child and reworked ready for publication on their student blogs.

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 2 Know the content and how to teach it
Standard 3 Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning
Standard 5 Assess, provide feedback and report on student learning

Friday, 5 September 2014


So... I'm sitting in a @DanHaesler workshop working with my colleagues from #hackhameastps to accrue points in a gamified mission to explore the concepts we've been discussing today. (The topic focussing on engaging our students TODAY because their future is only as far away as tomorrow.)  The game has been presented as a series of levelled missions and we've been invited to choose the level that best matches with our learning point. Each task allowed us to accrue a number of points for achieving particular goals in using web 2.0 tools that encourage connection between and within learning communities.
Are we engaged? Yes.
Will we win? Hopefully.
Is our desire to win based on a deep desire to learn. Possibly not.
I'm not saying we don't want to learn but we definitely want to win! Win! So... By way of a super quick reflection on gamification: I'm keen to look deeper but I'm a bit wary of the motivation behind it.

UPDATE: We won in such a big way that just MY score was higher than the next team. We may possibly have taken the scoring just a wee bit more seriously than anyone else… :)

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers
Standard 3 Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning
Standard 6 Engage in professional learning.
Standard Engage professionally with colleagues, parents/carers and the community.