Modular Learning

I keep finding it hard to write a blog post. Hard to find time to stop and actually write a reflection. Which is not to say that reflections aren’t happening, just so often lately they don’t end up getting written. Actually, when I say lately I really mean the last year and a half. When I first started challenging my pedagogy and the way I did things in the classroom, I found that writing was really helpful, and easy to manage, but as I’ve become more settled with being unsettled, I’ve found my writing has tailed off. Which is a shame, because I know it is a really useful tool to help me process things.

At the end of this term, it will be 2 full years since I started teaching in a totally integrated style, and while it hasn’t always been easy, I’ve certainly never wanted to turn back. One of the things I love most about the way I do things is that it is constantly evolving in response to the needs of my students (this is the 3rd class I’ve worked with in this way).

This year I have 29  year 7 and 8 learners. As with most classes I have a real mix of students. They are a very lively and outgoing bunch (for the most part) and have such a huge amount of energy. They love sport (first time I’ve every had a class that loved sport so much), enjoy art and LOVE singing. Most of them will give anything a go at least once and as they will tell you – they are highly motivated by food. Seriously, we even had to include it as part of our class values at the beginning of the year – we value food. They crack me up regularly and they are COMPLETElY different to the class I had last year.

As with the previous two classes I’ve had, we base our integrated learning around two modules. These modules are a combination of two main subject areas (others might be involved but are not the primary learning focus) based around a context. One is also maths and something else based, and one is always English and something else based. Most of our learning is worked into these modules. Extra things such as languages, te Reo and various other projects that are happening around the school i.e. this term wearable art and science curiosity clubs, syndicate arts opt-ins make up the rest of our timetable. The modules are inspired by the way they do things at Hobsonville Point Secondary School, but I’ve adapted it for my context. You can read more about how I started this here. And how it develop here.

Usually I give modules equal weighting – i.e. a 50/50 split. Once, last year, I disastrously tried to fit in 3. Turns out two is plenty for a term. I generally work on a term by term time frame, mixing it up each term to keep my interest and my students’. This term I’ve mixed things up a bit, trying a 30/70ish split for our two modules. Instead of a module A and a module B we have a big module and a small module. The reason for this is primarily because one of the projects we are working will start to cross over into English as well as maths and science when the students get into some information report writing. So I thought rather than limit the scope of the module, I’d extend it slightly. Like I said, always adapting…

So anyway two modules this term – Small Module: Stars and Seasons: Exploring poetry and the night sky. This module focuses on English and Science (you’ll see there is quite a strong science focus this term – quite deliberately). We are looking at what happens in the changing seasons, and how this affected by the movement of the planet. Students are exploring poetic language and metaphorical devices to express their understanding of each season. We are also including some work around Matariki as part of this. As with all good intentions, this hasn’t quite gone according to plan. With so many disruptions in the first half of term due to Stage Challenge and all manner of other cool stuff we haven’t managed to complete this as early as I wanted to, but it’s wrapping up and will hopefully be finished by the end of next week. I’ve also found it challenging to balance the amount of writing the students need with the science concepts I wanted to look at. Probably a lesson for me in not over planning.

Our Big Module has got the students super excited at the moment – Playing Houses: Design an Eco-House. This module focuses on English and Science/Technology. Students are designing their own eco-house following the design process, and researching and inventing their own technologies and scientific principles to include. The maths focus is geometry and measurement with a particular emphasis on shape, scale, perspective, area and volume. The science/technology focus is on researching and developing understanding of ideas in science with a focus on sustainable building practices. It’s hard to believe just how highly engaging this is for my learners. The last week has seen them drawing their houses in 3 dimensions from an isometric perspective (a particularly challenging feat when your house is not a simple cube – and most aren’t!) and then begin looking at floor plans. This week we have been looking at the different shapes used within our houses and the advantages and disadvantages of such shapes in building. The depth of thinking has blown me away. Students were identifying things about their design (and mine) that I hadn’t even thought of, such as the way a curved roof would minimise exposure to the wind and allow better dispersion of water across a green living roof. Our next step with this is to look in more depth at placement of houses, positioning and the best angles for getting maximum sun for passive solar heating, and then move on to planning and researching and then writing about a specific technology that the house uses and the creating gardens.

As you can probably guess from my enthusiastic descriptions – I am particularly enjoying and excited about the big module, though I’m also really looking forward to seeing the rest of the poems come together too. I’ve set myself a goal to blog more – so expect to hear (read?) more about how these modules are progressing soon.

 

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Two terms in Reflection

There’s no doubt it, life is busy this year, but I don’t mean the self important, stressful kind. There’s just lots happening this year.

 

As always, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting, and I am just loving the dynamics of my syndicate this year, so we’ve been doing a lot of reflecting together, but it is time to get some of the thoughts that have been going around in my head down on the blog.

 

As with last year, I wanted to continue to teach in cross-curricular modules as this gives such great parent and student buy-in, not to mention straight the fact that it straight away takes away the ‘but what’s the point of this’ comment. So I started with a two module structure – A and B. As term one progessed though Module A started to take over, and we kind of let it, and that was okay. In term 2 I thought let’s start again with two modules and we’re doing a syndicate project, so let’s call that Module C. Can you say stupid move? I can. And we did. Together as a class we realised (about 5 weeks in) that we were overloading ourselves and trying to do much. So we settled for doing less better and simplified things.

 

In thinking about and planning term 3, I’ve decided to get even simpler. Making sure that modules only have two curriculum areas, making the outcomes much more achievable and also shortening the time frame – 5 week modules instead. We’re planning a big project as a team this term so I’m trying to make sure that all the outcomes of the modules can tie into this, instead of creating more work for myself and the students. Do less better is the goal!

 

Term Two – Sustainability Expo

Even though term two, might have been a lot of hardwork and at times felt really difficult, I did really enjoy it. We started team teaching as a syndicate for our shared module, which was a really awesome experience. We’ve by no means got it sorted yet, but we’re really enjoying the process of collaborating as we figure it out. I think it was particularly great to see each other in full flight as teachers and see each others’ strengths and support each others weaknesses. Our use of space when team teaching was tricky though – we didn’t often get this right. We have a shared learning area and then four classrooms separated by glass – and we mostly used the shared learning to come together, but found it hard to incorporate the classrooms effectively. We have started some work with our students about how use spaces in an innovative way using the Caves, Campfires and Watering Holes guide from Core Education:

I think getting this sorted will help us with managing the team teaching more effectively.

 

Our focus in this unit was Sustainability and we started off with the big question ‘How do the products that we use affect the bees?’ We choose to focus on the bees as our syndicate is home to the school’s apiscope (indoor bee colony) and we have outdoor hives as well. We began by looking at the fact that the bees are dying to hook in students’ emotions and then we focused on building basic bee knowledge as a start point. From there we began to look at how the products we use affect the environment. Students then chose one product to investigate further and wrote a report on this. Finally, they created their own bee-friendly or sustainable product that used bee-products, which they then had to packaging and market at a sustainability expo for their parents and peers.

 

The feedback from the students was that they really enjoyed the project and loved getting practical and making the product. As a final assessment of the project students wrote a detailed reflection of the process. While they now have a good understanding of the concept of sustainability, I think some of them are still struggling with being able to explain this in relation to their products. Upon reflection I think we needed to spend more time looking at the connection between bees and sustainability so that the students understood this in greater depth.

 

One of the things I think the students did really well was to give each other feedback about their products. The students were also able to think critically about how they might improve their product, though some of them found it difficult to take feedback from others and turn it into practical solutions.

 

As a teacher, the takeaways for me have been:

Allow Time – we were so pressed for time with this project that it made it difficult for the students to really put in the finessing time we wanted. Plus we totally ran out of time for them to revise their products!

Give models and exemplars – intermediate age students really need to see what things look like – particularly around presentation standards and quality

Focus on crafting – this links into the first two and is going to be our focus for term 3 – creating something to a high standard.

Exploring Themes

This term we are reading the book ‘The City of Ember’ by Jeanne DuPrau. We’re reading this as part of a focus on dystopian fiction over the year. Our school wide, year long focus for 2015 is sustainability, so this is the sense through which we are exploring dystopia – as sustainable (or otherwise).
The City of Ember is a particularly interesting read with a sustainability lens. The book opens in the prologue with the builders of the city discussing how long the city will last and how people will know when it’s time to leave. We then fast forward a couple of hundred years to a classroom where the class 8 students (equivalent of our year 8) are waiting to receive their job assignments. We follow two main students as the begin their jobs, and lives as adults (yes, at 12, and yes, that blows the students minds!). As they settle into their responsibilities as citizens of Ember, they discover that the city is not built to last, and in fact was never intended to last. Things are falling into disrepair and one day, the lights will go out for ever.
You see Ember is a city in darkness, though we do not know it at the beginning Ember is built deep underground and sustained by electricity generated from a hydroelectric generator that uses water from an underground river.
We’re about 4 chapters in at the moment, and the students are really enjoying it. In our literacy focus session yesterday, we explored some of the imagery and themes a little bit deeper.
We started off with 3 portions of text from the book, which described what Ember looked like and how it worked.
Students then had to discuss the question – ‘What sustains life in Ember?’
They came up with all sorts of ideas:
But eventually, we distilled them down to one main one – electricity. Without electricity there is no light, no warmth. This led us into a discussion about themes and ideas that run through books. We focused on the idea of light v. darkness and talked about how this links into the citizens’ greatest fear – that one day the lights will go out and com back on.
We used the text to look for evidence to support and back up our ideas and talked about how we can use quotes from the text to support this.
I then asked the students to discuss why the city was called Ember, and to make connections with all that we had discussed that afternoon. They came up some really interesting ideas that I hadn’t even thought of (I love it when that happens!).
We then took one of two phrases/themes – either the word ember or the theme of light versus dark and using a limited colour palette we created quick images that represented this. On the back of these we then wrote a list of words or phrases or ideas that we associated with the picture.
We will use this to build understanding of metaphor and simile over the coming weeks.

In Class: Introducing Grit and Growth Mindsets

Last week, I introduced my students to the idea of a ‘growth mindset’ and ‘grit’ today. It was interesting.
I began by writing the two words on the board and asking the students to think, pair, share about what those phrases could possibly mean. It took a bit of unpacking, and quite a lot of persuading to get some discussion out of them (they are a VERY quiet class). I can see that’s something we’ll need to work on this year. But we started to unpack what the terms actually meant. The students seemed to get growth mindset a bit more readily at first, but grit quickly caught up.
IMG_5772

The initial brainstorm

We talked together about how it can be hard to have ‘grit’ or a ‘growth mindset’ all of the time, and how we often find this easiest when we a re pursuing our passions. On big sheets of paper I had written 3 questions:
What are you passionate about?
What ‘lights your fire’?
What do you care deeply about?
Students then had 5 minutes to answer each question by writing their answers around the question on each piece of paper. It was lovely to see the things that are important and get to know them a bit better. Of course there were lots of expected answers – sport, family, animals, food, but there were a few unexpected ones too – wifi being top among those! I shared my answers with the students, explaining that reciprocating is really important to me (education, design and the people in my life, respectively if you were wondering). I then talked about 6 things I had written on the board under two headings, 3 Things I believe and 3 Things I Know.
3 Things I Believe:
  • Failing is good. Failing forwards is even better.
  • Everyone can succeed.
  • Life is as good as you make it.
3 Things I Know:
  • You all have huge potential.
  • I will work my butt of this year to make learning work for you.
  • Fun is essential.
I’m not sure how much the students have taken it on board yet, I suspect they won’t really until they see it in action, but for now I’m just going to keep saying it and doing it until it does sink in.
Collaging

Collaging

We finished off by creating either a brainstorm, a collage, illustrations or a list showing what we understood by those two terms. The searching and finding of images and discussing with their friends really helped to solidify their growing understanding, and, given how reluctant they are to talk at the moment, was also a great way for me to check their understanding too.
Half a week later, it’s been interesting to see them start to take these concepts on board, while I haven’t heard the terms come up in class, I have definitely seen them in action. Can’t wait to get more in depth with these concepts over the coming weeks!

Evolving the Curriculum: Focus on Values

There is so much dialogue about the need for education to evolve. From TED talks, to twitter chats, youtube videos to HuffPost articles -it’s literally everywhere; in popular literature, academic literature, on the news, in the media, in politics and of course in schools. But for all we talk about it, the question has to be asked – are we actually evolving education? And if we’re not, why not? If we are, are we doing enough?

 

This year I realised I’d done enough thinking, and I really needed to start doing. So I did (don’t worry it wasn’t thoughtless change – I kept thinking too). And the place I started was with our own New Zealand Curriculum. This document is amazing. It has already laid out a map for our learning evolution, now we just have to be brave enough to follow it.

In the front of the curriculum (page 7 to be exact) is this diagram entitled ‘directions for learning’ (see I told you – map!). What I love about this image is the way it organises learning. At teachers’ college I was taught to always start with the achievement objectives, but if you look here, you’ll see that they form only a very small part of a whole. Through this diagram, the New Zealand Curriculum advocates a a three-way approach – values, key competencies and learning areas. These are guided by the curriculum’s vision and underpinned by the curriculum’s values. All these parts together make up the whole of education.

 

Of course all of these bits are equally important, but I want to focus today on the values.

 

This term the teachers in our syndicate have been working with groups of students on wicked problems, using design thinking to tackle these. As our students work on these they have been noticing and commenting on the learning dispositions (key competencies) they have been using as part of the process. These dispositions will then help them in creating CVs, portfolios and learning paths later in the term as part of our Future Selves topic. But the really interesting bit (today at least), is the way they students are using the values of the curriculum as a focusing lens for their ideation and investigation.

 

The NZC explores seven principles, and has an eighth overarching idea, which are explained like so:

“Students will be encouraged to value:

  • Excellence, by aiming high and by persevering in the face of difficulties;
  • Innovation, inquiry and curiosity, by thinking critically, creatively, and reflectively;
  • Diversity, as found in our different cultures, languages, and heritages;
  • Equity, through fairness and social justices;
  • Community and participation for the common good;
  • Ecological Sustainability, which includes care for the environment;
  • Integrity, which involves being honest, responsible, and accountable and acting ethically;

and respect of themselves, others, and human rights.”

(New Zealand Curriculum, 2007, p. 12)

The curriculum further goes on to explain that the values should then be interpreted by the school in consultation with it’s community. Our school values look like this:
“At [our school] we want our students to be constantly
pursuing excellence in everything they do. They will value:
  • Integrity
  • Personal responsibility
  • Diversity
  • Lifelong learning
  • Creative and innovative thinking
  • Positive relationships
  • Collective achievement
This is underpinned by Tūrangawaewae – a sense of one’s place in our changing world”
As you can see, there are many similarities, but also naturally some differences. I particularly love the last line in our school’s values statement about Tūrangawaewae and the sense of place in a changing world.
But stating the values isn’t enough – and talking about them isn’t either. Not if we’re going to evolve education; so lately I’ve been starting to explore and unpack these with students. In the wicked problem context described above, I asked students to choose two key values to explore their wicked problem – human rights and the media. I created a values frame that looked like this:
Untitled 2
After a brief discussion of what the different values meant, it was interesting to see which ones the students chose to focus on, because of course this will change they way they approach things. Unsurprisingly, a lot chose diversity and community (two of the more understandable ideas and most relevant to the context) but I was interested and pleased at the number of students who chose to focus on ethics.
We’re only a little way into this process but already I can see that my students are starting to think critically about values and the actions that stem from them. By giving them the language to use, and the concepts, they are becoming increasingly aware that values give rise to opinions and opinions to perspectives and, often in the case of wicked problems, perspectives to conflict. So as they continue to explore the context and settle on their own particular smaller problem to apply the design process to, I plan to provide my students with lots of opportunities to discuss differing opinions and how values might frame these.
“Ahh, but what does this actually look like in the classroom?” you ask. Well it will start with these discussion questions:
  • How might humanitarian organisations use social media in innovative ways?
  • How could social media be used to develop a culture of excellence in human rights reporting?
  • How might personal ethics be supported through social media?
  • How might improving our ecological sustainability (environmental practices) reduce breaches of human rights?
  • How might it benefit refugees if we apply the principle of equity, rather than equality?
  • How can social media bring communities together to support human rights?
  • How does diversity impact on human rights?

And then we’ll go from there – where exactly we’re still figuring out.

See the thing I realised last term, is that it isn’t ever going to happen if you wait until you the end destination to set out. You actually just have to start and trust that the road will guide you, a sentiment Tolkien captured perfectly.

“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.

And whither then? I cannot say.”

Tolkien

So wither I’ll end up? I do not know, but the journey so far, though just begun, has been most marvelous indeed.

Epic #edchatnz Reflection

Wow! What a week. Last weekend I was lucky enough to attend the first ever #edchatnz conference organised by the amazing Danielle Myburgh and her extraordinary organising committee. It was a mindblowing experience and I took so much away from it. I also really enjoyed sharing it with my mother, @majessti as we’ve never spent time together as colleagues.

Friday started with a plenary session from Danielle Myburgh and HPSS Principal Maurie Abraham – both of whom I really enjoyed hearing speak. I then headed off to Dianne Cavallo‘s session on Design Thinking in the classroom. I spent a good chunk of time discussing ideas with my mother in the middle session before finishing off the day with some time spent in Steve Mouldey‘s class and then attending the unconference session.

I felt like I got into a better groove on Saturday and starting with face to face #edchatnz was the best way ever to start a day.  Mark Osbourne‘s session on Modern Learning Environments was equally awesome and after morning tea I headed to Ros Macheachern‘s session on teaching and learning at HPSS. I finished up with Lea Vellenoweth‘s workshop on building a restorative culture and of course the day officially ended with a final plenary from Karen Melhuish Spencer and then Danielle wrapped everything up beautifully

I loved everything but the stand out points for me were definitely sitting on Steve’s class and Ros’s workshop, and coming back to school they have certainly been the ones that have influenced me most.

So, the big question – the question really – is what do I do with all the awesomeness now I’m back at school?

Easy – take the leap of faith (thanks @boonman for the inspiration to do this).

On Monday night I sat down with the curriculum, photocopied every level 4 page and started scribbling and highlighting – finding links with “Communities” – our term 3 theme. Yes, I already had plans in place but they weren’t quite doing it for me or (as it turns out) my students. They lacked an overall cohesion, but once I started going through those curriculum areas with a highlighter things started to come together in a big way. Once highlighted I cut up the curriculum (photocopies – not my actual curriculum doc – don’t worry!) AOs and started to group them. I’ve loved the idea of multi-curriculum area modules since I first heard HPSS staff talk about them, and seeing them in action on Friday only made me more excited. I really believe this is a powerful way to teach.

So I grouped my AOs, and suddenly all these awesome connections became apparent. Everything just clicked. I developed 4 modules – two maths based, two English based for the term. Just like HPSS I gave them names – we’re currently working on Community Perspectives and Vital Stats, and will then go on to Trading Me and Persuading Me later in the term. I developed little blurbs for them a la HPSS and set learning objectives just like I would with any unit plan. Only this time I didn’t put them into my old planning template – this time I tried something new. Ros had given us a copy of the HPSS planning template and the focusing questions and visual layout made a lot of sense to me, so I reworked it into a version for me school (well, just for  me at this stage – but one of the DPs is very interested in it and how we could use it across the school).

Community Perspectives Module Plan

Community Perspectives Module Plan

We are a Building Learning Power School, which means we use Guy Claxton’s approach to developing learning muscles. As a staff we see this as an extension and an expansion of the NZC’s key competencies, so it was obvious to me that Claxton’s teaching toolkit would form the centre of the planning as it underpins what we do as teachers. And I added a few things – particularly looking at diverse learners and focusing on Kaupapa Māori principles of education.

I knew that I wanted to focus more on coaching students in their learning, something we’ve been talking about a lot more as a school lately, and I also wanted to spend more time on concepts and developing conceptual understanding. The SOLO Taxonomy has provided the perfect vehicle for doing this – and my students have responded really well to it. But that’s a whole other blog post.

Finally I wanted to hack up my timetable. As an intermediate classroom teacher, I have a lot more scope to do this than some. We have 3 blocks of 90 – 110 minutes each day. Typically a school day at my school starts with English in the morning and our syndicate does fitness just before morning tea, maths in the middle block, and the other curriculum areas packed into the afternoon. Friday’s have always been a little bit different. I knew in order to maintain our school’s strong focus on literacy and numeracy I would need to ensure that the number of hours spent on maths-related learning and English-related learning would need to remain the same, but I wanted to allow for a more organic flow to the day. Our afternoon’s are pretty full this term and work around my release to teach dance, assemblies, and syndicate rotations. Where I could make changes was in the morning. So now my timetable looks like this:

My new timetable

My new timetable

Monday and Thursday we spend all morning on an English-related module, Tuesday and Wednesday are maths/science-related. The introduction of my time has formalised what used to be ‘finishing time’ and also gives students some scope for their own passions – something they’re very excited about (thanks HPSS for the name). As syndicate we’ve decided to go from ‘fitness’ to active recreation which again gives the students more choice, and also removes any connotation of physical education, which isn’t always as active as we’d like – this is about being active! Learning Focus is an opportunity for us to develop learning skills, solidify our understanding of the SOLO taxonomy and explore what it means to be a Building Learning Power school in more depth.

So, what do the students think of all this?

Well, we’ve only had two days of working with the new timetable and module structure, and already they love it! I’ve had so many students come up and say how much they like having time to really get into one context/topic – even some of my quiet, less opinionated students have come and talked to me about it. One of my students who doesn’t always find learning easy and is VERY shy too came and told me how much easier she has found the new way of learning with a huge grin on her face. Teacher win!

And what do I think?

I love it. Of course it’s going to be a work in progress and will need refining, but everything is and my students know that as much as I do. But even on the first day it just felt so right and I came away on an absolute high like I haven’t felt in months. I loved having more time to go deep and not being constrained ‘maths time’ or ‘English time’. The depth of thinking I saw in that first lesson was so sophisticated – I actually felt guilty that I hadn’t given them opportunities to reach these depths sooner! The language students were using to discuss communities and they concepts they were coming up with really validated what I was doing.

Now I just can’t wait to continue!

Hack Your Class

This term I am really excited to participating in the Hack Your Class Project hosted by the wonderful Claire Amos from Hobson Point Secondary School. Claire’s introductory post gives a really good overview of the whole idea and there’s also a lot of great resources in her holiday reading post. I’m looking forward to working my way through the reading list (once Stage Challenge is done with almost every waking moment).

 

Reading through the tentative timeline has got me so excited – all the things I’ve been thinking about and starting to explore are in here – deepening e-learning, maker culture, design thinking, universal design for learning… Seriously I’m geeking out about this so much right now!

 

I’ve also been thinking about the things I want to hack in my own classroom. My maths programme has been top of my list since the beginning of the year and I’m slowly starting to get it to a place where I’m happy with it and I’d like to blog more about the hacking process and how the students are finding it.

 

The other big one I want to hack is my physical space. We have good-sized classrooms with masses of class and wide double doors that open out on to this crazy huge shared learning area (effectively doubling our space) which is an amazing space to work in, but in the classrooms we’ve still got a lot of old school furniture – single cell desks and the dreaded tote trays. So my class and I have started looking at how we can make our space more flexible and reflective of the way we actually like to work (all while spending absolutely no money!). Definitely a lot of hacking going to happen here!

 

I’ve also found myself a performing arts hacker buddy @ginippi – yay for finding another dance teacher in NZ who’s actually on twitter.

 

Can’t wait to get started! How will you #hackyrclass?