Dancing the Story

It’s no secret that I love dance. And so I’m always excited when I manage to find some more opportunities for dance at my school. We have two auditioned performance troupes this year (post stage challenge), but what I’m always looking for are opportunities for anyone to get involved in dance, and for students to explore their own choreography.

So this term, when we were putting together our curiosity clubs (student opt-in groups based on our overall theme for the term), I jumped at the chance to use dance as a context. Our theme this term is justice and control, and so I put it to the students that these contexts could be explored using dance.

IMG_3732

Students planning the purpose and narrative arc of their dance.

One of the most powerful ways to raise awareness and to get people thinking about issues is by telling stories. I’ve always believed in the power of telling stories. And this is fundamentally what dance is about. At its core dance tells stories. And sometimes telling stories without words is the most powerful way to communicate. I love words, but sometimes they get in the way and sometimes they are just not enough to convey the depth of the moment.

 

So I have a group of 24 students (mostly girls, but two boys – it’s a start at least) who are exploring the idea of persecution through dance. The first couple of sessions we spent talking about the idea of persecution and what it means. Students then brainstormed examples of persecution in current world events and throughout history. Following this, they organised themselves into small groups in which they would work on their dance. Each group chose an example of persecution that they wanted to explore. One group is looking at refugees, two are looking at the Holocaust, two are looking at the French Revolution, and two are looking at Malala and girls’ right to education. For some, there was a decided lack of knowledge on the issue they had chosen, so their first step was to start with what they knew, then explore what they needed to know to start creating their dance.

 

Once they had an idea of their context, they then had to think about the purpose of their dance. What were the emotions and values they wanted to connect? What were they hoping their dance would achieve? This then enabled them to move into thinking about how they were going to do this, and look at developing the narrative arc. The narrative arc is an interesting thing to discuss in dance, because unlike in a novel or even a movie, it doesn’t need to have closure or resolution. Good dance storytelling challenges us, leaves us on the edge of our seat, puts us out of our comfort zone, or reaffirms what we believe – so it’s okay to leave part of a story untold. To leave the pregnant pause, or the moment hanging, to miss the beginning because we want to highlight the end. Dance is an art and art is about challenging boundaries.

Music editing - such an important part of a dance!

Music editing – an important and often forgotten part of dance.

Once they had a rough idea of their narrative arc, it was on to thinking about music choices. We mostly use a contemporary dance vocabulary in our dance programme here as it has the greatest scope for creative story telling and is the most accessible for people with out formal dance training, but also has huge possibility for extension – plus it is the best fit with the type of stories they have chosen to tell. I talked to the students from my own point of view about choosing music, what to look for and think about. By directing them to a few typically wordless artists/composers (Drehz, Nathan Lanier, Olafur Arnaulds and Audiomachine – for those wondering), we were able to get away from the whole but this is my favourite pop song issue. Some still really wanted to use songs they knew and loved, so spent some time looking at the lyrics and whether these supported their narrative arc – in some cases yes, in some cases no, and in some cases some very interesting discussions! Some of the students chose to put together a few pieces of music and so learnt how to edit this with Garage Band. It’s such good learning for them, as this is exactly the process I follow when I am working as a choreographer.

Exploring the different levels and body bases of movement and developing ideas.

Exploring the different levels and body bases of movement and developing ideas.

Our third session got into choreography after a brief discussion about the elements of dance. So far I’m really impressed with the choreography I’m seeing, it’s quite visceral and emotive (some groups more so than others). We’ll have a couple more sessions on choreography and then they will think about costuming and if we get to it lighting.

Choreography in action

Choreography in action

I love seeing them start to really think about how to show their ideas physically, and coming the term after Stage Challenge, I can see the hugely positive impact Stage Challenge has had on their ability to tell a story through dance. The other thing I really love about this process is that it is exactly the same as the one I follow as a choreographer – they are actually doing exactly what industry professionals do, which is such wonderfully authentic learning. Now I just have to hope that some of them are performance ready for the end of term Performing Arts Evening!

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Launching Code Club

A couple of weeks ago we launched code club at our school. It was awesome to see students and teachers learning alongside each other.
Code club was born out of a discussion amongst teachers, and a desire amongst the teachers to learn basic coding skills. We set a tentative time 8am – 8.30am before school and put word out. The first day we only had 7 people turn up – 5 of whom were teachers, but I was totally stoked that 5 teachers wanted to give up valuable time before school to learn coding – so awesome!
We were pretty independent in our learning today, so far we are using two different coding tutorial programmes – Scratch and Code Academy. The students seemed to prefer Scratch for its visual nature and they way it introduces new concepts, while the teachers liked Code Academy better.
After a couple of weeks of low numbers with the early morning time slot, we decided to do a bit more promotion at assembly and the relaunch code club during Friday lunch times. We had over 40 students turn up for our first lunch time in the library, and subsequently had to move to the shared learning area the following week. For the first couple of weeks we’ve been getting our students to use scratch which most of them are familiar with. Our absolute beginners we started on Code Studio, and some of the students who wanted to focus on web design have been using Code Academy.
Next week we’re going to up the challenge by introducing Code Combat. I like the idea of Code Combat as it requires the students to write the code rather than drop and drag the blocks and introduces the ideas and the logic behind coding.
Unfortunately Friday lunch times haven’t turned out to be a good time for teachers as many are coaching sport at the same time, so we’re still working on a way to support teacher’s interests in coding. Very open to suggestions though! I’m also looking for some more ways to get more girls involved.

Maths ARA Analysis 1

Lately there’s seems to have been a lot more discussion about the need for critical feedback and reflection as journey towards a learning renaissance. @geoumouldey and @mattynicoll in particular talk about this on Twitter. Personally I couldn’t agree more, but it was this week that everything seemed to click into place.

I was lucky enough to have my awesome syndicate leader Louise come and observe me teaching maths at the beginning of the week. One of the things I really like about having someone come in when you are teaching is that they notice all the things you don’t – all the awesomeness but also the things that could be improved, and I particularly value the detailed feedback Louise gives.

We use a framework called ARA – Aims, Reality, Actions to discuss and reflect on our practice, and target these around observations of teaching and learning so that we have a second person to discuss our ideas with.

IMG_3753

In this lesson we were using lego to build Aztec pyramids and then recording the patterns we noticed as part of algebra.

Lesson Context

Students were using Aztec pyramids as a context for building understanding of number patterns and algebraic rules. We were practicing tabling the patterns we noticed in a square-based step pyramid using a 3D model built out of lego. We worked together as a group with a shared model and recorded the information together. Students were then given opportunity to create their own pyramid and identify the patterns they could see within these. Once they’d identified the pattern they had to figure out the rule. The follow up lesson the next day was then on how to encode the rule use algebraic norms.

 

Aims

All students are given support and opportunity to share, collaborate and engage with learning.

Students are given opportunity to make connections between practical and abstract ideas.

This will be evident when:

  • Students build, create and notice patterns
  • Students can explain changes to a pattern in mathematical language and record these ideas using algebraic concepts
  • Students interact with each other and work collaboratively to share ideas

 

Reality

Students were highly engaged by the maths warm up game and were all involved in discussion about it. Students made choices about they level they worked at and were able to self-evaluate as they worked to ensure it was a good challenge but not too hard. Student would have benefited from some more feedback time to discuss strategies beyond their own group. The main teaching was highly engaging, all students were actively involved in the task. Discussion and practical hands on materials that weren’t traditional ‘maths’ materials drew students into the problem. I used questioning to build the understanding slowly and to encourage students to notice and make connections to other areas of maths. We discussed misconceptions so that we were all on the same page. Students enjoyed a short burst of discussion followed by time to get ‘stuck in’ to the task.

The observed reality was verified by student feedback that Louise recorded and also her notes and feedback from the observations as well as my own reflection. I think the lesson was successful. Students were all engaged and very motivated (never underestimate the power of lego!). They were active in both discussion and practical tasks and were challenged to find the links themselves.

 

Actions

Although the lesson was successful, I can still see a number of next steps and ways to tweak it. Firstly I want to continue the hands on approach but try different materials – maybe toothpicks and plasticine. I think this really benefited the students as they could take an abstract idea and represent it visually. I want to continue to focus on this for a bit longer even though they got it once to make sure the conceptual understanding is really embedded and understood at a deeper level. I also want to continue get students to work together on their maths, as this seems to provide far deeper learning. I need to provide scope for challenge by extending the context (or having a extension of the context ready to go – perhaps a ‘how might…?’ question). And finally I want to end the lesson with more opportunity to reflect on what made learning successful and draw more explicit links to Building Learning Power – i.e. actually commenting on the skills as I see them being used.

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.

#edchatnz Blogging Meme

If you get included in the blogging meme: copy/paste the questions and instructions into your own blog then fill out your own answers. Share on twitter tagging 5 friends.
1. How did you attend the #Edchatnz Conference? (Face 2 Face, followed online or didn’t)

Face to face!

2. How many others attended from your school or organisation?

It was just me.

3.How many #Edchatnz challenges did you complete?

I had the best of intentions but I think I only ended doing one selfie. I just got so caught up in all the awesomeness that was happening around I completely forgot about the challenges.

 

4. Who are 3 people that you connected with and what did you learn from them?
I loved seeing @geomouldey in action teaching in the afternoon on Friday – it gave me a much better sense of what teaching and learning looks like at HPSS. It also gave me the motivation to take the plunge and completely hack my own timetable and teaching units. I attend the conference along with my mother @majessti and it was really awesome to spend time just reveling in our shared pedagogical geekery. I got a lot out of just talking things through with her – especially about the SOLO Taxonomy. I also met @boonman who helped me realise that some times you just have to take a leap of faith and @akeenreader with whom I’m now starting to organise EducampWelly for 2015.
5. What session are you gutted that you missed?
I really wanted to get to @geomouldey‘s session on Creativity but @rosmaceachern‘s session on her journey as a teacher at HPSS won out (an was awesome).
6. Who is one person that you would like to have taken to Edchatnz and what key thing would they have learned?

I would have taken one of my DPs, or my principal, or both. I think they would have been amazed and totally inspired to continue on the journey we’re starting as a Building Learning Power school with renewed vigour.

7. Is there a person you didn’t get to meet/chat with (F2F/online) that you wished you had? Why?

I really would have liked to have a chance to talk to @missdtheteacher and @mrs_hyde as I ahve had awesome conversations with them on #edchatnz before.

8. What is the next book you are going to read and why?
Well, Key Competencies for the Future is on it’s way to school (just ordered) so that was going to be first but then The Third Teacher arrived in my pigeonhole from the Minsitry of Education’s library so that’s what I’m currently reading along with a rotating sequence of Young Adult dystopian fiction.
9. What is one thing you plan to do to continue the Education Revolution you learnt about at #EdchatNZ?

One thing? That’s hard. I’ve already done so many things since last weekend. Introducing SOLO and creating cross-curricular models and hacking up the timetable in my class a la HPSS are a couple of things I’ve already done this week. I may have been chanelling @geomouldey‘s excited puppy! I’m also trying to make more of an effort to connect with others on twitter more, as I can be a bit shy about it sometimes.

10. Will you take a risk and hand your students a blank canvas?
Already have baby!
Who will I tag with this meme:

I think most people have already done it by now, but just in case:

@majessti

@BridgetLCM

@lisasquire1

A Teacher’s Footprint

Today’s topic is my Desk. Or lack thereof.

See, I don’t have a desk. Or at least not in the traditional sense. You know what I mean when I say desk right? I mean I’m a teacher, don’t all teachers have desks? They range from super-messy to ultra-neat, cluttered to organised. And most teachers have them. But I don’t.

I decided to get rid of my teacher desk about 2 and half years ago. Actually, come to think of it, I’ve just about taught for longer without a desk than with a desk (just). It all started from a comment my principal at the time made. He asked us to think about the teacher footprint in the classroom.

It’s a really interesting question, and as a beginning teacher it took me a year or two to act on it, but it definitely stayed with me. Slowly over a year or two, I started downsizing my desk, making it smaller and smaller and smaller until I had a desk just the same as every other student.

This year I moved classrooms, and it provided the perfect opportunity to do away with anything even resembling a teacher desk. Now I have a resource cupboard and that’s pretty much it. Everywhere else is shared space with my students. And best of all it works.

Of course there are a few things that I needed to put in place in order to make this work though. The first is good organisational systems. I have a whole lot of plastic boxes which are labelled with different curriculum areas or administrative tasks that I use to sort out physical resources. I set 5 minutes aside every couple of days to file all the paper and other bits and pieces that seem to build up in the classroom.

The second is digitising most of what I do. We use Google Apps for Education at school and it is fantastic! The teachers have been using it for the last year and half, and the students are due to go live next week. It’s awesome to have access to my resources wherever I am – plus way less paper!

The third is being flexible with where I work. I’m like my students in a lot of ways, I don’t really like sitting down at a desk to write or work. I prefer to be able to move around, which works well when I have no desk. During the day I don’t usually have down time to just sit and do work, but on the rare occasion that I do, I just sit at a free space with the students. A comfortable computer chair that supports my back is my only concession to teacher space as my back tends to play up sitting in the students’ chairs. In the afternoons you can usually find me with my work spread out across several of the students desks.

All in all I have to say, it’s really worked for me getting rid of a dedicated “teacher space”. I really like sharing my space with my students and it has helped me to connect with them in a much more informal way.

So my challenge to you is this: think about how much space you need in the classroom. How much space in your classroom is “teacher space”? Do you need all of that space? Are there ways you could reorganise things so that there is more shared space with students?

A Visual Reflection

My professional life is feeling quite full at the moment, but there is a blog post in the making (actually probably several) – it’s just brewing for a bit longer. However I do want to share some of the awesome things that have been going on at school lately, so today, may I present Term One Thus Far: A Visual Reflection:

IMG_4128

Syndicate Fitness

Syndicate Fitness: It’s been awesome to have such great weather that we can get outside every day to work on our fitness. The efforts have been very impressive.

Stage Challenge has been a BIG focus and will continue to be until mid-term 2. It’s all coming together well and the students have been awesome. Especially the student leaders (rehearsal leaders and student director). It’s also been fantastic to have 5 year 9s from the College next door come back and work with our students and support the leaders.

IMG_4129

Rehearsal leader taking students through a warm up sequence.

Seriously Stage Challenge is starting to get pretty all consuming…

IMG_4131

We really, really do!

These girls (and boys) are awesome. Even when I’m tired or stressed these students are amazing to work with and totally make my day.

IMG_4227

Stage Challenge rehearsals.

IMG_4133

I love seeing how engaged my students are in their learning, and how much they love getting out of the classroom/desks to try something practical and different.

IMG_4283

Code breakers in action!

I had the first two days of the TPDL (Teacher Professional Development Languages) programme last weekend and loved it. So now the German study needs to get a whole lot more serious!

IMG_4164

Get your German on.

I also love that I work in a school where this is possible. Best way to introduce a topic EVER! (And yes that’s me top left – new look maybe?)

IMG_4140

World War One Basic Training: A Practical Demonstration

And finally just to reinforce how awesome my school is and what a weird and wonderful group of teachers I work with, sometimes they dress up like this:

IMG_4142

The Moemoea Crocodiles

 

Brie