What if…

Just some wonderings…. What if questions – some for students some for teachers – many for both!

What if we looked at our syndicate as 4 teachers and 108 students with 4 classrooms to use?
What if there was no zero?
What if you could direct your learning?
What if my job wasn’t to teach but to coach? Or to inspire? Or to design learning?
What if we could personalise learning for every student?
What if you could study anything at all?
What if we taught wellbeing at school?
What if drama was a core subject like maths and English?
What if languages were compulsory?
What if we focused on the journey instead of the end results?
What if learning was a game?
What if you could redesign learning?
What if trees had feelings?
What if war was illegal?
What if peace was illegal?
What if dance was a core subject?
What if Te Reo Maori was the main language spoken in schools?
What if we got jobs based on our IQ?

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.

Building Learning Power

At my school we practice building learning power, Guy Claxton’s innovative approach to learning to learn. Personally I think it’s brilliant. It builds students’ dispositional thinking to enable them to experience success in their learning. It gives them strategies that they can use to negotiate difficult situations in their learning and elsewhere in life too. It builds on the key competencies, adding a richness and depth that I find really engaging. Plus it has given our school a common language to work with as we learn, grow and explore.
I’ve been practising building learning power for the last 3+ years now, and I can really see the positive benefits it has had with my students. However I wonder whether I have taken it deep enough. Yes, I use the language, but have I really allowed it to change my teaching practice, to filter down into ALL of my conversations in ALL learning areas ALL of the time? Probably not. That’s a big ask. But I can look at my progress, and I can hold this as an ideal to work towards. (Yes, that’s me, forever the optimist!). I love the phrase that teachers at HPSS use – ‘warm and demanding’, by which they mean being kind, compassionate and approachable, but also having high expectations of students, staff and selves, and finding ways to raise them up so that everyone achieves their potential.
So how am I being warm yet demanding?
Firstly by not shying away from tough questions. My students this year, seem to be taking a bit to wrap their heads around the type of questions I’m asking – not so much of the what, where, who or when, but rather why and how might we? I also believe in reciprocity – if I’m going to ask my students tough questions that challenge them to actually think about their ideas, rather than just remember information, then I need to take their questions seriously too.
I need to have high expectations of my students and myself. I need to communicate these clearly but gently, and make every effort to help my students reach these expectations. My expectations need to be a realistic stretch for my students and they need to be differentiated so that they can all experience success.
I need to be kind, compassionate and considerate and gentle with my students, other teachers and myself. I need to place value, and spend time helping my students to tend to their Hauora, their wellbeing, and of course I need to be approachable. I need to ensure that my busy-ness doesn’t get in the way of spending time getting to know my students, particularly in the mornings, which is so easy to do!
I need to ensure I create rich programmes that are engaging, require critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, innovation, while giving students scope for some self direction. And this brings me full circle back to Building Learning Power. By moving beyond a traditional knowledge dissemination model of education, we allow students more freedom to develop their dispositional thinking, to learn how to be learners, what works for them and what doesn’t. To fail and grow from it. To wonder. To question. To try. To succeed.

Something for the Week

Currently reading and loving this book – The Art of Belonging

This book looks interesting too.

Danielle: “why, when there are so many unsolved problems in the world, do we waste smart, insightful, creative students’ time with meaningless work?”

I’ve been exploring Hauora with my students this week, only to discover Steve has also been doing the same.

This on natural learning ecosystems.

Mindfulness improves maths scores according to Time.

Steal Like an Artist.

Great post from Stephanie about future focused teacher education.

The key to success is Grit .

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.

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.


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!

Something for the Week

Oops! It’s Tuesday night and I’m just publishing this now…. Nevertheless here are some interesting educational goodies from my meanderings around the internet over the last week.

Modern Learning Environments in NZ Schools – 3 excellent Case Studies

I’ve been hearing great things about this book – #EdJourney by Grant Lichtman

14 things that are obsolete in 21st century classrooms

Exploring ‘grit’ and growth mindsets with yr 7 and 8 – Kerri Thompson

I really want to read this book

Former colleague/tutor teacher, Jason Ataera talks about leading change within schools

Something for the Week

Something for the week – a collection of awesome education-related things I’ve come across on the web in the past week.


I Only Understand the Train Station: 40 wonderful idioms from other languages

It’s promising to be an exciting year with WellyEd this year.

A new approach to home learning to try – via Stephanie

I’ve long followed the practice of choosing a word for the year personally, but never thought to do it professionally – but I will now thanks to this.

Star Wars mathematics? I’m there.

Awesome to see some innovative teaching being featured in local papers.