Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Blogger Behind this Blog #8

My Mindset

Lately I have been reading Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck PhD. This is the sort of book that challenges the way you see things. Even when you think you already have a growth mindset! It makes you look at your life and your choices differently. I really want to take some time over the next week or so to think about what it all means to me, but I find myself pondering on it all the time as it is. Today I was thinking about it in relation to my learning.

As I understand it, people with a growth mindset have learning and growth as their goal. People with a fixed mindset have maintaining their ego as their goal. Generally we have a combination of both of these mindsets at play to some degree in our lives.

In My Primary School Years
So, when I look back on my life as a primary school student, I realise that I always tried to be a couple of steps ahead of my cohort. This was initiated by my mum, who started teaching me at home before I went to school. As she tells it, I was a willing learner, so this was not a great challenge for her. Because of the head start I had, I was always a little ahead of my cohort when it came to academic subjects. I liked being at the top of my class and worked to stay there. At times I was competitive, and I would say that even though I put effort into my learning, at that time I felt that some people were born smart, others pretty, others sporty etc. (This is fixed mindset thinking.)

Entering High School
This general mindset didn't actually change in high school and I received high grades and recognition for my achievement. That said, I also enjoyed the learning experience and tried to select assignments that fit with my interests. I was happy to take on an element of challenge in an area that I was interested in, and willing to put in extra effort to demonstrate my learning in unique ways. (This is growth mindset thinking.) For subjects I was less interested in, I still got the assignments done, but more as a rush job to hand something in on time. I remember a particularly poor attempt at a science assignment that I left until the last minute.

At the end of year awards one year I was given an award for excellence in PE, and to this day I have felt that there was some mistake there. I was one of the smart kids, not one of the sporty ones. Why should I get an award for PE when there were other far more sporty kids than me! Interestingly though, it has helped me to realise that I don't have to be exclusively "smart"!

And on to University
When I was choosing subjects for Years 11 and 12 I chose subjects that would help me with teaching, in particular - psychology and sociology. As a result I got a high distinction in Human Development at University, which was really an extension of what I had learnt in Year 11. Another easy grade to get was a high distinction in Educational Futures and ICT as part of my Graduate Certificate, due to the amount of background experience and prior learning I had in the area. I also felt passionate about these subjects and loved being able to explore them more. The hardest grades I earned were credits for Global Development Education and Data Communications. They were hard because they were so foreign to me and I had so much catching up to do in order to get into the right frame of mind for them.

When I was in my early twenties I tried to write children's books and completed a Diploma in Children's Writing via correspondence. I gave up before I had anything published, and tonight as I read some of the stories I wrote all those years ago, I wondered what would have happened if I hadn't given up on this challenge. At the time I gave up because I felt I should be pouring my time into building my teaching capacity as that would lead to consistent pay. I think that in terms of my writing - I had strong writing skills, but boring plots! Maybe this is something I will return to, or maybe I've found my outlet through blogging and modelling writing for students.

I'm now on the verge of starting my Masters degree, and I've been contemplating my intentions. Why do we get degrees? Is it to prove we are qualified for a job? To suggest that we are superior? For recognition? Or to learn? Initially I was taking on this Masters course with the thought that I would smash it out and get it finished so that I had the bit of paper to say that I was done. But then, when I started looking at the degree more closely, I realised that some of the units include really helpful content that should prepare me for leadership in the future. How did I lose sight of the real reason for studying?! I love learning, so how did it become more about a piece of paper than what I would learn from the experience?

The Next Generation
My (kindergarten) son recently got his school report, with above average for reading/viewing and number/algebra. Like my mother before me, I started my son early with his academic skills through play at home. He seemed ready and interested. I wanted to make it easy for him to get As later, when grading kicks in. He is proud of his efforts with reading, and he loves puzzling over numbers. He wants to be the best reader in his class.

And so I find myself asking, where the growth mindset sits in terms of the ambition to be the best. I feel that there is a fine line between wanting to be THE best and working to do YOUR best. I don't want for my son to work at something only to be THE best at it. I want him to enjoy the journey and learn from the experiences. And when he is THE best, I want for him to keep striving. Or to complement it with developing another skill.

As you can see, my thoughts at this stage are just that - random ponderings as I grapple with a new way of seeing things and try to revisit how I have seen things in the past. I still have much to learn as I apply what I've read to my own life, to the way I guide my son, and to the classes that I teach. What an exciting journey!

Friday, December 2, 2016

My Journey with ISTAA Experienced Teacher Accreditation #3

Preparing the Project Proposal and Literature Review

I thought I had been going along so well, but these tasks hit me hard. I had been watching/listening to Dylan Wiliam's webinars, reading bits and pieces I had sourced and trying so many new things in the classroom. All these things were good, but I needed to do so much more to actually pull everything together. It was due today, and (spoiler alert) I managed to upload it to my collection in time.

I think part of the struggle lies in the fact that the due date falls right near the end of term, while reports are still being proof read and prepared to send home. I thought my time-management was on track, but it has been very tight to get reports completed and then flow straight into the ETA requirements.

I started with the Project Proposal because I knew it had to be finished about a week in advance in order to get it to my Head of School for signing. My first attempt at this was a bit of a brainstorm event, where I just jotted down my thoughts about what would go in each section. When I returned to it, I padded out the initial ideas. I was very pleased to see that I could have a main question with sub-questions, as I had been really struggling with how I could cover all the things I wanted to explore with just one question. This is what I came up with as the main idea for my project.

Growing our Minds through Formative Assessment and Feedback

What is an effective process to enrich student learning through formative assessment and feedback?
What actions can a teacher take to help students develop a growth mindset?
How can formative assessment be used more effectively to inform teaching and provide students with relevant feedback?
How can peer and teacher feedback (aligned with a growth mindset) be used to progress student learning?

Something I really struggled with when completing the proposal was the section on the collection of data. I feel that there are two purposes at play with the Action Research Pathway. One is to provide evidence of the achievement of Experienced Teacher Standards and Descriptors. The other is to collect data for analysis in relation to the questions of the Action Research project. And, while action research provides an opportunity for a teacher to demonstrate the descriptors, the data collected for the purposes of the project will be quite different to the evidence collected to demonstrate competency. I felt that these two forms of data needed to be separated for the purposes of the proposal, so ended up creating a table with data for the descriptors split under the headings: "Evidence of Standard" and "Data for Analysis". I'm hoping that this will help me to keep track of what I'm collecting and the real purpose for the collection.

Something else that I struggled with, just a little, was considering the difference between "expected benefits" and "expected changes". I'm hoping that my responses were different enough to meet expectations.

Given the nature of my project, I sent my proposal to the Staff Development Coordinator at my school for some feedback. She saw things that I didn't see, and struggled to understand what I meant in some of the sections. She made time to sit down with me to discuss things and I was able to make some changes. I feel that I could have continued to make more changes, but given the time restraints, I needed to get the document into internal mail so that my Head of School could sign it, and turn my attention to the Literature Review.

In the lead up to writing the Literature Review I found myself really loving all the reading, but terrified about putting the first words on a Google Doc. The blank page taunted me so much that I avoided it for quite some time, opting instead to mind-mapping and note-taking. In hindsight, I believe these were important for helping me to gather my thoughts, I just wish I'd started the whole process even earlier! For me, I was concerned about understanding the topic fully and making the connections.

Eventually I sat down and forced myself to begin writing, but even in that moment I was hesitant. I wanted a "sizzling start" that I push so hard for from my students. How do you write a sizzling start for a literature review? And then I re-read Inside the Black Box, by Black and Wiliam, and realised that people don't want to read something dry and academic. We all want to be drawn into what we read. I had a false start that went for three paragraphs, and then, finally I got my idea:

Oliver goes back to his desk and opens his English book. He knows the teacher will be doing the rounds in a minute, but he wants to take a moment to flick through to the next blank page. As he does, he smiles to himself, reading a sentence here and there as he sees the work he has done throughout the year. Wow! I remember writing this, he thinks to himself. I’ve come so far this year. He glances at the feedback at the bottom of the page…

And that's where I left Oliver's story. Full of questions about that feedback.

It probably took about 15 hours of writing and reviewing to finally get the review finished. I got sick toward the end with a cold, and was pleased when I finally got to the end. Unfortunately I didn't have enough time to have my peers read over it and offer their feedback. We are all so busy trying to get our reports finalised and everything prepared for the end of school, so I just didn't feel right asking anyone else to read my writing. I also didn't have time to make adaptations based on any feedback they might have given me. I struggled with this since I have been seeing the power of feedback in my classroom, and learnt a lot from the feedback I received on my Project Proposal.

For both of these documents I had a guide for what to do, but no real guidance in terms of what is counted as a pass or fail. I feel I used a little poetic license on the literature review, but am not too sure whether it was too much. It's either my first literature review, or my first in quite some time, and I'm not entirely sure what was needed!

This experience helps me to understand some things about my own learning that can be generalised to my students and how they learn:
  1. Students need to have a clear idea of what is expected and to what level
  2. Feedback is definitely helpful, but not always practical when tight for time
  3. While deadlines are important motivators for completing a task, some students may not produce their greatest work within this timeframe. Some may be interested in polishing their work further after the due date.
  4. What ends up on the page is not necessarily all the writer knows about the topic. A lot of information is filtered along the way.
I'm really excited about what I've been learning through my reading and experiences in the classroom, but will save those for another blog. For today I really just wanted to share my journey with the Experienced Teacher Accreditation in terms of completing the necessary documentation by the deadline.

I am a lone ranger in my school as far as the Action Research Pathway goes... Is anyone else doing it??? Please leave a comment if you are.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Tech Tips Tuesday

Getting Started with Seesaw

This week I started using Seesaw with my class as part of my exploration into digital portfolios and the power of feedback. I have been searching for something that I can use to collate my students digital work when using shared iPads. I wanted something that allowed for feedback from peers, students and even parents. I got the go-ahead from our ICT department to trial it this term and they loaded the app onto all the iPads.

During the last holidays I set up a login with Seesaw and added my classes. I made a test class to use to experiment with my son and get a sense of some of the issues that might come up with my class. It also gave us a chance to see what can be done and test out one of the Seesaw tutorials.

Prior to starting I wanted my students to understand the purpose of feedback, so we completed a couple of tasks last week that involved students seeking feedback, giving each other feedback and applying this information to their work. I printed out the appropriate signage for my class and set up management for the class such that student work posted immediately, they could "like" one another's work, but could not post comments.

My introductory lesson was just to show students the app and let them know that we would be using it. I demonstrated how they would log in using the QR code and the basics of how to create something and save it in their name. At this point I did not let students have a turn. Seesaw offers introductory lesson ideas to familiarise students, however I just wanted to get started with using it with our content and learning outcomes. I wanted for the task to be familiar enough for students to work with in a new format.

The next day we started Seesaw in our English lesson. I made a page for students to use as a digital worksheet. The task was the Circle of Viewpoints thinking routine, considering the perspective of different characters from the first chapter of Charlotte's Web. We re-read the chapter first, then students recorded their responses in Seesaw. They enjoyed having the opportunity to read each other's work and "like" it. The work itself showed that students were thinking about different perspectives. Some students got to more than one perspective. Others only saw through one lens. It helped students to realise that there is more than one way of viewing a situation.

One of my students quickly figured out how to give himself a like from every other student in the class, so we had to have a discussion about only selecting your own name when saving your work or liking people's work. We also discussed the point of "likes" and how the value is diminished if you just "like" everything you see.

In our Literacy Group time, students completed another digital worksheet to show an understanding of synonyms. They rewrote the sentence I had used and changed the word in brackets into one of its synonyms. Once finished students used the draw feature to make a page about a word eg. Cold, hot, large, etc. (their choice) and make an audio recording to go with this. They enjoyed this process and were prompted to get out thesauruses to add to their list. The technical side of things was working really well. It was great to see them looking at one another's work.

That night I reviewed students' work and left them comments using the feedback feature. We then reviewed the work on the IWB and I taught students how they could make changes based on the feedback by using copy/edit and making a revised work sample. Students were keen to revisit their work and those who didn't get the opportunity expressed their disappointment!

Every time I sat down with my students I found they were asking if we were about to do something with Seesaw. They were obviously hooked! On Friday I threw something together for them quickly, following on from our work on Charlotte's Web. I gave students the writing prompt "If I had a pet pig..." and they were off! They loved it. Some named their pig, others thought about playing rugby with it! Some students loved this task so much, and the ability to like one another's work, that they started to look for ways to give each other written feedback by Copy/Edit and then writing at the bottom of the page.

As soon as I clued on to this, I realised that I needed to introduce the feedback aspect properly and give them that freedom. We discussed the sort of feedback that we are wanting - feedback that is respectful of the other person's feelings and helps them to improve their work. And then they went to it. This is an area I would like to fine-tune with them some more, probably making some class charts with examples that they could use.

From a technical perspective, my students have definitely worked out how to get started, create, save and edit files, and how to logout. They are working extra things out for themselves and teaching one another. I look forward to seeing how their use of this develops in the weeks to come. I also look forward to being more creative with how we use it, drawing on photos and files as well.

From a skills basis, my students are learning how to use the iPad keyboard for typing, and they are learning where the keys are. They are also learning how to use the predictive text feature to help them when they are unsure of spelling. I was amazed how quickly they got their ideas down in text compared with how long it usually takes to write by hand. This may have been more about the motivation to get started than anything else! 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

My Journey with ISTAA Experienced Teacher Accreditation #2

Researching and Testing Ideas

Since I last wrote about my journey I have been working at refining my ideas. I'm not one to focus completely on book research first and then shift to classroom research second. I tend to mix the two together and get everyone involved in the journey!

Connecting with other Educators
I've been chatting to people about what I am puzzling over. Having people to listen to my thoughts has helped me to work through what I am reading about and what I am seeing in the classroom. My colleagues are being very encouraging (even though I'm sure they're getting tired of listening to my ramblings). I've made new connections at work in my quest to find other people with an interest, knowledge and experience in the realms of assessment and feedback. I've also found some who may be able to help me work through developing the action research side of things. My colleagues have given me ideas and suggestions for other things I could try.

Using Twitter
Over the years I have developed my Twitter profile to include an extensive list of educators around the world. This is my professional learning network. If I'm to be really honest, I haven't been consistently great with this over the years. While I'd love to do it more, in reality, it does end up being both addictive and time consuming. I also find that I hit information overload quite quickly once I get started. Everyone is sharing great resources that I grab to read later, or feel inspired by in the moment. But I find that I end up with my brain buzzing in too many directions, trying to do too many things, and just can't keep up that sort of momentum. I have to try to find a workable balance. I'm trying to connect more effectively with people in this arena by popping along to Twitter discussions and getting involved with the conversations. By looking at my Twitter feed it's easy enough to pick up on whether there is a discussion happening and to get involved.

After reading a tweet where someone asked for resources on peer feedback, I realised that I should be using hashtags to find resources about feedback. I did a search on #feedback and found a tweet about the work of Ben Newmark (@bennewmark). His school is trying new things in terms of feedback to students, and while I don’t want to take on board the whole kit and caboodle of what he is doing (particularly as it is designed for high school history), I really do like where he is headed in terms of making feedback meaningful. 

Ben’s school has stopped marking books and is now completing a Feedback form when students have submitted their books. He reads through the books (not worrying about marking spelling errors or leaving a comment) and jots down the things about the class’ response using a feedback form. He then makes a PowerPoint presentation that goes through the things that came up on the feedback form. He highlights the things students do well and shares these with the class as examples of exemplary work.

I liked reading about this system and am going to try a modified version of the idea, initially with my Maths class. I wondered what happens in Ben's class in terms of self-reflection to help them to make use of the feedback. Do students jot down takeaways that they will work on?

Another victory with the #feedback hashtag came another day when I discovered this tweet:

This research, while difficult to digest, was exactly what I have been looking for. It looks beyond what makes good feedback, to instead explore what is required for students to engage with feedback and use it. After reading this, I was able to draft out a bit of a plan to use in the classroom. The researchers also outlined some gaps in current research - namely education prior to Higher Ed, and studies that look at the resulting behaviours of students rather than merely the reported behaviours. I'm excited to explore this further.

Dylan Wiliam's Webinars
I found some of Dylan Wiliam's previously recorded webinars online at The Dylan Wiliam Center. I watched these and took some notes as I did so. It was good to hear his view on feedback. The results from studies have shown that feedback can also have a negative impact, thus the reaction of the student should be the focus rather than the feedback itself. I feel this is tied in with my ideas about encouraging student self-reflection in order to apply the feedback, and also providing time for the feedback to be used not just stashed away. Dylan said that the success of the feedback is about the relationship the teacher has with the student and knowing when to push and when to back off. One suggestion Dylan gave for activating students as resources for one another was to use two stars and a wish for peer feedback.

I feel that the challenge lies in learning more about how to provide the right sort of feedback (which may mean different things to different students), and how to help students to react positively to what they are told and use it to improve their learning further. This all ties together with the growth mindset, and a willingness to see failure as an opportunity for further growth. More of Dylan Wiliam's webinars can be found here and he is about to run another webinar about Assessment Literacy on Wednesday 19 October 2016.

Trying things out
Term 4 started this week and I had my students back for the last two days of the week. Why wait, I say! We got straight into exploring some ideas with feedback. Very soon we are going to begin trialling Seesaw to submit and share classwork and gain feedback from each other. In the lead up to this, I wanted my students to get a sense of why feedback is useful, how we can request feedback from others, how we can give feedback and how we can use feedback.

I wanted to introduce my class to the concept of feedback. I wanted them to get a sense of the power of feedback for helping you to learn and progress forward. In our first lesson of the day students were working on a writing task and I found that students were asking me and one another for help with spelling words. I helped them at the time and then used them as examples for the next lesson.

I referred to this as an example of "seeking feedback" and pointed out how it helped them to be more accurate with their work. I then showed students the video of Austin's Butterfly as an example of how feedback leads to improvement. Students were amazed by how Austin's work progressed. 

Austin's Butterfly: Building Excellence in Student Work from EL Education on Vimeo.

I then explained that students would create a drawing of their holiday and that at any point when they wanted feedback they could take a strip of paper to someone they trust and get them to write down something good about their work and something for them to improve. They could then take the feedback and use it to improve their work. They could repeat this as much as they desired.

What I found was that initially students wanted to get their work just right. It was almost as if the idea of peer feedback was making them think more critically about their own work. To begin with, I felt that the feedback that students gave one another was fairly shallow and opinion based. eg. "Please colour the white and the background." However when I paused to think of what I might have written, I didn't come up with anything better! This helped me to realise that part of the strength of feedback comes from having some sort of a goal to work toward and markers of what constitutes quality work.

We continued this work intermittently over the two days, with students continuing to seek feedback from one another and re-drafting as desired. A lot of verbal feedback was being given by students and not being recorded on the paper strips. This suggested to me that students may prefer to give and receive feedback informally and verbally. This may be happening already in the classroom without me realising that it is taking place. 

As would be expected, I found a variety of responses to this task. Some preferred to begin a new draft, while others made modifications to the original. Some were popular choices for students to go to feedback, while others weren't approached at all. Some students seemed more focused on self-review of work including one who did not get any written feedback.

Nothing Official Yet!
Of course, I am yet to write up my literature review, and none of my trying things out is part of my proposal at this point. For me, these steps are necessary for me to get a proper understanding of what I am reading and to keep a check on whether it is based in reality. It's also about me finding what works, and seeing how things can be improved. I guess my next step is to get serious about the literature review and speak to someone about action research.

If you have tried things out with formative assessment, feedback and/or growth mindset please leave a comment with link so that I can check it out. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Tech Tips Tuesday

How much screen time?

We have just finished having a two-week break from school and are heading back into our normal
routines. By the end of the holidays, however, we'd fallen into some pretty bad habits. Daylight savings has meant that we have been more relaxed over bedtime for our son. And, as for screen time? Our son's use of screen time has allowed us to have more of a sleep in the next day! We've really had to work at getting out of the house - taking the dog for a walk, going for a bike ride, seeing the city and participating in the real world. These are all good things, but take effort!

In the past week I took part in a survey about children and video games. It really got me thinking about what is good and beneficial in terms of screen time.
My son just got a 2DS for his birthday, so along with the iPhone he had handed down and the iPad he bought second hand, he is getting more than the desired screen time for a six-year-old. And it doesn't help that he is growing up in a home where Mummy is always testing out new apps and resources with him, and Daddy is an absolute whiz when it comes to working out the logistical side of things.

So, this week we tried to come up with a solution in terms of screen time. My husband had heard of people instigating a daily limit for their children, so we decided on 30 minutes (not guaranteed - but dependent on what's happening and what will work for the family). We decided to add an opportunity for our son to "earn" more screen time by engaging in outdoor play, such that for every two minutes of outdoor play he banks an additional one minute of screen time. This banked time can be used on the day it is earned or rolled over (unused normal daily limit is not rolled over).

Sound like all those terms and conditions you usually skim over? Wait... there's more! The walk to and from school does not count toward the extra time, nor does outside play as part of the usual school day. Television counts as screen time only when it is chosen as an individual activity. And Pokemon Go doesn't count as either screen time or outdoor play - the two cancel each other out!

As you are probably beginning to understand, we have a six-year-old who needs to know all the ins and outs so that he can make the most of all these minutes! It's early days and we are just trying to find a way to keep better track of how he is using his time.

That said, it does make me pause for a moment to think about my personal response to screen time. I probably spend far too much time looking at a screen and far too little engaging in outdoor play. Particularly in the holidays when I want to dibble and dabble and learn new things online.

And then I could also play the devil's advocate and go against all that I fight so hard for and ask the question: Should we be limiting the amount of screen time used in the classroom? And if so, what is the "right" amount?

Is screen time something that we should be putting limits on, or is it something that people should engage in freely and monitor for themselves? When is screen time a problem, and when does it become just a part of how we live our lives these days? And is that a problem in and of itself?

What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Tech Tips Tuesday

Apple Watch

So, I've been wearing the Apple Watch since they first came out in May 2015. I haven't reviewed it yet, and the second edition has now been released. So I thought maybe I should say a little something about how I've found it fits with my lifestyle, one year in!

My Apple Watch is Series 1, 38mm case in Stainless Steel with the Sapphire Crystal face (or so the back tells me!) I chose the black sports band - hoping that it would blend well with my work attire. I haven't purchase any other bands and the original is still going strong after one year of wearing it every day. I recently fell while running the other day, and while the watch took a decent hit, the Sapphire Crystal face only suffered minor scratches as did the Stainless Steel and sports band (as seen in the photo).

This is the most expensive watch I have ever owned, probably not the most beautiful, but definitely the most useful. I tried out a few different watch faces that looked cool, but ended up with the most functional for my lifestyle - boring but informative - Modular. At a quick glance I can see the date, time, upcoming events, temperature, fitness and stopwatch.

To be honest, there were a couple of hiccups early on that bothered me - I seemed to be churning through the battery, both on the watch and on my phone. After dropping my phone in "the sink" I couldn't tell whether the battery issues I was facing were related to that incident, or whether it was the extra drain from the watch. Rather than replace the phone battery I decided to get a charger case to keep my phone going. Now I have enough phone battery to get me through the day, and my watch has only run out of battery on a couple of occasions. Generally I plug both in to charge as I go off to bed at night. Not the most elegant solution to the problem, but it's working for me so far.

In a lot of ways, it does what my phone does for me, but up close and on the go. Also, people are used to seeing someone pull out their phone to check on messages etc, and it has a bad reputation. By doing it on the watch, it is much less noticeable. That said, when I start looking at the watch in the company of others, people do tend to think that I'm checking the time and feel concerned that I have somewhere better to be!!

At times it can be frustrating to wait for the wrist flick to wake it up, especially when tapping the screen is not an option eg. when cutting up meat for dinner, but generally it is pretty good. Another trick comes when trying to show the watch to someone else. The amount of times I've turned my wrist to show someone and they've come back with "All I'm seeing is a black screen!"

I love the flow of information to my watch. I use it frequently to check the time, the weather and to see how I'm going with my fitness targets. I use it to set timers with my class and my son to try to get things done in a certain amount of time. My favourite feature at school is when I'm not really sure how to spell something. Siri sorts me out pretty quickly and my students are suitably impressed.

I keep my watch on silent, so love that I can feel when a notification has come. I'm the only one that knows that it's there, so can time when to check on it without causing a disruption. I love that I FEEL my watch telling me my phone is ringing even before I HEAR my phone ringing and can cancel the call quickly if I've forgotten to silence my phone. I like being able to send a quick message from the watch, or try my luck with the dictation feature.

There are of course fun bits, that are interesting to play with - sending your heart beat, drawing little pictures, viewing your photos and taking a call. It's also interesting to have Apple telling you when you should stand up and take a walk, and now with the recent update, telling you when to inhale and exhale!

I love my watch. I wish it was prettier without being more expensive. It's hardy, going strong and I would struggle to go back to a watch that doesn't tell me as much. I'm not sure of all the features of the new watch and haven't been in to the Apple Store to play with it yet. But it can only get better, right?!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Tech Tips Tuesday

Using ICT to Enhance Learning About 3D Solids

As I headed into Term 3 I had grand plans about integrating ICT into the Maths Program. We had great success earlier in the year with the use of Beebots and basic programming lessons to give purpose to the language around location ie. left/right/forwards/backwards/up/down. Given that, I had high expectations for the use of Makers Empire and 3D Printing as part of our learning about 3D solids. I wanted for students to be able to explore and build 3D solids on an iPad and then see them turned into a physical object through 3D printing.

Implementing the 3D Printing Task
We staggered our teaching program across the year level to allow for shared use of resources across the term and arranged for our ICT Coordinator to come and work with our Maths classes during the last week of our 3D Solids learning. When our ICT Coordinator came students logged onto Makers Empire with student logins and she taught them the basics of the different aspects of the app. Students had some free time to explore and then worked on designing a building that used the 3D solids they had learnt about in class. They selected the one that they wanted printed, calling it "This is it!" to make it easier for me to find when it came to printing.

All was going well until it came to the actual printing. We got some quick training on how to use the printer, but when I sat down to do it, it wasn't as easy as putting some paper in a printer and watching it do its work. The plastic didn't always come out smoothly where it was supposed to, so I had to sit and watch as it did its job to make sure it didn't mess up. These jobs were taking about 2 hours to print, so as you can imagine, I couldn't be there to babysit the machine the whole time as I had actual teaching to do! A couple of times the machine made a mess while I wasn't watching, leaving the jobs ruined and the nozzle in an icky mess.

A couple of jobs did make it through to completion, but only because I sat by the machine, cleaning gloopy bits off the nozzle as it worked. Then there were also the creations students made that didn't work because of their design. They looked great as digital creations, but when trying to print with plastic, they just weren't practical.

We haven't labelled it a complete failure yet, and maybe I'll get the chance to print a few more during the holidays, but it was far from a huge success! I am not ready to call it quits on 3D printing, I just wish our printer was a bit more reliable and easier to use. I guess I have a few more failures to work through before I'll be able to enjoy the successes. I'm sure the first paper printers were not without their faults either. I have vague recollections of the poor quality of colour printing from my teenage years.

Other Successes
That said, we did have some other successes using less complicated ICT technology this term. Students took photographs of 3D solids from different perspectives and created a PicCollage to share with others. These looked great when printed and we displayed them on the wall. They also built solids using construction materials and took one photograph of the net and one photograph of the solid and recorded the audio naming the solid using Explain Everything Classic. These were combined using iMovie and shared with the class for revision. In another lesson students built a 3D structure using blocks, took a photo and then demolished their house for another group to rebuild using the photograph as a guide.

When I look back over all the ICT successes with 3D solids, the problems with the printer seem minimal. My students still walked away with an excellent understanding of the names and properties of 3D solids and an ability to work with them in a range of ways.

What have been your early experiences with 3D printers? How did you overcome the challenges?

Monday, September 26, 2016

Beginning My Journey with ISTAA Experienced Teacher Accreditation

Due to my recent school move, I've found myself in a position of having to go through accreditation to demonstrate my level of teaching. In NSW/ACT Independent schools, this means applying for Experienced Teacher Accreditation with ISTAA (the Independent Schools Teacher Accreditation Authority). I'm not sure of all the logistics, or whether this is a requirement in all independent schools, however it is required in order to move up the pay scale in my school.

So, I applied and am now on the Experienced Teacher Accreditation journey. As you might imagine, this journey is mostly about capturing evidence of what is happening in the classroom in order to prove that I am demonstrating the descriptors of an Experienced Teacher. To make matters even more complicated, I have chosen the Action Research Pathway, which involves choosing an action research project, doing a literature review, putting forward a proposal, collecting data relating to the action research project, and reporting findings.

So far I have mostly been trying to get my head around what is required, and testing out a few ideas I could use as my action research. The biggest challenge I am finding so far is selecting an action research project that is simple enough to be achievable, yet broad enough to encompass a number of descriptors I need to demonstrate.

Areas of Interest

My plan at the moment is to focus on the use of formative assessment and feedback to enhance student learning. I have some examples of this in the classroom, but would like to improve the way my assessments are recorded so that I can analyse for patterns. I'd also like to improve the quality of the feedback that I provide, to make it more explicit and to ensure that students are able to use it to improve the next time they face something similar. This also means providing opportunities for students to make the adjustments and try again before too much time has passed. I'm also interested to see how students can reflect on their learning more effectively.

I'd also like to explore where parents fit into all of this. Is there a way to provide better feedback to parents along the way so that they can be addressing issues when they are relevant, rather than waiting until reports? Do parents want to be part of the learning process, or would they prefer it all to be done in-house?


Documentation forms a large part of the experienced teacher accreditation. Teachers need to be able to demonstrate in physical form a lot of the things that usually just take place in the day to day teaching environment, or sometimes within the teacher's head. Teachers make observations on how students are managing content and make adaptations in response to these observations. This is all unseen or at least unwritten. For the purposes of the accreditation, these things need to become seen and written.

In an attempt to do this, I've taken on using some tools a little more intentionally. Key tools so far are: Notes linked through iCloud, Notability and iDoceo.

I've begun recording my thoughts and actions in Notes on my phone/iPad/computer, similar to a diary. This is helping me to record those things that are happening during the day that may slip from my mind as time goes by. I'm finding it is also really helpful for organising my thoughts. I can add pictures that help demonstrate things, or photos of weird diagrams I draw on paper in attempt to make sense of the confusion!

I'm using Notability so that I can annotate the descriptors and highlight with a range of colours. I may also use it for annotating readings as I do my literature review.

iDoceo is a tool for managing assessments etc for your class. I am using it to help me with recording assessment and I am particularly liking the new rubric feature. I'm able to quickly make and use rubrics, collating the data at the same time. I decided to make a "class" for myself as well, with columns for all of the descriptors. I can now collect evidence and jot down ideas as annotations for all of the descriptors, and therefore track how I am progressing.

Moving Forward

As I continue with this journey I need to get serious about reading up on feedback and formative assessment. A few names that come to mind are John Hattie, Dylan Wiliam, and Dan Haesler. In looking quickly at Dan's website, he doesn't specifically mention "formative assessment and feedback" but from working with him at my previous school, I know that it is part of his repertoire. Perhaps the focus of my action research should be "growth mindsets" of which formative assessment and feedback are a large part. That gives more direction to what I am considering and provides a stronger starting point. That leads to the work by Carol Dweck, which will keep me busy for a while!

What suggestions do you have? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Tech Tips Tuesday

Using Opinion App for Podcasting

Last week I was reminded of the value of recording and sharing audio. I decided to attempt podcasting again, but this time with my class and my son. Shelly Fryer has been using Opinion App for podcasting with her class and it sounded really good, so I downloaded the app and tested it out.

For my first attempt at school, I kept it simple and asked students about their thoughts on Book Week. I recorded on the playground in the morning before school, and then invited my own class to add their thoughts as I went through the roll. I dabbled with some Garage Band myself, and made a little introductory tune (which one of my students says sounds too sleepy)! Uncertain of my school's policy for uploading podcasts online, I exported the recording as a file and then was able to add this to our internal website. I'm not sure if anyone has listened to it yet, as it's hard to know whether parents access the website.

Yesterday we recorded another episode, this time about how students were feeling in the lead-up to our school musical. I thought that I would do another after the musical so that students can see how their feelings changed. We also added a sample of the students singing one of their songs.

Opinion App is free, with the option to unlock unlimited recording (currently for $5.99). The free version allows you to record for 10 minutes, and so far I haven't needed more than this.

Getting Started
When you begin, you need to create an account, decide on a podcast name and upload an image to represent the podcast. If you're doing this with students it is nice to get the students to create the image. If you are planning to import audio you've created elsewhere, for example an opening song, it may be helpful to have a Dropbox or Google Drive account. Once you've completed these steps, you're ready to begin recording.

How it works
It is really simple to use, with only three main action buttons and a settings button.

To import an audio clip, select the middle button and find the location of the audio you wish to import. To navigate to Dropbox or Google Drive, select Other Apps/Locations/Dropbox or Google Drive. If you don't see what you need in your options, select More and then turn on the storage you would like to access. (You will probably need to have these Apps on your phone already.)

To record, simply push the record button and once the little face comes up, start speaking. Press the record button again once you're done.

To edit a recording, tap on it and then select whether you want to delete it or trim it. I had one of my students record his full name and was able to use the snipping tool to edit out the unwanted part without making it sound stilted.

Play, edit or re-order recording.
To change the order of the recordings in your podcast, drag using the right side of the recording bar on the main page.

To upload your podcast, select the "share square" and decide whether to post the episode or share it as a file. If you post the episode, you will be prompted to complete some additional information about the podcast and then it will be published online. Save the feed to direct people to it. If you would prefer to save it as a file, choose your preferred location from the available options.

For more information
If you want to create multiple podcasts or list your podcast on iTunes, the Opinion Podcasting website has more information in their FAQ.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Tech Tips Tuesday

Conversation Gems

How do you make the bumps bigger?
Today I was listening to Moving at the Speed of Creativity Podcast #445 and one thing that jumped out was the power of the voice. I realised that I've become hooked on needing pictures with my audio, and have lost my appreciation for the value of the voice. Wes Fryer is an excellent advocate for the recording of stories in audio format and this latest podcast got me thinking again. Thinking about how I've used audio in the past as well as thinking about how I could use it again now. I've been out of practice with podcasting, though I'm sure developments in technology would have only made it easier.

While my son and I ate dinner tonight, we listened back over some of the Voice Memos I have created in years past and we found it fascinating to hear some of the discussions we've had. I'm not sure what my inspiration was on the 18th September 2014, however something was, and it was the first time my son (then 3) had seen Voice Memos.

I'm sharing this audio recording, not because it's produced to a high quality and deserves to be shared, but more for the learning that happens in this moment. While slow at times, I feel it's a conversation gem. Hear his frustration as he struggles to understand what he is seeing on the screen of the phone. Listen as he solves the puzzle through responding to questions.

This is a snapshot of what we all face when trying something new with technology. The struggle of coming to terms with this new thing before us - What is it? What is it's purpose? How do I deal with it? Is it worth dealing with? Then, that experimentation to find the answers and solve the problems that are interwoven. And finally the support we get from others as we tie it all together.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Tech Tips Tuesday

Explain Everything

Simple Video Creation for Young Children

I have written about Explain Everything (Classic) before, but it's one of my go-to apps due to how useful it is for a variety of purposes. My kindergarten son is now getting to an age where he wants to share his ideas with others and is looking for ways to do this. We recently used Explain Everything to make a review video for a Lego kit he completed. He wanted to ensure his face wasn't shown and this allowed us to put together a video with audio, images and videos. It also meant that he was able to record the audio in short bursts so that he didn't get tangled in his words or add more than he needed.

He then entered the Drone Challenge at his school, which involved putting together a proposal for how a drone could be used to help the community. They were invited to present their ideas in a form of their choice. As it turned out, I feel it probably took us less time to make a movie than it would have taken to make a poster!

Once he had his idea he drew some pictures in Sketchbook and saved them to his photo library. Then, using Explain Everything he designed a title slide, followed by a slide explaining how it would work, a slide pointing out the parts of the drone and a slide for who would use it and the purpose. As it turned out, the judges liked his idea and so he won the prize for his age group! Yay!

In the classroom

Students can make short videos to demonstrate content knowledge. These can then be combined in a video editor (eg. iMovie) to make a class video that can be shared with the community on school websites or by creating an Aurasma aura. I did this recently with Explain Everything videos students made explaining the nets of 3D solids. I made a classroom poster with the Aurasma trigger and students showed their grandparents using class iPads on Grandparents Day.

Teachers can also use Explain Everything to collate student work and audio responses into a class product. I have done this simply by allocating a slide to each child, photographing their work and recording their audio as they explain their work. We then shared the final product in an assembly. 

I'm yet to explore the Collaborative Whiteboard aspect and the Project templates. From a quick glance they look good, but may require an account. I'd love to hear from anyone who's already using Explain Everything Discover. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

Blogger Behind This Blog #7

Teacher Mummy

Bad mummy - son plays ipad while
waiting for takeaway dinner!
Today I thought I'd write about what it's like to be a Teacher Mummy or, depending on your perspective, a Mummy Teacher. Some days it definitely feels like the lines are blurred, particularly when I come home to readers and homework, or find myself comforting a student who has fallen over! As I drove home from work one night this week, I found myself puzzling over this situation and realised how much being a mummy changed the whole game of teaching.


My class used to be "my kids". I was with them all day at school and then they were in my thoughts all night. I worried over them constantly and spent my spare thoughts planning our learning experiences. As I spent all my spare time focussed on their learning, I thought they could be using their spare time to learn as well. I encouraged them to use online resources like Mathletics, SuperClubs, Spellodrome etc. When a student didn't get their homework done, or had a dodgy lunch, or even came to school when they were sick, I made a judgement - and more often than not, blamed the parents. At the same time, I blamed myself for my inability to fix all the problems the kids had with learning and behaviour. It took a while for me to realise that some things are just personality things that can only be guided, not fixed. 


My class are still my kids, but they are not my only kids. They get me during work hours, and still invade my thoughts, but when I am at home, the Mummy kicks in. It has to. There is so much to do, and so few hours. I don't have as much time to do all the extra bits. I still plan all the lessons and try to be creative and innovative, but it needs to be done with less time for pausing and pondering. I use the driving time to iron out the wrinkles. Haven't worked out the certificates for assembly yet? Think it through as I drive. Not sure how I'll play out the grammar lesson? Bounce some ideas on the way to work. Frustrated with how the Maths lesson went? Work out how to approach it next time as I sit and wait at the lights. Lunch is a quick breather, a bite to eat, and then an opportunity to get things done.


There are, however, some special benefits to being a Teacher Mummy, especially this year as I teach Year 1 and my son is in Kindergarten. My class benefits because I know more about the things that interest 6 year olds. I can talk to them about Minecraft and Pokemon Go. I understand about playing soccer on weekends or going to swimming lessons. I know what all the latest Lego sets are! I know what has worked to grab my son's interest in reading, and how to help him understand something mathematical - so can use this with my class. If I'm not sure how a lesson will go, I can test the lesson out on him first or run it by him and see what he thinks. 
Teacher Mummy - son plays a game
to learn about numbers!

The flip-side also has its benefits. I share with him the things that have worked with my class. His learning is stretched beyond what he gets in class. I'm usually able to weave learning into our time together without it feeling like learning. I'm able to prompt him as he reads or writes and feel confident that I'm not messing him up! When he needs to write a speech, I have an idea of what that should look like.

I understand now how parents feel when it comes to their kids. They love them, want the best for them and also have challenges when it comes to managing time. I get what it's like to try and get a kid out the door in the morning with everything he needs for the day. I get what it's like to deal with a bouncy kid in the afternoon when you just feel wrecked yourself. I get what it's like to have your heart break when your kid tells you that someone was being mean to him. There are times when I've forgotten to pack a fork and others when I have refused to buy another spare hat for the week in the hopes that the old one will show up. I've even stalled buying new shoes as it got close to the end of the year. It's nice to know how parents feel and to be able to relate to them with a different level of understanding.


I feel that the challenges for me relate mostly to my connections with my son's teacher and school. 
I find I'm always trying to evaluate whether he's in the best place - and that's even when he's at the same school. I rarely get to any of his excursions or special events (even when I was at the same school). I barely know his teacher and how he's REALLY doing at school.

Time is also a challenge. There are times where I feel a terrible parent, dropping my son at before school care as soon as the doors open and picking him up from after school care after a staff meeting. When I've been at the same school, it's been just as guilt-laden. I struggled to get work done in the afternoon once he was in the room, asking for afternoon tea and wanting to play with me. There are also times when I really want to be able to spend more time working on something school related and just can't fit it in once I'm home.

What are your thoughts on this? How do you balance your home life and work life? Please leave a comment to share your thoughts.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Tech Tips Tuesday

Lego WeDo 2.0

This year I took on the role of STEAM facilitator for my area. This hasn't been too large a role, but has prompted me to pay more attention to what we are teaching and programming in the STEAM subjects. I have also been considering how to make connections between the STEAM subject areas, and how to set tasks for students that will involve them in solving problems using skills and knowledge from a variety of the subject areas. With this year's Science Week theme "Drones, droids and robots" we thought we would take advantage of this to get students involved in robotics.

Towards the end of Term 2 we purchased a class set of WeDo 2.0 Lego sets. With these sets students can build and modify a variety of Lego robots and programme them using the WeDo 2.0 app. I can't recommend these sets enough - they are simple to use, the app walks you through what to do and they don't take too long to build and enjoy! Students collaborate while working with them and learn to solve problems together, make adjustments and get creative in their designs. They learn basic engineering and programming skills and explore scientific concepts through experimentation.

Getting Started

When the sets arrived the Lego pieces arrived in their little plastic bags and needed to be sorted into the sections of the container. We had purchased 12 sets (a class pack) and so this was no quick job. I managed it by taking a few home at night and sorting while I watched TV! The benefit of doing this sort yourself is that you quickly learn where the pieces are stored and how many of each piece there should be. This means you are better able to help students find what they need when they get stuck.

In preparation I also charged up the Smarthubs and numbered each kit with a sticker for the lid and base. I followed the instructions from the manual (available on the website) to rename each Smarthub to make it easier for students to connect to the right robot. I learnt the value of this the hard way! I kept the cardboard boxes to store the kits in and found somewhere to store them.

Introducing the Kits

I introduced these kits to my students and walked them through the first couple of sessions to teach them the basics. They built their confidence with this and then I guided them in coaching the other Year 1 classes using the Kids Can Coach approach described here. I explained the importance of taking care of the kits and gave instructions on how to organise the workspace when using them and how to pack up properly at the end.

Science Week

Once each class had completed the basics with their coach from my class (1.5 hrs), we were ready to attempt another project. We found a project related to some science we completed earlier in the year, which involved building a tadpole and transforming it into a frog (1.5 hrs). Two classes paired up and went through the process together. I used the interactive whiteboard to walk students through the early steps in the project - thinking about the changes during a frog's lifecycle and documenting these changes - and then let them go when we reached the building stage.

The app takes students through building a tadpole and then adding the back legs. It is then up to them to consider what changes to make to turn it into a frog. It was exciting to see the variety of ideas students used for front legs and the modifications that were made as they began programming their robots to move. For those who progressed quickly through these stages I suggested thinking about how the robot could "see" (using the sensor) and croak (using the sounds available).  Students explored the programming side of things, initially beginning with the code provided and then making modifications to suit what they were wanting to achieve.

To finish off the week we had a timed challenge where 2 students from each class built and programmed a frog in 25 minutes and then raced them in front of the grade. The tension was great as the frogs raced off and classes cheered for their representative!

Going Forward

My plan now is to find opportunities where the robots will link in to the science units we are covering in class and to add it to the programmes for next year. We will also use the sets in our STEAM lunchtime program with students in Kindergarten and Year 1. Our students are very excited to use these sets and are benefitting from the learning experience.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

More Movement

I made another big move this year, but this time it wasn't just my place of employment. 

Rather, we packed up all our belongings and moved state. As always, there's been a bit of an adjustment period but now we're coming out the other side and I feel like it's easier to do the day to day living as well as take on the challenges that spark interest and infuse energy into my teaching practices. 

I'm very happy with the school I've landed in. The people are friendly, the students energetic and easily motivated, and the resources are fantastic. When I look at what we're doing and where we're headed it sits well with me. 

This post is really just a quick one as an update, but I hope to put a few more out in the coming weeks to share some of the new things I've been trying with my teaching.