Monday, 27 February 2017

Inquiry Focus 2017

Today during our staff meeting we broke off into collaborative groups to introduce and discuss what our inquiry focus was for the year. Many teachers are focusing on an aspect of Maths since that is what our school wide inquiry is based on. It was interesting to see where teachers were at in terms of their inquiry and to listen and share ideas with each other.

Friday, 24 February 2017


What is Paideia?

The Paideia method is a way of providing deep dialogic discussions. Its origin stems back to Socrates, the Greek philosopher. It involves having to have a talk about something that is very topical that requires you to research, think about things in a much deeper way, to struggle with ideas, look at alternatives and different ways of approaching something. It pushes students to look at multiple perspectives, challenge those perspectives, and justify why they took those perspectives.

The year 5 & 6 students got the chance to work with Anne Sinclair this week who is an expert in the field of education. They were introduced to the Paideia method which is a way of learning that can provide opportunities for deep dialogic discussions. This process will hopefully improve the communication and critical thinking skills of the students. A set of mini tasks were provided that enabled students to work in small groups and to think about the issues surrounding a statement or image.

This was one example:

Students were expected to think, talk with others and provide reasons for their thinking. They had to justify their thinking and needed to be able to communicate their ideas with others. They also learnt how to listen and respond effectively, as well as how to disagree agreeably. During this task I noticed that some students were more vocal than others. A few would dominate most of the conversations and the majority seemed to hold back and were reluctant to share their ideas. The next step would be to find ways to encourage the others to participate and share their thoughts. So far the activities have been interesting, but I would like to see other students gaining the confidence to speak their mind.

Monday, 20 February 2017


I have the privilege of being a member of the SPARK MIT group in 2017. My initial proposed inquiry was: How to improve problem solving and critical thinking skills through use of coding and robotics?’

Today we met for the first time as a group at SPARK Headquarters in Auckland City. We also met with Lynne Le Gros (SPARK Foundation) and her team. Our first task was to identify and share what our problem was regarding our inquiries. Then we brainstormed lots of different hypotheses for why the problem was occurring and shared these with the group.

After quite a bit of thinking and discussion around our inquiries I have decided to alter my inquiry proposal to: ‘How to improve critical thinking skills through the use of code and deep dialogic discussions?’

After looking at some of the recent PAT and STAR data from the Year 7 & 8 Extension group, I have found that the majority of our extension students are not achieving above the national norm in literacy. Most are achieving at the national standard (between stanines 4 - 6), but these are our brightest students in their cohort who should be striving to achieve well above the national mean.

The following is a list of hypotheses:

  • The majority of our extension students are not achieving above the norm in literacy (PATs and STAR) because they need to develop critical thinking skills
  • Students need to be encouraged/pushed to grapple with harder concepts to extend their thinking
  • Need to be exposed to a range of texts - multi-modal/wider and deeper
  • Need to learn to question/argue/challenge/build on thinking and expressing of ideas
  • Need to close the gap in knowledge and experience between students who know how to code and those who don’t
  • Must make sure that learning is visible, and that students have access to resources and exemplars
  • Students need to be taught how to use thinking tools more effectively e.g. SOLO
  • Students need to know what next level looks like - expectations
  • Students need more support from home to extend learning at home
  • Students need to have access to their own data - to reflect, set next learning goals
  • More student ownership/empowerment of learning is needed
  • We need to find ways to raise the ceiling in student achievement at school

I am looking forward to another year with the SPARK MIT group.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Reflection SPARK MIT 2016

2016 has been a really interesting year in terms of the SPARK MIT Programme. Not only did I receive extra time and support to focus on my inquiry, but I had the opportunity to meet and learn from others in the programme. Out of a group of 10 from the Manaiakalani schools, there were three from Pt England School: Matt, Karen and myself. I knew some of the teachers from the other local schools in our area, but it was great to meet other teachers from the outreach clusters.

I enjoyed the time spent with the group as we shared ideas and reflected on our inquiry journeys at SPARK headquarters in the city. Lynne Le Gros, General Manager of the SPARK Foundation, was always available to listen and to share her stories, views and advice. We also had the chance to meet with Sera and Mary who are also part of the SPARK Foundation team.

I would just like to thank Dorothy Burt and Juanita Garden for their time, support and encouragement over the year. Thanks also to Lynne and the SPARK Foundation for the opportunity to focus on our inquiry. Last but not least, thanks to the teachers who shared their journey with me. All the best in the New Year.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

SPARK MIT Presentation 2016 and Inquiry Findings

Inquiry Findings 2016 from SchoolTV on Vimeo.

This movie is about my SPARK MIT inquiry this year. It was based on the question: How to use film to improve writing achievements for students? I presented my inquiry at this years Manaiakalani Hui, ULearn (Rotorua) and at one of our staff meetings.

The movie also shares some results from the easTTle writing data. It was great to see that many students made shifts well above the expected national shift in writing.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Inquiry Collaborative Meeting

On Tuesday afternoon we met as a staff to talk about our inquiry focus. We split into small discussion groups and had the opportunity to reflect on our inquiries and share some gems.

I shared a few key ideas:

1) Using snippets of interesting footage (e.g. Olympics) was good for engagement and motivation of writing. Keeping it short and to the point is the key.

2) Consider using a short movie with no dialogue. Students have to write a script/story based on the movie alone. Use visual cues to describe/explain/narrate what is happening in the story.

3) Teaching how to use punctuation e.g. speech marks: Peer assessment is always helpful. Create a doc with a couple of paragraphs of writing. Exclude any form of punctuation and allow the students to make a copy of the doc before editing. Peer assess.

I also brought up an issue that I had been thinking about. There was no clear link/connection between my planning and the class planning for writing lessons in Extension class. Basically I was free to plan my own lessons based on the needs of my group. I wondered whether I needed to collaborate more with the teachers in Teams 4 and 5. This issue was put to the group/panel of teachers.

Here's what they came up with:

- Awesome that they can work together as a group (Extension) to do something different.
- Might become too boring if they have to do the same thing in class in extension.
- (Me) Easier to plan to suit my programme and timeframes available for classes.

Friday, 7 October 2016

ULearn 2016 Day 3

Enhancing Thought-Full Classroom Dialogue - Karen Boyes

For children they feel both the fear of failure and success.
Tri-Une Brain

Turning fear into fun - students who laugh more learn more! Its ok not to know or to fail
Frontal lobe is part of brain we are trying to influence.
Higher order thinking to emotional to lower order
If children are hungry they can not learn - can’t do higher order thinking if they are under stress

Turning fear into fun - students who laugh more learn more! I

When asking kids questions don’t just stop at the right answer, keep encouraging them to answer.
Say thank you and encourage participation.
Be non-judgemental and build a safe classroom environment so that they give their ideas

Manage impulsivity - encourage students to take time to think
Give students enough time to think - at least 7 to 10 seconds (pause time)
Think, pair, share - helps to clarify ideas

Need to teach children how to listen.
Listening and understanding with empathy.

Listening sequence: Pause, paraphrase, Probe (inquire and clarify).

How to hang on to an idea - repeat a key word or idea in head, connect with what is being said to a similar experience, visualise what is being said. In a noisy environment - need to lean in more, focus on face, maybe lip read. Speaker can slow down speech.

When you really listen there are values e.g. respect, curiosity, etc

Teaching oral language is extremely important. When teachers use great language in context, children will learn it. Use language of thinking e.g. compare, predict, analyse.

Metacognition: Think aloud problem solving (TAPS). Strategy is important for students for efficiency of answers - but it's not a reflection of intelligence.

I enjoyed this workshop as the presentation was engaging, interesting and I walked away with some useful strategies to try out.

Building thinking and mathematic capabilities through coding in the primary school

Leamington School

General skills being developed when engaging in coding activities.
Coding presented an authentic learning opportunity to learn about positional language, instructions and shape (geometry)

Apps: Scratch Jr, Daisy the Dinosaur, Pyonkee (All three available on ipads)

Lightbot used to cover basic introductory elements of coding.

Core school values and SAMR model underpinned focus on coding strategy pathway. Juniors spent time outside focusing on positional language and direction before looking at coding language.

App called Tickle used to control robots. Use knowledge of Pyonkee to code robots to make shapes. Used Ollie/Sphero. Activities involved problem solving, thinking and communicating.

Daisy the Dinosaur and Scratch Jr - used by Junior school children. Over time, completed basic challenges with a partner. Used whiteboards to model drawing the shape/letter. Success Criteria used. Taught how to provide effective peer feedback.

Discovered that there was a huge shift in knowledge after children experienced coding activities.

App was created to record children using ipad. Then they analysed thinking skills data. Studio code programme. 

Learning to code was the vehicle, but they were interested in evaluating which thinking skills were being developed. Weighting against higher order thinking was significant. Coding activity was an excellent environment for teaching and allowing children to think. Great to work in pairs or in threes (for communication, reinforcing skills and knowledge, and thinking)

Next step - Robotics, Java scripting etc

Great workshop with some interesting ideas of how to use it in the classroom and evidence to back it up.

Karen Spencer - Final Keynote Speaker
'Beyond the echo chamber: The extraordinary possibilities of a networked profession'

Praxis makes perfect - weaving and intertwining of ideas. 

Methods that we adopt for our craft is important for teaching. Professional learning today is driven by teachers.

'A Key Note' - is the one that sets the tone for a song
Teachers make the biggest difference
Conversations with our students are important to check that if we are adding value to their understanding and learning.

Hold the line - trial something first to see if your student or community needs it. Before trialling anything do 3 things: find the most urgent area that students need most, see the story behind the data, embrace discomfort. 'Hold our ideas lightly'.

Teachers are constantly designing solutions to educational problems.
NZ curriculum document is great starting point to identify areas of need.
A future focused vision: inclusion of disabled
Pause before you leap into the next innovation - look for the need.

Maori students voices - gathered on the marae though safety net of tikanga and protocol.
Treat student voices like art.

We only see things through our own biases. Teachers have different perceptions, perspectives and experiences. We need to embrace discomfort. Teachers make a lot of assumptions about what constitutes good teaching. We can't assume what people need.

How to include diverse views in school. Role is to keep the fear off the set (John Cusack Rule). Celebrate diversity. We need to acknowledge differences.

What is research likely to say? Look for evidence/proof that new idea is working before trialling something new.