Despite being well into the 21st century, schooling is still stuck in the 1900s, demanding consistency and conformity. Learning is driven by bells and timetables. School systems want learners to do the same thing, at the same time, in the same way.
If we’re to shift these issues in a child’s school career by 2040, we must transform the schooling system to adapt to the needs of learners and teachers.
Do Australian children have to spend so many hours at school?
Do teachers have to spend so many hours face-to-face teaching?
Does school have to be five days a week?
Can students have an opt-in day, so they only have to attend school for four days a week?
Last year I trialled digital learning logs with my Year 7 maths and science class, which you can read about here. Overall, I found it beneficial as my students were given regularly dedicated time to reflect on their learning, with a focus on what work they are proud of, the challenges they faced, how they overcame these challenges and what they can do differently next time. While students appreciated the time to stop and think about their learning, time was also a barrier to this initiative. Sometimes it felt like there was no time to do this and if we used lesson time to reflect, then we will fall behind. This challenge became very obvious in the last term of the year when students had a large number of assessments and end-of-year activities that we missed some of our dedicated time for learning logs.
So I’ve created the third iteration of the learning log, which only has six weekly reflection activities and a goal setting/tracking page that is equivalent to two weekly reflection activities. So there is a total of eight weekly activities, which provides a buffer for other things that come up during the term like assessments, excursions, incursions and other disruptions. I’ve changed some of the reflection activities to embed more extended writing which may be more suitable for older students. I’ve also incorporated an ACE score in some of the activities, which is a student self-assessment on their attitude, commitment and effort. This was inspired by Trangie Central School.
In high school, the curriculum often feels overcrowded and rushed. There are just too many things to cover and not enough time. However, it is important to give students the time to stop and think about what they are learning and how they are learning, which are important for becoming self-regulated learners. Students need to be supported to set goals, monitor their progress towards their goals, identify areas for improvement and evaluate the usefulness of different learning strategies.
Using learning logs to guide student reflection
Last term, I decided to prototype learning logs with my Year 7 mathematics and science class. We dedicated 50 minutes every week where we stopped “pushing through the curriculum” and wrote learning reflections. We used the learning log Google Slides template from the NSW Department of Education.
We wrote in our learning log every Friday, for ten weeks. In our dedicated learning log lessons, we would first brainstorm as a class what we have learnt in mathematics and science this week. We did this on Zoom using annotation tools as we were in remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I shared the following template on Zoom and students used the text annotation tools to do a class brainstorm. The template was modified from an existing Canva template.
After we have completed our weekly reflection brainstorm, I would ask volunteer students to unmute in Zoom and elaborate further on their thoughts. Students will then individually write in their learning logs.
Here are some samples of our reflections.
Benefits of learning logs to guide student reflection
I liked this learning log template because it provided students with a variety of reflection questions. This is opposed to asking students to write a reflection or journal entry as an extended writing activity, which many students find challenging because not only are they trying to think about their own learning, but they also have to learn the structure and language of reflective writing.
As a teacher, I also found these learning logs useful as a form of formative assessment. I can use the students’ self-assessment on what they are confused about or from their questions on the topic to guide my lesson planning for the next week.
Challenges of learning logs and student reflection
Some of the challenges we faced were some students wrote very little in their learning logs at first and I had to work quite intensively with them to write more for each reflection question. Some students also did not yet see the value of reflection and completed the entries with minimal thought and as quickly as possible. However, their attitude and work standard improved over the term.
A huge challenge was TIME. As I mentioned earlier, the curriculum is overcrowded and learning often feel rushed. At the start, I found myself questioning whether I can spare 50 minutes each week for learning logs. However, after persisting for a term, I think the time is worth it. Having dedicated time to support students to self-assess, to think about their own learning and reflect on their successes will help them grow into self-regulated learners.
Where to next
Next term, I am going to continue the learning log with my Year 7 class, but I’m going to change some of the reflection questions. I would like to move them towards reflecting more on learning strategies and the significance of what they are learning. There are some sample reflection questions from an Edutopia post that I would like to incorporate. Eventually I would like to make better links between the learning log and their goal setting processes.
If you are thinking about embedding student reflection in your lessons, I would highly recommend scheduling a dedicated time for it each week/fortnight. Giving it class time show students the activity is valued. It is not something they do at home or done as an extension activity. While it does take time away from continuing with content, it is worth slowing down and allowing students to think about their learning. The learning log template I mentioned earlier is a great way to start.
I have a STEM class this year again. Yippee! The last time I had a STEM class was in 2019 and their first project was the cardboard games challenge, which I have previously blogged about. This year, my class is different (every class is different) and according to their pre-tests, needed more support in working effectively in teams and more guidance in designing fair investigations and communicating their findings. So we decided to dive into some mini challenges to launch into STEM, before settling into longer-term projects. The series of mini challenges are low prep, low cost, quick to do and are designed for students to consolidate the skills they need for more complex projects. The processes, scaffolds and success criteria are repeated with each mini challenge and are designed so there is a gradual release of responsibility.
This blog post contains an outline of each mini challenge and the resources I used. I used them with my Year 8 class, but they can be adapted to younger or older students. This post also contains a brief reflection on what worked well and what can be done differently.
Launch into STEM
Our project outline is shown in the graphic below.
Mini challenge one – rotocopters
The first mini challenge was rotocopters. This is a very easy challenge so students can focus on developing their skills to identify independent, dependent and controlled variables, selecting and using appropriate equipment to make measurements, using basic statistics to analyse results and writing an investigation report. When students have done this challenge once, they can start changing the design of the rotocopters to have it fall slower, spin faster, etc. To support students to brainstorm on ideas and negotiate on an agreed idea, we used a PMI chart.
I used the following scaffold and success criteria to help students design a fair investigation and to write an investigation report.
Our second mini challenge was straw rockets from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The NASA website has everything you and your students need, from written and video instructions on making the rockets to explanations on how rocket propulsion works. While this challenge seems easy, the extension opportunities are endless. We used the same scaffolds from the rotocopter challenge so students can get another go at improving their work. They can implement the feedback they got for the rotocopter challenge. For the air rockets, I introduced the following reflection questions for students to complete at the end of the challenge.
How much did you know about air rockets before this experiment?
What problems did you have with this experiment? This may include working in a team.What did you learn about yourself in this experiment? This may include working in a team.
Did you do your work the way other people did theirs? Explain.
What is one thing you would like to improve on if you did the experiment again?
If you were the teacher, what comments would you give to your work?
Mini challenge three – parachute challenge
Everything we did for the rotocopters and air rockets led to students being successful at this final challenge – to design a parachute for space exploration. Again, NASA has great resources for this. Check out their Eggstronaut Parachute Challenge.
We used the same processes, scaffolds and success criteria as the previous mini challenges. Students have done these processes twice and have received feedback twice. The parachute challenge is the time for them to become more independent learners. Instead of me pacing the students and releasing scaffolds as they are needed, students were given a project booklet and were allowed to pace themselves within a provided timeline.
When all three mini challenges were completed, each student had multiple samples of work from each challenge that showcase similar skills in designing fair investigations, communicating the results of investigations, and reflections on working in a team. Students can use these work samples to explain how they have grown over the term and how they implemented feedback to improve their work with each mini challenge.
So, what did the students think?
The class did an evaluation of the project. Here are some of their responses to what they liked most about the project.
I enjoy that we are given freedom in our projects to work creatively and not just writing in books.
I really love how our teacher is really understanding when it comes to our work because she does not pressure us like other teachers.
[I like] The rocket experiment, the parachute experiment and filling out the report.
What to do differently next time
Even though the project was designed so it accumulated to a portfolio in the end, many students ran out of time to document their learning progress. I also did not explicitly teach how to create a digital portfolio and articulate learning growth as well as I wanted to. Again the term got away from us.
Explanation texts is another aspect I would like to have taught more explicitly. Each mini challenge required students to explain the forces behind the rotocopter, air rocket and parachute and use forces to explain how their design changes worked. If I had my time again, I would have provided more scaffolding for students to express cause-and-effect relationships and how to move their writing from spoken-like to written-like.
During the October school holidays, I read Running the Room: The Teacher’s Guide to Behaviour by Tom Bennett. As indicated in the title, the book is on managing student behaviour in the classroom. I’ve been teaching for nearly 13 years and I don’t think I have nailed classroom management (but I don’t think any teacher can say they have perfected any part of their practice, in any stage of their career). Classroom management is complex and this book offers lots of evidence-informed and practical strategies for all teachers, regardless of their experience and career stage, in a non-preachy way. The key messages I got from the book are
Be organised and plan ahead so that it is easy for students to behave and hard for them to misbehave.
Create a class culture where it is the norm for students to behave in a way that lets them and others learn.
The book talks a lot about how people’s behaviours can be different when they are by themselves and in different group situations. A classroom and a school are large group situations and teachers need to create and sustain a culture where it is the norm to do the right thing.
The book re-affirmed a lot of things I’m already doing and gave me new ideas to trial as a teacher and a school leader. Here are 3 things I’ve learnt from the book.
1. Routines, routines and routines
I’ve always been a big fan of routines and Running the Room reaffirmed this practice for me. Explicit routines prevent behaviour problems from arising and helps create the class culture and norms. My classes have routines for starting a lesson, ending a lesson, entering different classrooms, how to transition between activities, etc. I have sometimes thought I was going overboard with the routines in terms of their detail and how we actually acted them out. E.g. We would practise how to line up, enter the classroom, etc. We go through these routines and practice them at the start of every term.
After reading the book, I am more confident that these routines support my students’ learning. I’m going to go further this term and trial practising the routines more regularly. So instead of going through them at the start of the term, going through them at least twice a term. The book emphasised that routines need to be taught, practised and re-taught BEFORE a problem occurs. Don’t wait for an issue to arise to re-teach a routine.
I’m also going to trial establishing more explicit routines for students to observe teacher science demonstrations, how to break off into small groups of science practical work, how each group collects and returns equipment, how each group asks for assistance and how homework is collected, distributed and returned.
Below are some of the routines for my Year 7 class, which I have further adjusted after reading the book, such as specifying the number of minutes that students must arrive to class after the bell (so there are no misunderstandings).
Of course, consequences are not all negative. Rewards and praise are needed to reinforce positive behaviours. Reading the book reminded me I need to be recognise my students more frequently for positive behaviours and avoid rewarding some students disproportionately. I have decided to trial using Class Dojo again to help keep track of positive behavious and support all students in gaining school merits.
2. Plan your consequences BEFORE you need to use them
Like all teachers, I’ve kept students in for detentions, called parents for misbehaviours and placed students on behaviour contracts. These things are bound to happen. Running the Room recommends planning and scripting how you will do these things BEFORE you have to do them. The purpose is to have a basic scaffold of what you are going to say and how you will respond in these situations. If you are an early career teacher, you can try role playing and practising what you are going to say to students/parents with a more experienced teacher.
In my earlier years of teaching, I had reflection sheets for students to complete when they are in detention to facilitate a conversation to support them to choose more appropriate behaviours in the future. I have no idea why I stopped using these sheets (perhaps because as I became more experienced, the number of detentions I’ve had to give has decreased), but I have now revamped them and them printed and ready to be used. I’ve also decided to let my students know how detentions will be operated so we have a clear understanding before they happen.
3. Have a removal strategy in place before you need it
Before I go any further with this, the book emphasises that removal should not be done on an ad hoc basis and it should be an unusual event in mainstream classrooms. However, sometimes there will be situations where a student needs to be temporarily removed from the class and a removal strategy should be in place before it is needed. This is something I want to work on as a Head Teacher. Do I have an agreed process with the teachers I supervise for the unlikely event that a student needs to be removed from class so that all students, including the student being removed, can continue learning? When such an event occurs, the class teacher should not have to think about who and where the student is to be sent to, what the student should be doing while removed from class, what happens after the removal, etc. It is important that students should know this process before they are removed (which hopefully will be never).
Overall, the book is one of the best books I have read on behaviour management. I love the emphasis on planning ahead and deliberately planning how you will run the room and set the class culture and norms. As emphaised in the book, these strategies are “rising tides – ones that lift all ships.”
In NSW, Australia, NSW public schools moved to a ‘learning from home’ model on 24 May 2020, due to increased restrictions to combat COVID-19. Parents were asked to keep their children at home if they could learn from home Overnight, we moved from face to face teaching to online remote teaching and learning. Like many other teachers, I started to experiment with using online meetings. This is what I have found to be useful.
1. Play around with different tools
I tested Adobe Connect, Microsoft Teams and Zoom for online live lessons with my classes. Overall, I prefer to use Zoom with my students for the following reasons:
Many of them already use it with family and friends.
Many of their parents use it so they know how to help if required.
It has breakout rooms that is easy to set up and use (more on this later).
It generates a meeting link that you can use over and over. I have this link as the top post on Google Classroom so it is easy to find for students. See here for instructions on how to create a link for recurring meetings.
For staff teams, I prefer Microsoft Teams for online meetings as it offers a more efficient experience. Microsoft Teams is the easiest to run an online meeting when you have everyone you need in your Team. You literally just click a button and voila! I like how Microsoft Teams allows for staff teams to be broken into smaller teams through Channels (Eg. Our Year 7 Middle School team has a main Microsoft Team and then the STEM teachers and Humanities teachers have their own Channels. If you run a science faculty for example, you can have all of your teachers in the main Channel and then break off smaller teams of teachers into their own Channels like a separate Channel for each Year 11/12 subject.) In those channels, teachers can easily run their own online meetings.
You can also collectively take notes while you have an online meeting in Microsoft Teams. We ran an executive meeting on Teams and notes were taken live during the meeting. Everyone can see the minutes being entered.
You can also schedule online meetings in Microsoft Teams, but it’s trickier than Zoom if you work in a NSW public school. The video below shows how to do it. It’s important to let colleagues know who is starting the live meeting. Otherwise you may have enthusiastic teachers going into Teams early and then starting the meeting and end up two different meetings happening simultaneously.
After a few weeks of testing, it’s important to discuss a whole school approach to online meetings and come to a consensus on which online meeting tool to use with students. This is particularly important in high school where a student can have up to 8 different teachers and it will be challenging for them to use a different online meeting tool for each teacher.
2. Keep online live lessons short
I like to keep online live lessons at around 20 to 30 minutes. Our school periods are 50 minutes and that is way too long in an online lesson environment. Think about the purpose of the online live lesson. If it’s to explicitly explain a concept (eg. how to add fractions with different denominators), then it is better to record a video rather than a live meeting. I like to use live meetings for welfare check-in’s, collaborative discussions and feedback; basically things that cannot be done effectively with a recorded video on online posts.
3. Use breakout rooms
I like to use breakout rooms in Zoom for students to have small group discussions (about 3 to 4 students). Breakout rooms are where you can send students into their own online meeting spaces and you as the teacher can ‘drop in’ and monitor each one. It’s the online version of separating students into smaller groups in a classroom and the teacher walking around. Students have more opportunities to actively participate in an online discussion and some are more willing to when they are in smaller groups. You can randomly assign students to breakout rooms or choose your own student groups.
Breakout rooms can also be done in Microsoft Teams.
4. Give students something to do while they are waiting
In a regular face to face classroom, I start every class with a quick quiz. This is for several reasons:
Retrieval practice – The questions I set requires them to remember content they have learnt in previous lessons, which helps them to consolidate the information into their long term memory.
Classroom management – As soon as students walk in, they have something to do. They have to unpack their equipment and they have to engage with the course work straight away. It allows me to manage students coming into the classroom at different times. Some may be coming from the classroom next door and others are walking from the other end of the school. The quick quiz mean I have a five minute window of ensuring everyone is on task and attentive. It’s a good crowd control strategy. I can also mark the roll.
An online live lesson is very similar to a face to face class. Some students will log on before you do. Others will log on a few seconds after you. And others will log in minutes later. I like to use the Polls feature in Zoom for retrieval practice. I usually do 3 to 5 multiple choice questions for them to do in Polls while I allow students into the meeting from the lobby.
I also like to use the Whiteboard feature to tell them they need to be answering the questions in Polls, list the meeting’s agenda, learning goals, etc.
5. Set and practise routines
An online live class needs to have learning routines and they need to be explicitly taught, just like in a face to face classroom. I like to start my online live classes the same way every time – the quick quiz in Polls and use the Whiteboard to communicate what we are doing in this online class (and tick them off as we go). Students know they have to use the hands up features to ask a question and they know when and why to use the chat. Some teachers like to disable the chat, but I like it. Yes, my students have used it to talk about irrelevant things, but 99% of the time they use the chat to help each other and alert me to technical issues (like the YouTube clip I’m trying to share is glitchy).
Overall, my students really value live online classes. I think they value the connection with each other and with their teachers. As we move into Term 2 where they may be a continuation with remote teaching or some sort, I would like my students to lead the online live lessons more. Have them share their screens and show their work or use breakout rooms where there is a student leader to facilitate the discussions.
Last year I started prototyping with teaching and learning strategies based on cognitive science. I was particularly interested in how to design and structure learning to support students to consolidate knowledge and skills into long term memory. Some of the things I did were:
Prototyping promising practices with retrieval practice, goal setting and metacognition with the science and HSIE faculties at my school
This year I want to prototype knowledge organisers. A knowledge organiser is an A4 template that succinctly shows the reader (student/parent/teacher) what is essential to know for a particular topic. Knowledge organsers are not new. I’ve seen them on UK EduTwitter for a number of years but I think they are not that widely used in Australia. For a really good post on knowledge organisers, see Joe Kirby’s blog on how knowledge organisers are used at Michaela Community School.
For me I’m trialling knowledge organisers with my Year 7 maths/science class. I’ve made these knowledge organsiers so far for the introduction to high school science topic.
This is how I’m going to use them:
Students to use the look cover check correct process to learn one section of the knowledge organiser at a time. Students choose one section of a knowledge organiser to focus on, read the information, cover that section, write what they remember, check their retrieved version with the knowledge organiser and then correct it with a different coloured pen. This will first be done in class and then moved to homework tasks. Students will receive a copy of the knowledge organisers in their homework folders so that their parents/carers know what they are learning at a glance and can use them to quiz their children.
Use the knowledge organiser to develop low-stakes quizzes. Students can also use the knowledge organiser to quiz each other.
Once students have practised using knowledge organisers in a range of ways and have these routines automated, retrieval practice using knowledge organisers can become the class work students do when the regular teacher is absent.
I make the knowledge organisers in PowerPoint. Click on this link to download the PowerPoint files and make a copy if you’d like to edit the knowledge organisers to suit your needs and the needs of your students.
In NSW, Australia, teachers, children and young people are getting ready for another year of school. Like many teachers, I like to kick off the year with some ice breaker and team building games. I like to think of my classes as learning communities and for my students to learn how to effectively work with each other, they need to know each other (I’m a science and STEM teacher so many activities involve group work and group projects).
A few years ago, I did team teaching with a drama and dance teacher and was amazed at how well her classes worked together, in a level I have not experienced my science classroom. In these drama and dance classes, students worked productively together. They weren’t afraid to make mistakes in front of each other. They knew how to support each other. They were attuned to each other. I initially thought maybe these classes were just composed of students who were already good friends which is why the group dynamics were so good. But the drama/dance teacher assured me A LOT of work goes into building group dynamics. So I’ve been looking into drama games that would work well in non-drama classes as ALL classes would benefit from developing from students who work well with each other, who empathise with each other, who trust each other and respect each other.
Catch my name – This game helps the class learn each other’s names. Students sit in a circle and a soft object like a small bean bag is thrown to students. The thrower says their name and throws it to another student who says their name when they catch it and throw it to the next student. In subsequent rounds students will need to say their own name and the student’s name they throw the object to. I found this game on Drama Toolkit, where a more detailed description of the game can be found.
Group walks – These are activities that build students’ physical awareness. While such drama games are targeted at developing actors’ awareness of each other’s physical presence on stage, it can also be beneficial for non-drama classes. Being taught to be physically aware of each other’s presence can help students work and learn effectively in large spaces like science labs or open learning spaces. A simple version of this game is to have students walk around in a large space slowly doing various movements like hopping and they need to make sure they don’t bump into each other. Variations and progressions of this game can be found in this blog post.
Count to 20 – I really like this game. As a class, students have to start counting from 1 to 20. Only one student can speak at a time. Any student can start counting and any student can continue the following numbers. However, there is no verbal coordination of who speaks first or next. If two or more students end up saying a number then the class starts from 1 again. See here for a detailed description of the game.
I really like how these games intentionally teach students to work productively as a team. Almost all teachers and all subjects require students to work effectively as a class. These games can be one way of deliberately teaching these skills.
I really liked how the Ozobots were being used to create a moving model of eclipses, which is quite difficult to do without coded robots that automatically move (I have never found children holding basketballs and moving around another child holding a torch work well).
This term our school got hold of some Ozobots through the STEMShare initiative and I was able to test out how Ozobots can be used to enhance students’ understanding of the nitrogen cycle. Matter cycles through ecosystems, particularly the nitrogen cycle, can be quite difficult to conceptualise. Common activities include showing students diagrams of the nitrogen cycle, videos and getting students to physically model the cycle by pretending to be nitrogen particles themselves. However, just like eclipses, Ozobots provide an opportunity for students to create an annotated moving model to better visualise the processes.
So last Friday, my Year 9s used Ozobots to create a narrated video explanation of the nitrogen cycle with the Ozobot acting as a nitrogen particle. Here’s one of the videos.
The videos were created in an 80 minute lesson. What I really liked about using the Ozobots was that it gave students the opportunity to work in teams and talk to each other about the nitrogen cycle. They worked in teams of 2 to 3 students draw the map, negotiate the narration and film the video. The activity gave them an opportunity to test and clarify their understanding of the nitrogen cycle with each other. The activity allowed students to determine if they really understand the nitrogen cycle. Prior to this, we had already done many other activities of the nitrogen cycle (worksheets, question and answer sessions, quizzes) and many students were confident they understood the nitrogen cycle. However, when it came to creating the narrated video with the Ozobots, many found that they didn’t know the nitrogen cycle as well as they thought they did.
Next time, I would also ask students to create a map so that the Ozobot wouldn’t be travelling in a nice unidirectional cycle but back-and-forth through different components of the ecosystem.
I’m big on learning routines. I’m a strong believer that predictable lessons that follow a similar structure every time allows students to learn more effectively. I started at a new school last term and learning routines have been particularly important in establishing my expectations with my students.
I always start the lesson in the same way. Every lesson kicks off with a “Quick Quiz”. For most of my classes, the Quick Quiz involves me writing three to four sentences on the board with missing words (key vocabulary or concepts for the topic). These sentences are based on the concepts of the previous lessons or topics. The Quick Quiz is always on the board before students enter the classroom. As soon as they enter the room, they have to copy and complete the quiz. The quiz takes about 5 minutes to complete. I’ve been doing the Quick Quiz in 3 different schools now and have found it to be effective. I really like the Quick Quiz routine because:
Students are regularly revising the key concepts.
It’s a great settling routine. It encourages students to take out their equipment immediately as they enter the classroom.
It gives me sufficient time to do administrative tasks like mark the roll, check uniforms, lend pens to students who need them and settle students who need additional assistance.
It’s accessible to all students. If they don’t know the missing words, they can still copy the sentences. I also encourage them look back in their books to search for the answer if they don’t know.
It’s a form of formative assessment. I end the Quick Quiz by randomly selecting students to provide their answers (I have a no hands up rule for answering questions and use the Randomly app to select students to answer). It lets me gauge how well they have remembered the key concepts from previous lessons.
I have had to adjust the Quick Quiz routine at my new school for my Year 9 class who told me they found the filling in missing words too easy. The limitations of using a cloze passage style quiz is that it mainly allows revision of key terms and concepts based on recall. So I’ve changed the Quick Quiz for Year 9 to be on a worksheet with a combination of multiple choice questions, cloze passages and open ended questions. I place the worksheets near the door so as the enter the classroom, they take a worksheet and complete it. I still use the Randomly app to randomly select students to give the answer to each question. So far the Year 9s have said they prefer the worksheet version of the Quick Quiz.
This version of the Quick Quiz requires more effort and preparation from me and I don’t think I’d be able to do this for all of my classes on a long term basis. But so far it has worked really well for Year 9s.
How do you start your lessons? Do you have lesson starter routines that you find particularly effective?