My #EduGoals for 2016

In many areas of Australia, the new school year is about to start. In the state of New South Wales, many schools return this week. As the new school year beckons, I’m like many teachers who are thinking about their educational goals (EduGoals) for the new year. Here’s my 3 EduGoals for 2016:

1. Using learning spaces to further enhance teaching and learning

classroom

My classroom this year

Last year I was very lucky to have received a bunch of more flexible furniture from John Goh. To put things in context, I’ve always been very lucky to have a “nice” learning space. The science lab I’m in was only refurbished in 2010 so my classes and I have always worked with new furniture. However, when I began my project based learning journey in 2012, I realised that the standard two-seater rectangular tables were no longer working. Students wanted a space where they can easily transition from whole-class instruction/discussion, to small group work and to individual work. The space, as it was, was very effective for whole class instruction, but not for small group work where students needed to collaborate and often worked on different projects at different paces. For the next few years, students spilled out into the hallways, took up nearby classrooms if they weren’t being used and even moved out into the quad in order to work on their projects as a team.

I’m hoping that with this new set up, more space is created. John enlightened me last year when he told me that it’s not about furniture, it’s about space. For a long time I’ve always looked at how to get round tables or pac-man shaped tables so that 30 students can have their own desk. It isn’t about that. It’s about creating space to learn. At the moment there’s only enough table space for 24 students. However, students can sit on the floor or move over to the “wet” area of the lab where there are standing desks. I gave away lots of my original furniture in order to do this. I think I still need to get rid of more.

I’m continuing to ensure the walls of the classroom is used for learning. I visited a New Zealand school a few years ago where the teacher said: “Anyone, doesn’t matter if it’s a student, teacher, parent or someone else, should be able to walk into a classroom and know what the class is learning and doing immediately without asking anyone.” I haven’t used my classroom walls for “decoration” for a few years now. The walls are filled with our learning routines, our “topics”, current projects, relevant learning strategies and displays of student work.

stuck posters

Posters of strategies to encourage independent thinking and problem solving

classroom wall

Timetable and posters showing current topics for different key learning areas

 

2. Using technology to further enhance teaching and learning

Last year, I played around with OfficeMix. I really like how it is an addition to PowerPoint and can create videos that work across all platforms. This year I’m going to be using OfficeMix to create a flip classroom for maths. I’m planning to have students sign in so that I can get analytics and use that to inform my future practice. I’m also going to get back into OneNote. I’ve been following the work of Pip Cleaves in how she is using OneNote to create staff and class notebooks. I’m keen to see how it can work for me, my faculty, my students and my school.

 

3. Using video to improve my practice

Classroom observations is a key strategy in teachers reflecting on, and further improving on their practice at my school. I’d like to step it up this year and include video analysis when a colleague observes me. Having a video recording to look back on would seem to enrich the feedback from the colleague in the post-observation meeting. I know video analysis of teacher practice is done regularly at some schools and I’d like to try that personally.

 

4. Finding work/life satisfaction

Last year was my first year of full time work after returning from maternity leave. My baby is now 18 months old. Being a parent and a full time teacher plus a leader is challenging. My online PLN often talks of work life balance. However, Jason Borton said to me on Twitter that he calls it “work/life satisfaction” and not “balance”. I really like the term “satisfaction” than “balance”. To me, balance is more quantitative. Something like ‘I must spend equal amounts of time doing work, spending time with my family and doing things I enjoy.’ On the other hand, “satisfaction” seems more qualitative to me. ‘Am I happy?’ “Satisfaction” is also more personal. Work/life satisfaction is different to each individual and it doesn’t have to be 50/50 all the time.

 

 

baby V

Baby V

YES TV – a student-led live stream on YouTube

This week a team of of my students ran their own live stream on YouTube called YES TV. YES TV (Youth Eco Summit TV) was a live stream from the Youth Eco Summit. This summit allows students and teachers to to gain first-hand experience at how to be more sustainable at school and in their everyday lives. YES TV was an one-hour live stream on YouTube where students interviewed participants at the summit so that a global online audience can also learn about sustainability.

YES TV was a massive risk in learning for me and my students. It was one of those “say yes, then learn how to do it later” projects. YES TV was essentially a live TV talk show that students ran almost all by themselves. I have zero experience at running a live TV talk show. The students also had no experience. However, it was one of the most authentic learning experiences for all of us.

Firstly YES TV showed me and the students that we can push the boundaries and take on a challenge. So what if we didn’t know how to run a live TV talk show. We can learn how to do it. I applied everything I learnt from being in the audience of a live show called QandA a few years ago. We watched breakfast news TV clips on YouTube to learn how hosts improvise based on the guest’s responses to their questions. We devised and assigned roles. There were 2 anchors, 3 interviewers, camera operator, “audio person”, a student who held up signs like “hurry up” and “ready for next guest”, students who monitored social media feeds for online questions, a student who held up a mini whiteboard telling the on-camera crew who the next guest was, “runners” who were in charge of organising guests before they went on camera. And then me. I had no idea what my roles were called but I decided which guests were on next according to the schedule and told the kids with the signs and whiteboard what to do. These roles are probably nothing like the roles in a real live TV talk show but we pulled it off and it worked for us. The students and I were in awe that we did pull it off. YES TV proved to all of us that passion, initiative and determination enable us to rise to any challenge.

YES TV was also an authentic experience for students to learn job-ready skills. The actual live stream for YES TV was 2 hours. But a lot more other hours were spent preparing for it and this included liaising with the guests on YES TV. Students learnt how to make phone calls in a professional manner to YES TV guests (I modelled this to them first by having my phone on speaker) and writing professional emails. This might not sound like much but many students don’t know how to do these things and they’re often not taught in traditional subjects. Students involved in YES TV mentioned how they appreciated learning how to write and respond to emails in a professional manner, using formal language.

Finally for me as a teacher, YES TV provided validation for me to continue to push the boundaries and to continually seek out new learning opportunities for my students.

3 things I’ve learnt from supporting teachers


This year one of my roles is to support teachers in using technology to further enhance teaching and learning for their students. I feel very privileged to have such a position because it is one of the best professional learning experiences I have; I learn so much from the teachers I support.

So here’s a summary of what I have learnt:

1. It’s not about me; it’s about them and their students

Those who know me knows that I like to try new things, especially with technology. I like to take risks with designing learning new experiences. I often go into the classroom with “this can go really well or it will blow up in my face” (Don’t worry. The usual result is option A). This doesn’t mean that other teachers have the same attitude and that’s OK. Some teachers like small steps and others like giant leaps. I have learnt that the best way to support a teacher to shift their practice is to find out what they and their students’ needs are. It’s not about how I would teach the class.

2. I do. We do. You Do.

The “I do. We do. You Do” strategy is one that many teachers use to teach students reading comprehension and writing. It’s otherwise known as “Deconstruction. Group Construction. Independent Construction”. When teachers teach students how to write or read for understanding, they would first model the process, then students do the process as a group then students do the process independently. Basically the aim is to make the teacher redundant. This is what I’ve been doing with the teachers and classes I’ve been supporting. My aim is to make my role redundant. For example, in Year 8 French, students and their teacher have been using Google Apps to enable a more efficient feedback model. My role was to teach students how to use Google Apps, teach the teacher how to use comments, editing modes and revision history to give students feedback and show students how to act on this feedback in Google Apps. Towards the last few weeks of the term, I wasn’t needed in the room. The kids knew what to do. The teacher knew what to do. In fact, the student starting using Google Apps for feedback with her other classes, without me helping her at all. The kids are now using Google Apps in their other subjects without their teachers directing them to and are showing their teachers how to use the technology. So I have made my role redundant.

3. From little things big things grow

In the beginning, I was supporting the classes with “little things” like resetting students’ computer and internet access passwords, helping them connect their devices to the school wifi, showing students how to access Google Apps, things that I considered “little” as they were basic technical steps. However, I’ve realised these “little things” are absolutely essential for many teachers and students. It enabled the teachers and students to get over hurdles that switch off a lot of them from trying new ways of teaching and learning with technology.

So I have one more term in this role of supporting teachers. I have loved every minute of it so far. While teachers have thanked me for teaching them, it is them who are teaching me new things.

OfficeMix in a BYOD classroom

Last term I had the privilege of team teaching with a colleague who is teaching a Year 7 class this year for English, Maths, Science, Geography and History (at my school Year 7s are taught these subjects by the same teacher as a middle years strategy). This class, like many classes, consisted of students of varying ability levels and were learning English as an additional language. We wanted to utilise technology in a way that enabled more differentiation. personalised learning and more opportunities for teachers to help students one-to-one.

So we decided to use OfficeMix to flip the classroom. We didn’t flip the classroom in the traditional sense of getting students to watch video tutorials at home and then do activities in class. Instead, we did a brief introduction of the lesson (eg. brainstorm, linking the lesson’s content to previous learning, pre-loading metalanguage) then students watched an OfficeMix presentation on their own devices with a follow-up activities (eg. quiz or a worksheet). Students were told they can watch the OfficeMix presentation as many times as they need to in order to complete the follow-up activities successfully. This meant some students only watched the OfficeMix presentations once or twice while other students watched it many times. When students found the follow-up activities challenging, they were able to watch the OfficeMix presentation to work out how to do it. This allowed me and the teacher I was team teaching with to offer intensive one-to-one support to the students who needed it most.

Here’s an example of one of the OfficeMix presentations we used for this class:

https://mix.office.com/embed/ny5p5aabe06m

Using video tutorials is not new but what I like about OfficeMix is that it utlises PowerPoint. PowerPoint is a software that many teachers are familiar with so it is an easy step-up for for them to use the OfficeMix add-on. Many teachers already have many existing content presented in PowerPoint so they can easily turn them into video tutorials with minimum workload. What I personally found the most useful is that OfficeMix presentations works on all devices. The class I was teaching in had students bringing Surface Pro’s, Windows laptops, Macbooks, iPads, iPhones and Android phones. OfficeMix worked on all of them.

My next step is to have students making their own OfficeMix presentations to show their learning.

Learning with real scientists

Earlier this year, I wrote a post on my goals for 2014. My goal #1 was  to keep science real by connecting my students with real scientists. We regularly hear that STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) will be essential to our economic future and hence it is vital to engage all of our students in STEM. However, there are many statistics that our students are switched off from STEM. From surveys in my own school, many students say they do not want to pursue post-compulsory studies of science because they don’t know what kind of careers science will lead them to. Ask any student what a scientist does and they will most likely give a very narrow, stereotypical view. Like I said in my previous post, most students will know an accountant, a plumber, a builder, a lawyer, but they are very unlikely to know a scientist.

So for the past year I have gotten my school in a program run by the CSIRO called Scientists and Mathematicians in Schools (SMIS). SMIS pairs a school with a practising scientist (or mathematician) who will work with students, teachers and schools on a range of activities from talks about science as a career to running lessons on specific content. My school’s partner scientist is Dr Melina Georgousakis, a scientist specialising in immunology and a government advisers on vaccinations. In a year she has done two general talks on what it’s like to be a scientist, one specific talk on how vaccinations work to Year 9s (really useful as it was held a week before students were scheduled to receive vaccinations) and a lesson on how the immune system works with Year 12 Biology students. My school were also lucky enough to have Dr Cameron Webb speak to them about research on mosquitoes and mosquito-borne diseases. Cameron even brought in a range of dead mosquitoes for students to examine under  the microscope. It is a great example of how scientists can work with schools to provide learning opportunities for students that would otherwise be difficult to organise.

Dr Melina explaining how the immune system works with Year 12 Biology students.

Dr Melina explaining how the immune system works with Year 12 Biology students.

Dr Cameron Webb sharing his work and life as a scientist with Year 9 students.

Dr Cameron Webb sharing his work and life as a scientist with Year 9 students.

Students examining mosquitoes under the microscope in a lesson with Dr Cameron Webb.

Students examining mosquitoes under the microscope in a lesson with Dr Cameron Webb.

While utilising social media and web conferencing tools are useful to connect students and scientists with ease, there is nothing like having a real scientist connect and work with students in the flesh. Since my school’s involvement with SMIS, our students are more aware of careers in science (as shown in our student evaluation surveys) with some students being inspired to work in the fields of our partner scientists. The SMIS program has done wonders in helping to lift the profile of science. It is vital that students can refer to real faces when they are talking about what scientists do and science as a career. It is also essential that students hear and see first-hand the diverse things that scientists do in their day-to-day jobs.

If you’re in an Australian school, I highly recommend contacting CSIRO and being involved in their SMIS program.

Science with gummy bears

Gummy bears are not only a delicious treat, they also have multiple uses in science. This term my year 9 class are completing a project called Project Mars. Project Mars is a joint project with the Powerhouse Museum where students can remotely control a Mars Rover to perform experiments on a recreated Martian surface to find out whether Mars could support life.

To collect and analyse the data from these experiments on the Martian surface, students need to learn about atoms and waves, and this is where gummy bears come in. Gummy bears have come in really handy for two experiments showing the properties of light.

(1) Gummy bears and laser experiment

Gummy bears can be used to show how light is absorbed, transmitted and reflected. This activity show why objects have different colours.

Students shined a red laser light onto red gummy bears and green gummy bears. The red light will transmit and reflect on the red gummy bears, but absorbed by the green gummy bears. Students then shined a green laser light onto red gummy bears and green gummy bears and compare the observations. This experiment makes the concept of absorption, transmission and reflection of light more real to students.

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(2) Gummy bear wave machine

I came across this experiment on YouTube. Gummy bears, skewers and duct tape is used to make a wave machine to demonstrate a range of properties of waves. I really like this experiment as it is a hands-on and visual way to show students properties of waves and works a lot better than skipping ropes and slinkys.

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Running to read, write, listen and speak

Literacy in science has always been a huge focus for me. Not only is literacy a priority area for our school, but I like to be educating my students so they are young scientists and there’s nothing more important to a scientist than to be able to understand and communicate their ideas clearly.

I personally find reading and writing to be the easiest to integrate into high school science. However, listening and speaking are a little harder for me to embed. Just a few days ago I remembered a strategy called running dictation which I learnt from an English as a Second Language consultant a few years ago.

Running dictation is a game that students play in groups to practise their reading, writing, listening and speaking skills. The teacher puts a short passage somewhere in the classroom (in my case it was a passage on the atmosphere). Each group of students selects a reader and the rest are writers. The readers in each group need to run (or in my classroom, walk very fast as I don’t want any injures) to the passage, read it silently to themselves, remember as much as possible, run back to their team, recite what they remember to their team and the rest of the team writes it down. The first team that gets everything correct (the words, spelling, punctuation, etc) wins. You might think it’s a noisy game but because each team doesn’t want the others to hear and steal their work, they work very quietly. I did this with Year 8s the other day and they absolutely loved it. I like how it allows students the opportunities to work together as a team and speak about science.

Year 8 students in a running dictation activity

Year 8 students in a running dictation activity

I know running dictation isn’t new but I haven’t seen it used in science classes so I’d thought this blog might give other science teachers some ideas for literacy. I find that running dictation allows students to read, write listen and speak science in a fun way. It’s gets them up and moving and doesn’t make literacy seem like a drag like it sometimes is.

In future lessons I’m going to try some of these other ideas for running dictation to make it more challenging for my students.

Formative assessment with hexagons

Formative assessment is something I’ve been putting a lot more emphasis on over the past few years. I’m so sick of just relying of end-of-topic exams to gauge what students have learnt. I want my students to continuously question how they are going and make changes to their learning accordingly. This is one of the reasons that my faculty has embarked on a Structured Observed Learning Outcomes (SOLO) journey this year. One of the ways that many teachers using SOLO use to assess student learning is with SOLO hexagons.

SOLO hexagons involves the major concepts or ideas from a topic to be placed individually onto hexagons. Students then work individually or in groups to connect the hexagon concepts together and they must justify why they have made these connections. It is the justification where both the teacher and the student can assess the student’s learning. It is how students have connected the hexagons and their justification of WHY they have done it that way that allows their learning and thinking to then be assessed using the SOLO taxonomy (or not; the hexagon activity still works with no understanding of SOLO).

Here’s a video showing one way of using the SOLO hexagons in a UK science class.

Here’s an explanation of how to use SOLO hexagons from the SOLO guru, Pam Hooke.

I changed the hexagon activity slightly to suit the needs of my students. The picture shows the instructions that my students received.

instructions for hexagon activity

And here are the hexagons my students used (note that the hexagons were pre-cut for students and placed into zip lock bags with the above instruction card). My students worked in groups of 2 to 4. I used the SOLO hexagon generator to create the hexagons.

Here’s some samples of the hexagons my students made.

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Some things I noticed was that:

  • My students were all fantastic at explaining each hexagon concept
  • Some groups connected all the nervous system concepts and the endocrine system concepts together, showing they had an understanding that the nervous system and endocrine system worked together. However all the groups had the immune system concepts separate altogether. I did spend a lot of class time making it explicit that the nervous system and the endocrine system work together to control and coordinate the body. And while the students’ project was to make a fact sheet about how a particular disease/health issue affected the nervous system and the endocrine system, they seem to think that the immune system works on its own and is completely separate from the other systems.

From this activity we discussed their SOLO levels of understanding and how they can use their hexagon connections to see whether they were at a unistructural level, multistructural level, relational level or extended abstract level. Most students concluded they were at a relational level for most concepts and some thought they were extended abstract for some parts of the topic.

The SOLO hexagon activity is definitely something I will use again with my students. Now that they have done it once, the next time will run even better. Feedback from students was that they enjoyed talking about science with each other and that they learnt a lot from each other just by listening to what others had to say about each concept.

 

Giving students a say in their homework

This is probably not new but this term I’m trialling a different way of doing homework with Year 9s.

I try to make homework so it doesn’t become a workload burden for myself and my students. A lot of my students have extra-curricular activities like sport and I have had quite a few parent phone calls raising the concern between balancing their family lives and homework. I’ve also had the issue of different access to resources from home. A lot of my students love doing homework activities online, but not all of my students have internet access. To create a set of online homework activities and then another set of offline activities, for all four of my classes became too labour-intensive that there was very low return-of-investment.

So this term I’m doing something different with Year 9s. They will be given a choice in what kinds of homework they want to. The topic is on the nervous system, endocrine system and immune system.

I’ve made sure there are activities that are quite basic (like completing a table) to activities that are higher-order that require the creation of products like video. I’ve also made sure that students can choose HOW they complete their homework. They can do things electronically or on paper.

Not sure how this will go, but is worth trying. I’d love your thoughts on this, whether you’re a student, parent, teacher or anyone else.

Watch this space for updates 🙂

Creating a classroom community

Today was the first day where all students were back at school. I had my first lesson with most of my classes today. I never launch into content in the first day. I like to get to know my students first. This year however I want to go further than that and kick off the year by allowing my students to get to know each other as learners. Many of my students know each other socially, but not how they like to learn.

While I don’t have any hard data, I’ve always had the inkling that high student achievement not only depends on individual students, but how the whole class works as a group. My higher-performing classes are where individual students apply themselves more but they also get along with each other and help each other. These classes have a sense of community. Each student has a sense of belonging. They work as a team. I want this for all my classes by design, not by random luck.

So this year I used the first lesson to kick start the establishment of a class community. Students did two activities: (1) Getting to know you as a learner in 3-2-1 and (2) My perfect classroom to learn in …

Getting to know you as a learner in 3-2-1

Students paired up and interviewed each other on 3 of their favourite things about science, 2 things they find hard about science and 1 thing they want the teacher to know to help them learn the best that they can.

For larger classes, I asked some students to share their responses and then collected their interview sheets to look at later. For smaller classes, all students shared their responses and they were tallied so that students can see what they have in common with other students in terms of learning. Here’s an example from my Year 11 Senior Science class.

photo of tallied results of 3-2-1 activity

My perfect classroom to learn in …

This activity is used to establish classroom expectations where all students get a say. In pairs students brainstorm what their perfect classroom is like. In their perfect classroom what are they doing as students? What are other students doing? What is the teacher doing? All responses are collated on the board and classroom expectations are established.

photo of perfect classroom results from year 11

I know some teachers will think this is a ‘soft’ approach and that I should lay down the law instead and let students know who is boss. But I much prefer this way. I really want to focus on developing positive learning relationships amongst students as I strongly believe this will lead to better learning and achievement.