TeachMeet Kids – enabling teachers with young families to connect and share their practice

TeachMeet Kids

This week there was a TeachMeet with a difference. I organised the first TeachMeet Kids, a family-friendly TeachMeet. TeachMeets are a group of educators who come together to share their practice. Traditionally TeachMeets are held during after-school hours (between 5pm and 7pm) followed by TeachEat (dinner and drinks). I use to regularly go to TeachMeets but haven’t in the last year due to the birth of my daughter. I noticed that quite a few other educators have dropped out of the TeachMeet circles due to having children. Early evening is not a good time for teachers with young children. A few educators with young children indicated that they felt disconnected due to this.

And this thought came to me:

Why can’t we have a kid-friendly TeachMeet?

Why can’t we have a TeachMeet where educators can bring their children (if they wish)?

Why can’t we have a TeachMeet that’s during the day as early evening is reserved for the dinner and bath routine for the little ones and not everyone is lucky enough to have family to look after the kids?

The result of these thoughts was TeachMeet Kids. While TeachMeet Kids was targeted at educators with young children, any educator can attend. It was held in the school holidays during the day. Educators can bring their little ones if they wanted to. The venue was kid-friendly. It was pram accessible, had pram parking, close to public transport, had car parking, had baby change rooms and baby feeding facilities. All attendees knew to expect some rowdiness because this TeachMeet will also be attended by kids.

Australian National Maritime Museum very kindly provided a free space for TeachMeet Kids. Not only that, their museum educators also took the kids around on a pirates tour.

For me, TeachMeet Kids gave me back the opportunity to connect with educators like I did pre-baby days. I think TeachMeet Kids also enables the education community to tap into the expertise of educators who have young families. I learnt so much from the presenters. From how to use Kahoot! to enhance formative assessment, enabling all students to be leaders, film-making using mobile devices and making crystal radios to what it’s like to be a museum educator and embedding selfies as a learning tool.

I am looking forward to seeing more TeachMeet Kids 🙂

What I would like from school development day

Like many of my colleagues working in NSW public schools, Term 3 is about to begin. For many of us this means school development day (SDD). SDD is a day where teachers, staff and parents engage in professional learning to further enhance student learning. SDD occurs at the start of Term 1, 2 and 3 and then on the last two days of Term 4. I value SDDs because it is a day where I can solely focus on my learning in order to better teach my students. Students do not come to school on SDDs so teachers can focus all of their efforts on learning. There are no relief work to set, no guilt over not being able to teach your classes due to attending professional learning and no classroom issues to follow-up from a day of being absent from your classes.

I greatly value the effort and commitment from the teachers who put together SDDs. It is a tough gig. I know so because I have coordinated SDDs in the past. It is extremely challenging to put together over 5 hours of professional learning that is relevant and engaging to ALL teachers. However, I have always felt something is missing from SDDs.

I guess I have always been an active learner in my professional learning. I don’t like to wait for someone to tell me what I should know. I am constantly reviewing what I need to learn and when a learning need arises, I seek out that learning almost immediately. This does mean a lot of hours spent searching and seeking help from my professional learning networks in my own time. This in turn also means I have explored a lot of things that are presented in SDD. For example, my school’s SDD last term was on literacy. I was presented with ideas and resources that I have known and used for several years. While many teachers at the school found the SDD useful, I was left feeling I wasted 5 hours of my time. I don’t want this to make me sound unappreciative. The SDD coordinators did and always do an awesome job.

What I would like from SDD is a more personalised experience. In NSW public schools, there are five SDDs in a year. It would be so awesome if just one of those SDDs allowed teachers to propose a professional learning experience that they would like to do. This could be visiting other schools, other educational institutions, collaborating with other teachers, reading educational literature, the list is endless. I visited the University of NSW during the school holidays to connect with university academics that I know can contribute to the learning of students at my school. I visited the Sydney Institute of Marine Sciences and learnt so many new practical activities that I can do with my students. These site visits are perfect examples of personalised professional learning activities for SDD. I recently learnt about a book called “Independent science challenges: fascinating science projects to challenge and extend able students“. I would love to spend a SDD reading parts of the book and putting together a plan together to implement the strategies in the book.

Some people might say that all schools have professional learning funds to release teachers to do personalised professional learning like attending subject-specific conferences, etc. However, this is during teaching time and many teachers do not like to miss out on teaching time. SDD is different. It is a time where every teacher is learning. There are no students. Your learning is not distracted by a casual teacher calling you to help with your class. I might be the only teacher who feels this way, but it seems that if teachers can differentiate and create personalised learning experiences for students, why can’t teachers themselves have personalised professional learning experiences. Just one SDD.

My 4 goals for 2014

an image of two people drawing targets

In New South Wales, Australia, the 2014 school year is just about to start so I thought I’d share with you my 4 professional goals for 2014.

Goal #1 – Keeping science real

2013 was the year where I started the journey of connecting my students with current, practising Australian scientists. This was a response to our students’ survey responses that they did not know many careers or jobs that science can lead them to. They also did not know what scientists actually do. Many students have accountants, tradespeople, bankers, etc within their families or family friends but students often do not have exposure to scientists in their everyday lives (ask a student to name a scientist and they’ll still tell you Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein; they rarely name a living scientist). We wanted to make science real in the sense that we can put real people’s faces to what the students learn in the classroom. So in 2013 our school connected with Scientists and Mathematicians in Schools, where we are now partnered with scientist Melina Georgousakis. Melina has already spoken to our Year 8s and 9s on her journey to becoming a scientist, what she does in her job and explained how the immune system and vaccinations work (that’s her area of expertise). In our end-of-topic survey, a lot of our year 9s listed Melina’s visit as the best activity of the topic. In their words the best part of the topic was “when the lady came in to talk about vaccines”. In 2014 we have plans for our Year 12 Biology students to work with Melina when they explore the immune system more deeply.

2014 will also be the year where I want to utilise social media and technology to connect students with scientists, not just in Australia but from around the world. In 2013 social media led me to connect with a postgraduate student called Ash from the University of Technology, Sydney, where he came to the school and spoke to Year 8s about his work with sharks (Year 8s were learning about the role of sharks in the ecosystem and how removing sharks as apex predators impact on the ecosystem). We also connected with Dr Mel Thompson from Deakin University and Dr Karl via Skype. In 2014 I am hoping to expand to using Twitter to connect with my students with scientists. I want to create a class Twitter account for my students and connect with scientists on Twitter. There’s so many of them such as @realscientists and Dr Cameron Webb.

Goal #2 – Embed science communication into my teaching

I was very privileged to be involved in the UTS Summer School this year where I worked with Christy, a former Questacon presenter (a science communicator who does science shows for children). She re-emphasised to me the importance of designing learning that drives students’ curiosity and create learning experiences that are memorable. One of my biggest gripes with science education is that it uses flash-bang experiments inappropriately. You hear lots of students say they just want to do pracs. You hear a lot of teachers say that all students want to do are pracs. A lot of the times I think showy experiments are wasted at school as they only serve as entertainment. Christy re-emphasised to me that showy experiments need to be set up in a way that drives students to want to know the science WHY something has happened and the journey to understanding they experience must be memorable. This can mean turning explanations into stories, plays, musical items.

One of the ideas I have this year is to have a science communication project where students work in small groups and become science communicators themselves where they design and perform an act that explains a scientific concept. If I could I’d like to make this a cross-curricular project with Drama.

Goal #3 – Making learning, thinking and understanding visible

This year is where our faculty applies the Structured Observed Learning Framework (SOLO) for all students in Year 9. We have used this year’s implementation of the new syllabus for the Australian Curriculum as a drive for this change. See this previous post for more details. The challenge (not so much a goal) will be to evaluate the impact on student learning.

Goal #4 – A better work/life balance

Over the last few years I realise that looking after yourself is a one of the most important jobs for teachers. After reading this post on 10 tips for slowing down, I really want to make sure that my entire faculty’s wellbeing is well looked after this year. I tend to be someone who doesn’t know when to stop. I feel guilty when I’m not doing work related to school. When I’m relaxing it feels like I’m doing some kind of injustice to my students’ education. I love my job but I’m no use to my students if I burn out. From the post on 10 tips for slowing down, I want to make these changes:

  • Allocate time to opening and closing meetings

Schools are such busy places that many teachers schedule meetings right on bell times so that we are rushing from one place to another. This year I want meetings where people are now running from their classrooms, crashing down and then expected to immediately adjust their mindframes. I’m hoping that simple things like having meetings start 5-10 minutes after the bell will avoid that rush feeling that make people stress.

  • Make time to eat

Eating recess and lunch is my other goal for wellbeing this year. While this seems self-explanatory, I know many teachers don’t eat, or sit down, or even visit the bathroom during school hours because there’s just so much to do. I’m not sure how successful I’ll be at this but this year I want to reduce the number of times where I eat my sandwich while driving home.

School holidays – the perfect time to learn from other schools

“I don’t know why you would even think about going near any school while you’re on holidays”

This is what one teacher said to me when I told them that I was going to spend half a day visiting a school during the school holidays. At the moment it is the Term 3 school holidays in New South Wales, Australia. For me teaching isn’t something I can switch off. Don’t get me wrong, I still have my down time and I think this down time is important for all teachers’ wellbeing. But I personally like to take advantage of the school holidays and use the time to visit schools that are outside the NSW public education system. Especially schools that are drastically different to the one I currently teach in because what I’ve learnt is that almost every school faces a similar set of challenges whether it is student engagement, student wellbeing or finding ways to develop students higher-order thinking. I find that when I visit schools that have different circumstances than my own, I am exposed to different solutions that I can adapt to my own school and my own classes.

Over the past two years I have been able to visit schools outside of New South Wales and outside of Australia, and they have been some of the best professional learning I have ever had. While some of these visits were done during term time, most visits were done during school holidays. Here are some of the schools I’ve visited and what I’ve learnt from them.

During my time with Microsoft’s Partners in Learning team in 2012, I was able to travel to Auckland, New Zealand and visit Ferguson Intermediate School and Howick College. These two schools kick-started my journey and my faculty’s journey into using the Structured Observed Learning Outcomes (SOLO) framework, learning intentions and success criteria to design learning for the new science syllabus for the Australian Curriculum. Howick College is also where I saw the fantastic Julia Breen and got ideas from her on how to use green screens in student-produced videos.

I took a week of without pay from school in December 2012 and travelled to London and visited ACS International School, Egham. I ‘met’ the Principal of ACS International School, Egham online via LinkedIn and he was kind enough to take time out to show me his school for half a day. I was also privileged enough to speak to their Head of Science and observed a part of a middle school science lesson. During this visit I learnt more about the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program and how technology was integrated into the school’s middle years science program.

Just last week I was able to visit two schools in Canberra – Brindabella Christian College and Dickson College. I was able to further connect with two passionate educators who are part of my online professional learning network on Twitter, Melanie Spencer and Betty Chau. From these schools I took away ideas for learning space design, how to drive change and how to further develop the digital leaders team at my own school.

Visiting other schools is one of the best professional learning that I undertake. If you’re a teacher and you have some spare time in the school holidays, ask another school if you can visit them and then return the favour to them 🙂

Incidentally I am planning to travel to Tokyo, Japan in the April school holidays in 2014. Would love any suggestions of schools in Tokyo that I can visit.

Lessons from #sologlobalchat

I became interested in structured observed learning outcomes (SOLO) late last year when I was contemplating how to approach learning design in the midst of implementing the new NSW syllabus for the Australian Curriculum. I want to lead my team in using this opportunity to do something that will shift the way our students learn. I don’t want to take the shortcut of cutting and pasting existing units of work and making it fit to the new syllabus.

I have always known about SOLO from my work with the Essential Secondary Science Assessment and the National Assessment Program for Science Literacy, but until last year I didn’t make the shift from using SOLO to assess student learning to using SOLO to design learning. So when I began exploring using the hashtag #SOLO on Twitter, I found quite a few teachers in New Zealand and the UK who are much ahead of me in their SOLO journey. From there I met Andy Knill. I have never met Andy in real life, nor have I even spoken to him via Skype or anything. My only interactions with Andy are from tweets and sharing ideas on a Google Document. But from using only Twitter and a Google Document, we organised the tweetup, #sologlobalchat where educators from Australia, New Zealand and the UK shared and learnt from each other in everything related to SOLO from what is SOLO to how can we drive authentic change on a whole school level. Click here for an archive of #sologlobalchat.

Helping Andy co-host #sologlobalchat (Yes, Andy did do most of the work. Hat tip to Andy) has made me realise 2 things:

(1)    Teachers are a generous and dedicated bunch of people – #sologlobalchat was held at 11am on a Saturday in the UK, 8pm on the Australian east coast and 10pm in New Zealand. I was tweeting from an iPad on a Saturday night. Andy was tweeting from a mobile device in his car and it was bed time in New Zealand.  I don’t think there are many professions that will be holding a virtual meeting in such circumstances. Also, not many of us knew who each other was until we got onto #sologlobalchat. Yet we were ready to hand over our ideas and resources to almost complete strangers. This is one of the best things I love about teaching and teachers. We are happy to share anything at anytime to anyone because it makes learning better for our students.

(2)    Learning anywhere anytime – The massive increase in technology in our lives have always been discussed in the context of student learning. How can we flip learning for students? How can students use mobile phones to learn? How can learning be transformed in a 1:1 device program? However, the impact of technology isn’t just limited to students. Technology has also transformed the way teachers learn and collaborate. #sologlobalchat used technology to connect teachers from 3 countries in different timezones to synchronously share their expertise with each other. Professional learning for teachers is now breaking through the walls of schools. Teachers are no longer having conversations with teachers in their own staffroom or school only; we now also have conversations across the globe. Sharing of resources is no longer confined to photocopying a sheet and placing it on someone’s desk; resources are now uploaded online for anyone to download.

All teachers can greatly benefit from using online professional learning networks to improve their practice. And teachers are a generous bunch. We will share anything with anyone because we want to improve all students’ learning. So if you are not part of an online professional learning network (PLN), join one. If you haven’t participated in a Twitter chat or Tweetmeet, just lurk around one and have a look if it’s for you. If you are doing all of these things, tap on the shoulder of a teacher who haven’t yet discovered this and show them how the benefits of an online PLN. The more teachers we have collaborating and sharing online, the better the learning will be for our students.

Note – #sologlobalchat now has an Edmodo to share. Click here to submit a request to join the group.

Andy Knill has also compiled a list of teachers who participated in sologlobalchat

Working, sharing & collaborating as 21C teachers

When we talk about student learning in the 21st century, we often talk about learning (and sharing that learning) anytime, anywhere. Social media and online collaborative spaces have allowed all of us to connect and collaborate 24/7 on our desktop computers, laptops and mobile devices. This shouldn’t just be student learning. It should also be how teachers work.

When I stepped into the role of Head Teacher Science two years ago, I wanted to initiate a structure and process to allow my faculty to collaborate more effectively. One of these ways is to be able to collaborate anytime, anywhere. I wanted to start with the way we accessed and modified our teaching and learning programs. Instead of having these programs trapped on the school network, this year our faculty uploaded them on a wiki via Wikispaces (I was inspired by how Ben Jones, benpaddlejones, set up an online space for the Integrated Curriculum team through a wiki). The obvious advantage is the anywhere anytime access. We can now access our programs on our mobile phones when we’re waiting for a bus if we wanted to. Having the programs on a wiki also allows resources such as worksheets and online videos to be linked in the online document. Instead teachers trying to find a worksheet in a folder in the staffroom, teachers can now click on the worksheet name in Wikispaces, download the worksheet as a Microsoft Word document and modify it to suit their class’ needs. The main benefit of this has been collaboration. Teachers who are leading programs for a particular year group gather the feedback from other teachers and change the program as we teach it. This has now transformed our programs from a relatively static document to a living document that constantly revises itself.

a screenshot of our faculty's wiki

We have a resources page on our faculty wiki where teachers upload websites, videos, worksheets and other resources to share with the faculty. Previously, teachers would photocopy the resource and place it on everyone’s desks. Sadly the worksheet sometimes get lost or filed incorrectly. If you wanted to modify it, you’d have to ask for the electronic version to be emailed to you. Even if the resource was emailed originally, the email can easily become lost in a mass of other emails. We are finding that uploading resources onto a wiki helps keep everything in one place. Sharing has definitely become easier. When things become easier, it gets done more often. 🙂

We also communicate via the wiki. A lot of our intra-faculty communication and faculty organisation are now done through the wiki rather than email. Not only has this decreased our need to constantly delete emails to keep our email storage space in check, but it has kept messages more organised because they are stored in one space. This has also reduced the need to trawl through emails to find, for example, an important message sent two weeks ago.

So this is our faculty’s journey so far in using an online collaborative space to enhance how our processes. My next goal for the faculty will be to use the discussion function to further enhance communication and collaboration.

The first five years of teaching … (Part 1 of reflections of 2011)

There are milestones in teaching. The first, most obvious milestone is the getting through the first year of teaching. The next milestone is getting through your first five years of teaching. As more and more research shows, five years is the time when a large number of teachers choose to leave the profession (25% to 40%).

There is a global shortage of teachers. There are newspaper reports after newspaper reports about the looming massive retirement of the teaching force and the need to recruit more teachers. However, there are signs that it is just as important to work out what is keeping teachers in the profession because a lot of teachers leave within five years. There is no educational benefit to students of recruiting lots of teachers just to have them leave within five years.

Well, this is my fifth year of teaching and I have no plans of leaving the profession. There are numerous articles (eg. Sydney Morning HeardThe AgeThe Herald Sun) that tell you why teachers are leaving. But I’m going to go through why I choose to stay:

  • I love my job. Yes, teaching is stressful. Yes, teaching is hard work. Yes, teaching involves long hours. Yes, teaching means you never stop working (this could just be me not knowing how to switch off). But I don’t mind because I honestly love what I do.
  • I had a fantastic teacher mentor, head teacher and principal in my first school. We had a teacher mentor who didn’t have a teaching load. She was an experienced teacher who had a wide range of teaching repertoire, who just mentored us. She’d come into the classroom to team teach and was always there when you needed support. She wasn’t there to “judge”. She gathered all the beginning teachers at our school together every fortnight so we can share our positive and not-so-positive experiences in the classroom. If it wasn’t for her, my attitude and enthusiasm for teaching would’ve probably been very different.
  • I had a fantastic colleague, who was also a beginning teacher, when I first started. We shared resources and supported each other through the good times and the bad times. I continue to have fantastic colleagues who work together as a team and share our resources and ideas with the aim of enhancing of our students.
  • I was provided with leadership opportunities very early on in my teaching career. Both my head teacher and principal actively encouraged me to take on leadership opportunism. My current principal and school executive continues to do so.
  • When I had an idea that would benefit student learning, I was allowed to run with it. The school leadership at all the schools I’ve worked at, were very supportive. This is particularly true at my current school,
  • I do other things while I am teaching. I have done a range of freelance work with UNSW and UTS, mostly in the school holidays. While this was hard work at times, it provided me opportunities to work with people who in industries outside the high school system. This offered me something different to work with.

I hope that all beginning teachers have the same positive experiences I’ve had. Or perhaps I’ve just been lucky?

Part 2 of my reflections of 2011 will be on my journey as an educational leader. Watch this space.