Monday, 27 February 2017

Reviews and re-visings

This year we are trialling an integrated approach to teaching and learning for our year 9 students.  Each term there is an overarching theme link to the four future focussed principles outlined in our New Zealand curriculum:

“The curriculum encourages students to look to the future by exploring such significant future-focused issues as sustainability, citizenship, enterprise, and globalisation.”

This term we have taken on the issue of sustainability and ways we can more sustainable in the community.  In their classes, students will select a project and work in groups to come up with ideas of how to sustain an issue or problem in our community.  Issues were chosen around relevance, interest and the problems identified by staff and students.  One of the main drivers for our integrated sustainability curriculum this term was our Manaiakalani clusters focus which is on the health of our local streams and pest eradiction, one of the projects that students can select under the sustainability umbrella.  At the end of the term, students with the best projects are invited to show their learning at 'Te Taiao o Tamaki' which is a showcase of projects from around the cluster - we are really excited about this!

The social studies department has been leading the teaching and learning around sustainability and this has been an interesting challenge.  One of the challenges for our department has been trying to fit in to a already busy and defined programme something that can prepare students for their individual projects but at the same time ensuring that there is some link to other curriculum areas.  In saying that, other departments are invited to contribute to the learning rather than create a programme that will work alongside the social studies department.  This is definitely something that I feel needs to be clarified and refined better thus the reason why I have chosen this to be my teaching inquiry.

I think back to a trial integrated project we did last year on the Olympics and although we gained a lot from giving it ago, the struggles were far and wide.   We learnt a lot from that unit.

Lately I have worked closely with my department on what the teaching and learning of the sustainability projects 'look like' and I have tried to use my digital (although somewhat limited) expertise to guide them through some of the process.   One of the issues we have needed to overcome was blogging.  Creating a blog, then understanding the need for a blog (especially a teacher inquiry blog) has been one that teachers are trying to get to grips with - I've noticed that it is confronting for staff and the thought of sharing their inquiry and thoughts and reflections with the world can be daunting and terrifying!  I feel that this fear is real and we will need a more supportive approach for the teachers that digs down to the roots of the 'blogging phobia in public' issue rather than smoothing over it and expecting everyone to conform to the expectations of doing a blog and sharing it publicly.

Thinking about reasons why blog, I found this simple (very Americanised) video on blogging that makes sense to me:

There are group of HOD's at our school who don't have tutor classes but meet every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday's to go through different relevant aspects of our curriculum and looking at understanding how each others departments operates.  I've found that they have been really beneficial in that we are united in our vision and can support each other in the planning and implementing of relevant programmes such as the integrated unit - we are fine tuning every time we meet and move closer and closer to developing something that is the right fit for our learners and for our school.

My desire to take on the challenge of developing an integrated programme at year 9 level is linked to a PLG meeting we had in February 2016.  It was a cluster wide PLG so not only were our HOD's present but most of the leaders of teaching and learning from the primary schools in the cluster.  We were asked to contribute to a padlet and the question on the padlet was:

Write your hypothesis for what you see as a problem during the transition from Y8 to Y9. Include an example of evidence or a scenario of what this might look like.

The page instantly filled up with comments that students had told their year 8 teachers - "it's scary"..."meeting new teachers and students is hard"...

Below are some of the comments:

This resonated with me.  At first I felt like the college was being blamed and it made me angry.  How were we supposed to know this?  We've never been told?  Then it hit me...we didn't know this because we didn't ask.

After the Woolf Fisher Research presentation on the 7th February, 2016, writing was identified as a major issue and I was horrified at seeing how badly year 9 Boys did in writing.  Here are the stats:

This has become my inquiry!

Then I put myself in the students' shoes and it made total sense.  Looking back to term 1, 2016, our year 9 students really struggled to settle in to school.  I was teaching a year 9 class who I enjoyed, but battled on a daily basis just to settle them down and try and engage in their learning.  I had a feeling of helplessness, which turned into determination and finally into action - something needed to change!

When I think about our year 9's, I think about my granddaughter Satori and how she will feel when she starts school in year 9.  Will she be scared?  Will she be able to cope with such huge changes to the teaching and learning that she has been used to?  Knowing what I know now, I feel the future of education has been entrusted to us by the parents and grandparents in our community, so we need to get it right!  Watch this space!

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Updates on my inquiry

My COL's inquiry is how to plan and implement an integrated cross-curricula programme at year 9 to lift the achievement of boys’ writing.

One of our department goals this year is to collaborate, create and implement an integrated future focussed unit at year 9.  This is linked directly to our schools goal of 'working across departments in Year 9 on an integrated unit of work with a community focus or context'.  I have chosen this as my inquiry as I am really hoping to engage our year 9's in interesting and relevant contexts across curriculum areas.

Over the past year, I have been gathering evidence, engaging in professional development and attempting to put together a template for our learning environment.  We have an established 'old school junior curriculum' where departments are generally working in silos and the challenge has been to change the status quo and work more purposely across curriculum areas.  

There are many faucets to the planning and implementing of this change.  Trying to apply a cross-curriculum has been challenging particular with subject areas used to being silo's, however the dialogue between departments have helped to create conversations and a review of our teaching and learning pedagogies.

One of the key documents that I have found useful combines student inquiry with curriculum integration was Sally Boyd and Rose Hopkins study of schools who've adopted varying approaches to inquiry and integration.  They have also been part of a recent report on supporting future-oriented learning and teaching with a New Zealand perspective that looks at what 21st century teaching and learning could look like in schools.   These documents have been useful in looking at the wider implications of a systematic approach to teaching and learning.

You are here

Friday, 17 February 2017

Meeting the @SPARK M.I.T crew!

Today my colleague Hinerau and I travelled to the Spark headquarters to begin our journey as M.I.T inquirers into issues that we are interested in.

In our first session we introduced ourselves and it was interesting to hear how our Manaiakalani outreach programme allows for 'Sparkers' to join us and share in their digital journals.  We met Lynne LeGros, who is the CEO of the Spark Foundation and shared the other initiatives that Spark are involved in like being the creators of the 'givealittle' pages etc.  It was lovely to hear the stories of how they are involved in the community and their invaluable support of our Manaiakalani M.I.T initiative.  Lynne also alluded to the fact that we will have a Spark support person assigned to us throughout this journey which is exciting to know.

After morning tea, we each shared what our inquiries were and thanks to some invigorating grilling by Dorothy senior, we felt like we were getting to bottom of our inquiries - I definitely needed this time to sort mine out.

One of many hypothesis that I'd discovered is that kids in our cluster that are coming to year 9, come with skills that we don't utilise.  The sharing component of our 'learn, create, share' model is definitely under-utilised at our school, and with the majority of students arriving at year 9 having blogged for years and years, my mission is to figure how we can roll it out in our school so that it becomes the norm.

Is it the teachers? Is it the lack of knowledge or will or a bit of both?  Is it the culture of learning that we have?  Wait, but do we know that blogging works and does it raise achievement?

I think part of it is that teachers at the college don't understand the purpose of blogs.  Many feel that it is about exposing their inner thoughts and emotions to the world and they feel vulnerable.  I totally understand how that feels and this being only like my fourth blog ever, it has taken me ages to write because the self barrier I've imposed comes from a misunderstanding of the purpose of blogs or the audiences I am writing for.

 I need a new photo!

After a scrumptious lunch, we were asked to revisit our inquiries and make sure that we were happy with what we'd originally had written on the website.  Andrea from Point England pointed out that she liked my photo which was nice but totally irrelevant to the what we were supposed to be doing and distracted everyone who were probably looking at my photo and thought 'what the heck, she doesn't even look like that!' haha.

Back to the issue at hand, when looking at my inquiry,  I'm happy with it for now and know that I will come up against a couple issues, but after today, I feel confident that the support we have will allow us to give it ago - let's do this Sparkers!!!
Getting our inquiry hats - Spark M.I.T 2017

Our year 9 sustainability day!!

On Wednesday 15th February, our year 9's took part in a 'Sustainability Day' a day that students would take part in workshops and discussions over the importance of sustainability!

Before the day could happen, there was a little bit of planning behind the scenes, which I will detail below.

My initial thoughts were that it would be a day that our kids could be immersed in and essentially we could hook them into wanting to learn about sustainability and why it is important in our community, starting with why it was important to our school.

I invited our year 13 leaders, prefects and house captains to be part of the day as I felt they could help our year 9's feel more comfortable in the big wide world of high school and to remind our year 9's who our leaders were.  I briefed them last week about the day and asked them to remember how they felt when they started at our school.  The prefects were excited to be part of the day and I assigned to them to specific tutor classes.

Coming to a new school with new faces is always hard and I felt that a way to make them feel like they belonged to our school was to plant their 'seeds' into the ground, our school ground.  I asked our principal Soana if we could buy seeds that they could symbolically plant so they felt part of the school.  So last week, off I went with Wally, our school kaumatua to Bunnings to buy seeds so that each of our year 9's could plant something on our sustainability day.  Then I wondered how could we distribute all these seeds to our kids and Karen Ferguson came up with a great idea to wrap a few seeds up into tissue paper then tuck them into the back of lanyards that I'd created for each year 9 student (a mean production line was created 2 nights ago whereby staff stayed behind after school to wrap and tuck seeds for our kids!)

The sustainability day began with our year 13's being briefed on their roles and responsibilities as leaders of a year 9 class.  They were given the lanyards, then told of the days programme.  When the bell went for the beginning of the day and as year 9 students arrived into the auditorium, the prefects took them to their allocated tutor class seats.

Our principal explained the importance of being part of the Tamaki family followed by our head girl Jarna Parsons and our head boy Saia Tukuafu encouraging our year 9's to give everything a go.

Principal Soana talks to our year 9's

Our head boy Saia Tukuafu and head girl Jarna Parsons address our year 9's.
Our kaumatua Wally Noble began the journey at the marae and described the importance of the marae  to the school and how our kids are part of the tangata whenua and to respect the marae and all of its mana.

Kaumatua Wally Noble explaining the meaning of our marae

Nanny Barb showed the students the garden with all of its herbs and vegetables and Russell Dunn took the kids for a tour of our school rain garden and looked at the housing developments across our school fields.  These were other aspects of sustainability that were topics that students could choose a projects in their social studies classes.

Alby Tu'uga Stevenson who is one of our English teachers slash year 9 dean slash tutor for the Samoan group, used his multiple hats to teach all of the year 9's a simple Samoan sasa - this was a mean feat and definitely a highlight for the day.  A number of teachers became judges and our year 9's saw them in a different light too!
Mr Tu'uga Stevenson teaching the year 9's a sasa.

At the end of the day, we invited our kids to blog about their experiences, their fears and their thoughts.  They were then treated to a speech by one of our success stories Alvina Pau'uvale who shared her journey from a young year 9 student sitting in the auditorium, wondering how to solve the about problems around her to a recognised academic in her chosen field of Science and how she overcame her fear of starting at Tamaki.

This day for me was a huge challenge in having to think about all the different groups involved and especially the planning behind it.   I hoped that the students could learn about the importance of sustainability and in a sense use the school and what was around them, to experience it first hand.

Here's the link to the sustainability day site.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Initial planning at our department meeting for our integrated unit

There are four teachers in our social studies department who are teaching at least one year 9 class this year.  We come from two extremes of teaching experience - there are two of us who have been teaching social studies at Tamaki for at least 10 years and the other two teachers are brand new beginning teachers who have joined our department at the beginning of this year.  It makes for an exciting mix of new and old!

During our first department meeting, we discussed a unit that I'd put together over Christmas and asked for feedback and thoughts at our second meeting.  I was excited to see input from everyone who could see we needed more ideas, engagement and lessons that would motivate student interest and ownership.

The introductory lessons allowed students to imagine they were Moana and travelling to a new country, but needed to remember how to protect where they'd come from.  Part of the reason for this was to get to know our kids and to allow them to share who they are and where they come from with the teacher and with the class.

An important part of social studies is understanding concepts so much of the unit centres around defining, identify and describe key concepts like identity, traditions, culture and change.  It was important to understand what our kids knew about these concepts, then build on their understanding with lots of relatable examples and at the same time, trying to get know who the kids were in our classroom.  

Friday, 3 February 2017

Day 2: Full on Thursday!

It's now Friday because yesterday it was so full on, I didn't get to blog...not that I didn't want to, I just couldn't get my fingers on the keyboard I was so buggered!

Period 1 was our project leaders meeting and although we are a small group, we feel we are leaders of change in our school.  It is an empowering position to be in.  We set our goals for the years and I explained to them how the weeks would look once the kids projects started and when they needed to check in with the kids - Tuesday's for the physical check in and Thursday's for our blogging checks.

Period 2, I met my gorgeous year 9's - ohhh the joy of seeing their lovely faces!  

I met my huge level 3 sos class by doing an experiment with them.  I left them waiting outside for 5 minutes to ensure they got there on time.  Two boys were waiting near the door, but I explicitly said only the girls could come in.  I ignored the boys who were whispering 'oh miss', the girls just smiled or joked at them as they walked past them into the class.  As i locked them out, I told the girls that I was the president of the class and I will choose who was allowed in class and today I don't want the boys because they are too distracting.  Some of the girls applauded, others laughed but the majority just stared at me, kind of glassie eyed.  After 5 minutes, they realised I wasn't joking and a few commented saying 'miss it's hot outside, can they come in?' or 'it's not funny now miss'.  I then asked them 'shall I let them in' and many said 'nahhhh', but one of two exclaimed 'oh these two are alright, they're not like normal boys'.  I then opened the door and the girls watched the two boys walking in with their heads down, saying 'sad miss'.  I then asked them how they felt.  One of the boys Junior said 'normal' then everyone laughed but the other boy Ben, said he felt stink and left out.  I then told them that what I did is much like what is happening in a country that wouldn't let certain people in because they were different.  That started our conversation over the new America, a great way to hook them in!  I hope they come back!

After school was our first COL's meeting which I was really excited about the opportunity to network with staff in our cluster.  Russell plied us lollies, rockmelon & cans of coke to sweeten the afternoon and boy did we need it!  Being a COL is so exciting and I left feeling supported and ready to take on the world!

Day 1: Where did it go? Wed 1st Feb (late post)

Day one of school has gone - blinked and missed it!

My to do list that I sorted last night at 11pm was:

  • Complete new year 9 welcome letter for the dean and SLT (check - well received)
  • Book car in for damage repair (check - 2 weeks from Tuesday)
  • Check on new departments members to see if they're ok (both have not quit, tyj)
  • Sort out furniture from departed MDTA Geo teacher Caleb to new room
  • Put posters up in my room (interior decorator needed)
  • pay late tax returns re IRD
  • book English resource room for meetings without the HOD's knowledge (yes!)
The staffroom can be deceptive at times.  If you sit on the couches, you invite the odd wanderer who wants to share their woes and life stories, sometimes jumping you when you least expect it, trapping you with their spell - it's like you don't want to look but you can't help but stare!  Other times, you can find a corner for whole day, that warns ppl out 'leave me the alone, I have stuff to do!' and no one bothers you.  To me, I feel a sense of connection when I'm there, with people of all types and their busi-ness, their sense of duty or un-duty to the slackers.   I feel part of the big picture, the big vision that our staff want to be a part of but that we sometimes mask itwith busi-ness and excuses.

I pretty much smiled at everyone I saw today, I couldn't help it.  I knew there was a feeling of apprehension, the smell of excitement and getting on with the job.  Today me and another colleague debated, deliberated, de-constructed and defamed every thought that we had to do with the our inquiries and our purpose at the school in the staffroom - we even missed interval, we were so in to it!!  Sometimes, we got lost in the momentum that time flies...but hey that's school life!

Online teaching and learning #6: Day 1: Reconnecting with my year 13's.

Spending time reconnecting with my year 13's. The last time I was in my classroom and saw my seniors was 7 weeks ago.  The day before w...