Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Igniting Curiosity - Through a World of Possibilities

How do we personalise learning when some children have little or no idea of what they are interested in or are madly obsessed about a narrow subject?

To personalise students learning (i.e. place students at the centre of learning) we (the teachers) need to be able to put in place structures to meet individual styles, needs and interests of the children.  This is difficult when children haven't been exposed to a range of life experiences and seemingly lack the reflection skills to be able to identify what they are curious about?

So, how do we create experiences for children to explore new ideas, understandings and knowledge that goes beyond the 'googlable' question and the limits of what a learning area centred approach delivers?

At H.P.P are trying to address the issues mentioned above through a whole school process of learning design.

We have a phase of our overall learning design that we label, 'immersion.'  We believe we need to introduce the children to a 'world they do not yet know' or 'the world they may have heard of' to create the conditions for powerful learning through evoking curiosity.

This process is inspired by John Holt's Four Worlds model.

The reason why we do this is because immersion plays a significant part in creating the foundation for us to be able to personalise learning as we challenge children in their thinking by introducing new concepts, experiences and ideas that sparks curiosities.

From this platform, we can steer students towards a deep inquiry and/or co-construct/negotiate a project.  We label this second phase our P.B.L or Inquiry phase.

In discussing immersion with Daniel Birch (Principal at H.P.P) he said to think of students as sitting somewhere within the bell curve of distribution in terms of interests and passions.

A few children will have no idea of their interests or curiosities and a few will be extremely passionate about a hobby or topic.  For example, the child who wants to be an All White, lives and breathes it, knows every statistic and does project after project on anything related to football.

What we want to do is take this child who already knows so much and encourage other interests.  For children who seem to have very little interest or passion we want to stimulate thought and engagement.  We can cater for both groups and the children in between through immersion.

Our first phase of school-wide learning is centred around 'Inventive Thinking' a concept taken from the enGauge 21st Century Skills research. We unpack 'Inventive Thinking' as a concept which through this lens and set of competencies we design learning experiences for our children.  We use the content of the Ncrel research as a backbone of our our localised curriculum.

NECREL Description

Sitting under the broad concept of 'Inventive Thinking' is a subset of skills which relate to the Key Competencies (dispositions) that we will create experiences for our children to develop and reflect on.  We have linked these dispositions to the 'whole-brain' Hermann Brain Dominance model as a way of unpacking thinking within our schools.  The dispositions provide a common school-wide language used across staff and students which helps to understands ourselves and each other better

We have these at the forefront of our minds going into the design process.  We do this deliberately to shift thinking from subject areas to skill acquisition.  We still value literacy and numeracy however in terms of process we need to shift our teachers thinking and old habits first.

Day 12.  #28daysofwriting

As a staff we create ideas for our immersion linking to the needs of our community of learners and what is relevant.  We generate these ideas responsively and nothing is preplanned.  It is a free for all of dreaming up big ideas and throwing out there thinking.

From there we take responsibility for designing a workshops that fit the framework of our whole learning model.  We have our vision, mission and school learning values in mind.

Next week the children will have two action packed days of taster/ignition sessions.  We will be encouraging active reflection through the sessions.  Students will be able to select from a wide range of workshops on offer.  Everybody on staff, including support staff will be running activities and sessions.

Learning Advisors (home teachers) then unpack and extend immersion further, based on what they noticed over the whole-school immersion with cohorts of children. Once, the students have reflected and the teachers have noticed that the children are getting ready to go they'll move into the next phase of negotiation leading into P.B.Ls.

The immersion design should be flexible and nothing is set on stone as we constantly reflect on what could be modified.  At the end of the day it's learning for everybody.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Why Exercise Makes You Happy

Day 9   #28daysofwriting

Hitting the news recently, was N.Zs high ranking in a OECD global report, showing kiwis are amongst the most obese people in the world.  Up to a third of kiwi boys and girls are indicated to be obese.  The research was conducted by an international consortium of researchers and Associate Professor Tony Merriman of Otago’s Biochemistry was a member of the study consortium.  

You don't have to be a scientist to understand the link between obesity and poor health. As teachers we experience first hand the impact that poor health has on student's learning.  We have all had children who struggle to participate in P.E and fitness programmes.  There are the kids who despite our best efforts to personalise learning have issues with lethargy and engagement.  

So what are N.Z schools doing to encourage good health in our kids?  

We are doing plenty, here are just a few ideas:
  • encouraging healthy food choices for school lunch-boxes
  • sharing healthy recipes 
  • providing nutritious breakfasts
  • having fruit breaks
  • daily fitness
  • school sports
  • promoting good health through curriculum.

I love the notion that exercise helps to make you happy and my personal experience is that it does. Have you heard of a runners high? I can't honestly say I've ever felt truly happy whilst running but I love the finish line and the feeling that lingers afterwards.

Endorphins (natures wee natural painkiller) have been shown in some studies to reduce stress and promote happiness.  They exist to help us manage pain hence the saying ... 

Here is a link to a kids health website with loads of great informations and ideas to promote good health.

So what are you doing to get your kids active?  An idea we are trying is giving kids the options of running bootcamps and fitness sessions.  They do the research, plan the lesson and away they go.  Another idea is to run a gym style timetable so students can opt into a range of cardio, stretching and strength based sessions.  The feedback has been positive so far.  Fitness has come a long way from whole school runs around the back paddock and aerobics on the tennis courts!  

Friday, 6 February 2015

Hinemoa Street Street Organic

#28daysofwriting Day 7

Turns out my passion for writing diminishes on long weekends however I can share this wee hidden gem of a place for all of those Aucklander's out there looking for a caffeine fix and decent organic breakfast on the north side of the bridge.

I love bacon and eggs. They should be a main food group of their own. #hinemoastrretorganic is a cute wee cafe, fabulous service and amazing food. It's pretty reasonable too.

Northcote is a wee hidden gem for coffee spots, restaurants and cool design shops. It's one of my favourite local spots for a walk and run.  Alas, I don't own one of the beautiful villas that I admire and the view is pretty fantastic too.  One day ... :)

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Waitangi - Waka and Kai

Day 5 #28daysofwriting

I'm blogging on my phone. Unlike most of the 12 year old kids I teach I haven't yet mastered the tappity, tap, tap lightening speed typing skills they seem to posses.  At this rate my goal of 28minutes of interrupted writing for today's challenge will be over with barely a paragraph written ... 

A Reflection on the Day #HPSWaitangi

Hobsonville Point Schools' finished off our first week of school and headed into the long weekend on a high note with our Waitangi Celebration Day. 

It's a great opportunity to have our secondary and primary kids, staff, parents and wider community together to learn about our bi-cultural history and celebrate partnerships.

Its a big day of learning. Big day of fun. 

I've been involved in plenty of big school events over the years.  These tend to be well oiled machines with run sheets, briefings and rigidly defined roles and responsibilities.

They've been successful in their own right but what I really enjoy about this H.P.S event is the room to move, step up, step sideways, read and respond to situations. Sharyn Afu and Sarah Wakefield do a superb job of steering the day. They do hours and hours of behind the scenes prep to set us up with support structures to create the space for us to move and ultimately step up and take responsibility. 

There is a fancy name for this type of approach. It's called heterarchial organization. A good example of this is Google 20% time when employees work with whoever they wish within the company and some of their most innovative ideas and products have come
out of it.

Personally, I love a bit of structure however it can be stifling of you're not careful. 

Do we not want our kids to be self managing, thinking, questioning, seeking and taking responsibility. Surely if we over structure their 'role' it limits them in that they don't have to think for themselves? 

Today I experienced some freedoms and there were times when I chilled out, put my feet up and watched the kids (and Reid Walker) learning how to paddle a waka. Devoured a massive bowl of chocolate pudding. Thank you very much Lea Vellenoweth, Daniel Birch and the awesome food prep student team. I also put on my organizational hat with Amy Mccauley and learnt how to carve a pork roast plus picked up a cloth and wiped a few tables.  On my drive home I passed a group of students carrying a bunch of gear between the schools to help out. How awesome. It was 7pm.

Hope everyone has a lovely Waitangi Weekend.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Distractibility : Keeping Students Minds Wandering (with purpose)

#28daysofwriting  Day 4

This morning, I sat down at my desk with a task list that included a few admin jobs I've been putting off.  Someone once told me, I think it was my mother, to prioritise the boring and save the exciting for last.  So, today I took mum's advice and attempted to make a start on the more mundane.  It involved excel.  Say no more. By 11am I was 4 coffees down, filing trays organised (that wasn't on the list), re-ordered my priority list, delivered 6 potato peelers to Hobsonville Point Secondary School (an unexpected priority and long story) and pretty much mindfully avoided the task.  

During this mindful avoidance, I read a fantastic paper shared with me by Daniel (principal at H.P.P.S), called 'Understanding John Hattie's Visible Learning Research in the Context of Carol Dweck's Growth Mindset' by Gerry Miler (Educational Trainer and Consultant).  link to the download.  It was a fantastic and timely read as we head into a new year of learning.

So, if as adults we can be mindfully aware of our distractibility and despite our best efforts still get pulled off course (for better or worse) then how are our kids going in typical classrooms?

John Hattie's 15 years of research into what works in schools combined with Carol Dweck's Growth Mindset work is a powerful combination for helping to remind us of what is effective.  Gerry Miller, writes a conclusion within the article that has strong messages and is an easy read.

These are a few take-aways I took from the section on 'teachers':

  • having high expectations of students is critical - ensure that there is challenge in the learning
  • moderate across the school so teachers have common understanding of benchmarks and can act responsively to them to ensure learning is challenging
  • teacher-student relationships are critical to learning - relationships come first
  • relationships take time to build - (begs the questions why do primary schools tend to year group children and tag from one teach to another year after year)
  • teachers need a common perception of progress - skills, understandings, knowledge, dispositional growth, curriculum levels etc
  • believe in the child in where they are at and where you can help take them to - have an open mindset
The institutionalised teacher in me sometimes worries about giving children too much freedom and room to explore but this reinforced the need for strong relationships in knowing the learner well and therefore setting them up with challenges that will engage and inspire them in their learning.  If learning is negotiated & co-constructed between the teacher and child within a personalised context then surely it is a win-win?

I went for a walk through Hobsonville Point Primary this afternoon, at 2.30pm to be exact.  All of the children I saw were engaged and happy in whatever it was they were doing.  I saw lots of personalisation taking place through self directed learning, teacher practice and kids exploring interests.  Some of these were deliberately scaffolded by teachers and others were not.

Of course there were a couple of kids who had deviated off 'task' but they were happily engaged in a fantastic game of count the wall tiles.  I suppose that was developing numeracy the research states, children will still learn in-spite of you (the teacher) so who was I to judge.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Do Uniforms Help Children to Learn?

 #28daysofwriting.  Day 3

I'm wondering where there is any research that proves that having a school uniform actually help kids to learn?  As I have only 28 minutes to write this post I'm going to do a quick google scholar search and see what I can find and see if there is anything to persuade me that they do in fact assist kids.

I couldn't find a thing to suggest they do impact positively on academic success.  However, I did find some articles with student voice that mentioned having a uniform helped in reducing peer bullying targeting what the children were wearing.  As an aside,  I wonder if a uniform creates a greater sense of belonging and how this may impact positively for kids in the education setting?

So, uniforms.  Good or bad?  or maybe it's not that simple?  Being a new school we were fortunate enough to be able to start at the drawing board around what we wanted and what our parent community would like.

The stance of the leadership team was pretty straight-forward back in 2012.  We didn't want a full school uniform that we would have to enforce for a few reasons:

1) We didn't want valuable time to be eaten up by 'policing' if wee Jimmy had the right socks on or not.

2) If we are personalising learning and valuing our children as individuals then why should we make a blanket decision about the wearing of a uniform?

3) Most importantly of all, what was driving our thinking was where is the research to suggest having a uniform will impact positively on children's academic success?

These conversations were taking place before we had a parent community as the school was still been built, (2012) and our local community was still bare sections and wooden housing framework.  We did a community consultation as per policy.

Our community, by a majority wanted a uniform, so we went ahead and began the design process ever mindful of been smart about how we would roll it out and the impact it may have on us and our community.

Local Wind-chime Art Installation & New Housing 2014

Hobsonville Point Primary 2012

What we have now is some versatile options of a school uniform that we only insist is worn when we need to be able to easily recognise our students outside of school.  Students choose if they wear the uniform to school and this way teachers and staff don't have to invest time into worrying too much about if a shirt is tucked in or not.


After enduring days where it has been thirty degrees and stifling hot outside, it's been lovely having a more relaxed dress code for both the kids and the staff.  After 17 years of teaching today was the first day I have ever worn jandals to work and it was awesome.  I'm pretty certain they didn't have a negative impact either.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Ditch the Written Recount on Day 1 of School #28daysofwriting

So, what does Day 1 look like at H.P.P.S?

A two day retreat, at Muriwai Beach allowed our staff the opportunity to gather and discuss our thinking in preparedness for Day 1 with our kids.  It also meant we could have some time to play in the surf and enjoy the amazing ruggedness of a kiwi west coast beach.  The setting was inspiring and so too were some of the conversations.

Our discussions red flagged a few things for me so as I went for a wander through our learning environment I was looking for evidence of them being lived out.  I saw plenty, plus more that hadn't been on my radar but are worth sharing.  It is worthy to note, not one writtten recount about 'what I did on holiday' was spotted.   In saying that, literacy was everywhere but it was infused.  Some of the best learning is messy.

Some take-aways from the retreat.

  • Relationships - without strong relationships we can't impact as effectively as we would like so focus on getting to know the children, their families and collaborate with each other to draw from our team strengths.

  • Personalise - one size fits all is a fast way of switching kids off their learning.  Therefore, take the time to set up learning experiences to see what kids gravitate towards.  Hands on?  Mathematics?  Construction?  Creative Art?  Interpersonal? Introduce them to a world they may not know and see what you can ignite in them.

  • Collaborate - kids don't always need that teacher at the front.  Some of the best student centred learning has teachers who facilitate the learning journey so know when to stand aside or ask the hard questions.  Know when to lead, to challenge or to support.  Get to know ALL of the kids really well across the school so they see a bunch of people who may be able to help them.

  • Provocations - create freedoms for the kids to explore what they may be interested in or curious about.  Create lots of learning experience to foster creativity, collaboration and self reflection.
The giant water slide was a winner with the kids.  Great for bringing them all together and building some risk-taking dispositions.

Risk-taking #28daysofwriting

I love the thinking behind Tom Barrett's #28daysofwriting in smashing out thoughts and ideas to contribute to our blogs.  I hope that my ramblings are at least a bit logical and are delivered in a manner in which others can interpret and take away something from. (Hopefully)

I'm not playing by the rules so far. I procrastinated last night and unfortunately missed #day1 however am meeting another of my New Year's resolutions in taking a bit of a risk and joining in on something that scares me a little this, putting out blogs without shaping, editing, re-viewing (at least 20 times) which doesn't sit well with my perfectionist nature. 

However, if we want the kids to be taking risks then best I model this stuff.  I do quite like rules, but mainly bending them so I'm going to put out a couple of posts as I'm playing catchup today.  

Think outside of the box, your creativity is not found in your comfort zone.  (Leianah Afu : Age 13)


Why is it that we want our kids to take risks and yet so many of us find it so hard in education?  I have a bit of an idea about this.  If you talk to teachers, most will say they loved their school experience and felt successful.  Generally speaking, we were the kids who fitted the conservative school model and didn't question the system.  We won the badges, were selected to represent the school and received the certificates at assembly.  School was comfortable and going to teacher's college seemed like a natural fit for many of us.

People I admire and love working with are the rule breakers, the innovators and those who dare to do things differently.  The ones who seek change because it makes sense to do so and therefore ruffle the feathers of the outdated industrial model of education.  Whatever our background, ex school prefect or recipient of the 'lowest attendance' record, everyone of us can be brave and challenge our practice and the whole education model.  

On a small scale, I'm going to embrace my inner rebel and put out some unedited blogs (shows how much of a risk taker I am :P ) and on a more significant reflect on the innovation and learning taking place at H.P.P.S.

Day 1 of 2015 School Year - Maia demonstrating some drifting

First Day for some junior kids at H.P.P.S

Morning Tea