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We celebrated the completion of our Passion Projects with A Presentation Night for the parents , grandparents and mentors to see the projects the students have been working on throughout the term.
I was completely overwhelmed by the number of families that came to our night. Altogether we had over 50 adults including parents, grandparents and/or mentors and 39 children attending.
We all squeezed into our classroom so that I could introduce the format for the evening and to thank the 16 mentors for donating their time and energy to help mentor the students. The students had made beautiful thank you cards and each mentor received a small block of chocolate as well.
The students then took their parents back to their station, which had been set up earlier, either in the library or in one of the rooms in our classroom block as we couldn’t all fit in our classroom!
After the students had presented their project to the parents I rang the bell to let them now it was time to visit another students presentation. The transition from one to the next ran smoothly and I was really happy that the adults ensured no student was left without an adult to present to.
The last part of the evening was less formal and it gave the adults the opportunity to walk around and look at all the individual projects. The adults and all the children had great big smiles on their faces and you could see how proud they were!
All the feedback was very positive and the students were very proud of their work. I encourage you to visit our website Mrs Warners Passion Projects and go to the student blogs to read their reflections of the night and the Celebration Blog to view more photos too! A big thank you to my colleague Bu Cathy who worked behind the scenes all night and took the lovely photos for me too!
It was a very exciting and rewarding night and one which I am sure the students will look back on with fond memories. I know I will!
This term the students in my class have been participating in their own individualised Passion Projects. I was inspired to try this in my classroom after attending the EduTech 2014 Conference in Brisbane earlier this year and heard about Google’s Genius Hour where;
Each week, employees can take a Genius Hour — 60 minutes to work on new ideas or master new skills. They’ve used that precious sliver of autonomy well, coming up with a range of innovations…
I shared a video of some students sharing what they thought about participating in Genius Hour to inspire us. I then used a sharing circle to spark their own passions. This helped them to get started in their thinking about what they would like to learn or create during their Passion Projects.
I was really keen to develop my students skills in self reflection of their own learning and so I also set up a website titled Mrs Warners Passion Projects solely for my students to do a weekly post on their own blog page to reflect on what they did each week, how they went and what did they need to do next. I then went over the guidelines with the students so they were clear about my expectations throughout the project.
We then used postie notes for the children to refine and finalise their big question for their Passion Project. For some of the students this was really easy whilst others had trouble committing to one thing and kept changing their minds! But we got there. I was amazed at the variety of topics the students have picked to either teach themselves or create.Some of the topics the students chose included;
- sewing a surfboard cushion
- creating an online video game
- growing a garden
- researching about wombats
- learning to draw or paint better
- learning how to play the drums or xylophone
- making a cardboard arcade game
- researching gravity and space
- creating art with recycled sea glass
- making a battery out of a $2 coin
- conducting science experiments
- investigate how volcanoes erupt
- make a wooden droid
- investigate how stuff gets popular so quickly
- learn how to cook
- create a lego stop motion movie
- create decorative cupcakes
- research how tornadoes are formed
- learn how to do a hip hop dance
I was a bit overwhelmed too – how would I manage all my students doing different things? The reality was I couldn’t and shouldn’t have to if they are engaged. Fingers were crossed!
Once the students had decided on a topic, they then had to do some initial thinking and planning about what they were going to need and what the end product or goal will look like. I wanted the children to have in their mind how the were going to present what they did to the class and to their parents, a bit like the Backward by Design method. So the students completed an A3 planning sheet (see below) to help them do this.
I also asked the students to help each other think of some people that might be able to help, guide and support them throughout their project, a bit like a mentor role. Once they choose their mentor they helped me construct a generic letter asking their mentors if they would like to help them. The students were delighted when we got three acceptances almost immediately! We also wrote a letter to our parents explaining what our Passion Projects were and asked them to help their child gather some supplies during the holidays.
Each week students were given one hour to work on their passion project.We were really lucky to have 16 adults donate their time each week to become mentors for the students in my class. These ranged from parents and other teachers from within the school, to older teenage sisters and family friends to grandparents and local business owners. It was truly an amazing experience to watch everyone work collaboratively together. The students were totally engaged and become more responsible for their own learning.
The Passion Projects provided the students an opportunity to work on something they were truly passionate about and while the end product was their main focus, it was the 21st century skills that they acquired and developed throughout the term that excited me as a teacher. I kept reminding them that failure was always an option but giving up was not and this became a mantra for most of my students. They were able to recognise problems when they got stuck and were able to problem solve to correct and improve their work. Initially some struggled to manage their time well but often they were able to reflect on this and work harder next time.
Each week the students also had to do a reflection on their progress using our class website http://year23pp2018.weebly.com . They were also given the opportunity to feedback and feed forward on other students progress using this website. Both mentors and myself were also involved in this feedback.
The students wanted to come to school in the morning and work on their passion projects before school started and I had students ask if they could work on them during our activity time. I even had students ask me if I had yard duty and if I didn’t, they would plead with me to open my class recess or lunch times so they could work on their projects!
In the final weeks of the term, the students were given a Passion Projects Rubric to do their own self assessment on their learning throughout the term. They also had to present their projects to their peers in their classrooms and each developed a speech for this. This was a great experience for the students as they were very proud of their projects and their work was acknowledged with rounds of applause from their classmates. It also provided them an opportunity to practice presenting their work, ready for our Celebration night to the parents and community in the last week of the term. You can read more about our presentation night here.
Overall I was thrilled with the student engagement of the students throughout the term and I will definitely do the Passion Projects again. The students in my class gave positive feedback on their experiences and most have already started planning what they will work on next term!
During my last performance management meeting, my line manager asked me how do I differentiate in my classroom. I was completely thrown by this question, not only because I wasn’t expecting the question but also because I hadn’t really thought about what it means in the context of my teaching. I have certainly heard the word bantered around many of the PD that I have been to in recent years but had thought it meant individualised learning plans for every lesson for every student in my class which then catered for their every learning need. I have certainly tried to do this in the past and ultimately abandon it because it is so time consuming and exhausting. I had a real sense of guilt that I wasn’t doing enough for my students.
So I mumbled a response that basically went along the lines of grouping students and getting support for those that were struggling and hoped that it would be a satisfactory answer. I’m not sure that it was but the conversation moved on and I had a sense of relief that that part of the meeting was over.
Fast forward to today and our school had a student free day so the staff could work on developing their understanding of student differentiation.
Initially we had to complete the following chart to get a snapshot of our personal understanding and beliefs on what we knew about differentiation.
We also explored the myths around what people thought differentiation is or isn’t by completing a simple group activity which created great conversations around our own beliefs.
The staff then looked at the work Carol Ann Tomlinson has done on responding to the needs of all learners from her book titled “The Differentiated Classroom”. I really like the chart below that Melanie Jones created by adapting Carol Tomlinsons’ chart.
You can get a snapshot of Carol’s work on differentiation in her video below;
The questions were then posed to us around What are your learners strengths? and What are your own strengths? We completed a Multiple Intelligence Quiz to establish our own learning strengths. My results indicated that I was highest in interpersonal skills which surprised me and interestingly was the highest percentage result for our staff. I also came out strong in verbal/linguistics and visual/spatial which I think is more like my strengths. I was not surprised at all that musical was my lowest. I think it would be really interesting to get someone else’s perspective to gauge a point of reference.
I would really like to do this with my students to get a stronger understanding of their strengths as well.
“Formative assessment doubles the speed of student learning”
Black and Wiliam
We then looked at what kinds of assessment we are using to inform our student’s learning and provide feedback to improve their learning and understanding. We were given the opportunity to reflect on our own recent assessment strategies;
This task clearly showed that whilst I used a range of summative and formative assessments in my classroom, I am stronger in the formative assessment of my students. However I think there is a place for both as students need to be exposed to summative assessments to develop the skills they need to participate successfully in Mandated tests such as Naplan. There is always room for improvement. I would still like to broaden the way I do formative assessment in my classroom and I really like this post on Edutopia on 53 ways to check for understanding.
So what is the differentiated classroom? I think Carol Tomlinson summarised it perfectly in her “Line of logic for Differentiaon Instruction” below;
For me the day was both a fundamental shift in my understanding of what differentiation was, as well as reaffirming, in that it made me realise that I am on the right track and that I do differentiate in my classroom. I do have high expectations for all my students, I provide continuous assessment for my students, I use flexible grouping and develop tasks that have a range of intellectual demands (although not as often as I would like!), I do ‘teach up’ rather than dumb down, I provide opportunities for students to develop inquiries and problem solve. I provide opportunities to celebrate individual successes and negotiate with students how they will present a product of learning. I establish my classroom so that it provides structure and routines with a variety of working areas that foster a supportive and engaging learning environment for all my students. I do so much more.
This year our class has been learning to write using a broad range of genres from persuasive texts, recounts and information reports right through to narratives. Quite often the editing of their work has been left to me the teacher and whilst I have taught these skills earlier this year and always encouraged the students to edit their own work before they hand it up to me, they have always done this with limited success and appeared to be making the same mistakes over and over again.
Recently I decided to ask my class to finish writing a story. I recounted to the class a holiday experience my family had enjoyed a few years ago when we visited New Zealand. While the basis of the story was true I must admit I did embellish the story to hook them in. You can read more about this lesson on our class blog.
When I sat down to look at what they had written, I was delighted by how they had used their imagination to finish my story. However, I noticed that even though I had asked them to edit their writing before they gave it to me they were still experiencing limited success. I decided I needed to be more explicit in teaching these self editing skills.
I then typed up each student’s story exactly how they had given it to me, including every punctuation and spelling mistake. The next lesson I told the students what I had done and explained to them that we were going to edit their writing together but that we were going to look at each step of self editing separately. The first thing we did was look at punctuation. I gave a mini lesson on the use of capital letters, quotation marks and fullstops and then asked them to reread their writing correcting only the capital letters, quotation marks and full stops. They were surprised at how many they had missed!
The next lesson we repeated the activity but this time we looked at spelling mistakes. I must point out that students had, prior to this lesson, circled any words they thought they had spelt wrong. This time, however, I gave them a highlighter and asked them to highlight any words they spelt wrong. Once again they were amazed at how many they had missed.
During our final lesson, I once again did a mini lesson on words we could use instead of said that might match the spoken text in their writing better. Students were then given time to check their own writing and make any changes if needed.
By the end of the week the students had edited their work with much more success and were more confident in identifying areas that they needed to improve in their writing. One student commented to me that he thought it was much easier to see his mistakes when the story was typed up than it was when it was in his own writing. An interesting point.
After we had finished, the students and I created a poster about self editing which they can now refer to as a guide to remind them of what they need to do next time they are self editing their own work.
I was delighted to see the students using this in their next writing lesson and they are now editing their work with much more success.
This term has seen a major change in the physical environment of my classroom. Inspired by Stephen Heppell, the recent EduTech conference in Brisbane and Sinan Kerimoski from Margaret River P.S., I decided I wanted to create a more flexible learning environment in my class that enabled the students to work more collaboratively together and catered for the various learning styles in my class more.
I wanted to increase the learning opportunities and options available to my students and give them greater control over their learning through a variety of learning modes and interactions, thus providing them with greater choices on where, and with whom, they learn. I also hoped that by giving the students more choices of where and with whom they worked, it would increase student engagement. I wanted the classroom to feel more comfortable for the students and for it to be a place where they wanted to be rather than where they had to be.
In the later part of term two, I spent a lot of time talking to my students about what their ideal classroom would be like. We talked about what they liked and disliked about our current classroom and what we would change if we could. I then asked them to design their ideal classroom.
While some of their ideas were a bit innovative, (I’m not quite sure a rocket ride would fit and a chocolate fountain would be yummy), most of the students were able to contribute some viable ideas. I then asked them to tell me what would they take out of their current class and what would they put in if they could. I collated all their ideas and started making a list. Most students wanted some rugs/ or mats for the floor, a comfortable relaxation area, less traditional desks, more computers, more pillows and a classroom pet. They even wanted a naughty area/chair which is something we didn’t have in our classroom already, (and still don’t!)
I then went and spoke to my principal, who thankfully was very support and encouraged me to pursue these changes. It was time to put some of these ideas into action!
After a few trips to Ikea and many, many hours of my school holidays, I finally transformed our classroom into a more flexible learning environment which was more comfortable for my students. I was also lucky to be able to bring in three computers from home for the students to use.
Below are the results. My only regret is that I didn’t take any before photos!
It was great to see the faces on the students and parents when they walked into our transformed classroom on our first day back in term 3! I was delighted to hear the positive feedback from the parents and students.
This is what some of the students thought of the changes after three weeks;
Tiana – ” I feel really good because the back corner where the bookshelf is, the big palm tree looks cool. You can sit under the leaves.”
Beau – ” I like the changes because it makes me feel more comfortable and it doesn’t feel so plain”
Kyle – “I love the new setup. It is so much better than it used to be . It’s nice and relaxing.”
Courtney – “I like the classroom and I like to choose where I sit.”
Maya – “I feel really happy. I really like the way our class is now. (please don’t change it back Mrs Warner) because I like it this way.”
Saxon – “It is good because it is cool with the bean bags.”
Tihana – ‘I feel really comfortable and it is easy to learn in. I think the little tables are working and I really like the reading area.”
and my favourite comment…..
Esther – “I like the class a lot because it makes me feel happy and want to learn.“
I am really happy with the results and have also received some positive feedback from my colleagues as well. The students are working really well and seating is rarely a problem as students have more choice of where and with whom they sit and work with. Students move between lessons easily and are more engaged with each other. The flexible seating allows for more collaboration, especially in areas such as science and mathematics.
I will continue to monitor our flexible classroom environment and will ask for student and parent feedback at the end of the year.
Meanwhile I would love to hear from other teachers who are using flexible learning in their classrooms.
Oh and I am still working on the classroom pet!
The Professional Standards for teachers has been developed “for teachers to guide professional learning, practice and engagement, … The key elements of quality teaching are described in the Standards. They articulate what teachers are expected to know and be able to do at four career stages: Graduate, Proficient, Highly Accomplished and Lead.” (source Purpose of the Standards )
Recently I started to document my own teaching practice within the three domains of teaching; Professional Knowledge, Professional Practice and Professional Engagement. Initially, I found this process quite difficult as I do not see anything I do as anything more than what all good teachers do. And I am lucky to be surrounded by good teachers in my school!
However, I have found this process quite useful and I was suprised at how much I have achieved in my teaching career. The Standards at the career stages of Highly Accomplished and Lead will inform voluntary certification and I feel that I have started working towards this process.
I have now started to document my evidence and address each of the standards at the following page, Professional Standards. Mapping my progress on the Professional Learning Matrix has helped me not only track what I have documented so far but also helps me to plan what areas I need to focus on next. As you can see I still have a long way to go!
A good starting point for teachers is to engage with the AITSL Self Assessment Tool – click link below. This helps teachers to understand where their own teaching practice fits within the Standards and what areas they have strengths and weaknesses in. A great way to get feedback and guide future professional development and planning.
If you are thinking of applying for certification, my advice would be to start gathering evidence immediately. This may be in the form of lesson plans through to informal letters/ emails from parents, students and colleagues. More information about gathering evidence can be found on the DECD website.
Our school had a Student Free Day today and while the program planned for the day would make most teachers groan and go searching for the caffeine – in reality it was an interesting and productive day!
The theme for the day was the Melbourne Cup! – albeit a day early and while the persistent references were at times corny, it made for a fun day! Whilst most staff chose to wear a dress and adorn their hair with a fancier -there is always someone that pulls out all stops!
All frivolity was quickly pushed aside when the bell went and our NAPLAN data was pulled out. We were given the time to deeply analysis our 2014 NAPLAN results at a individual question level, student, year and gender level and compare these to previous years. This lead to interesting discussion and at times debate, as to what the data showed us and the trends that were occurring compared to the National results. This is where NAPLAN data is most effective and there really needs to be improvements in getting this data back to schools before the end of the year, so that current teachers can analysis them.
We have done a lot of work on The Australian curriculum at our school and it was timely then to take a step back and look at the big picture. The biggest concern many teachers have when looking at how many instructional hours each subject has, is ‘how do I fit it all in?’. The reality is that we need to do things smarter. We also need to be aware that “For any year of schooling, R-10, the Australian Curriculum is written so that it should not take up more than 80% of total teaching time available in schools.” (see DECD Guidelines Attachment 3) This leaves room for schools to run localised programs and class based activities such as class meetings, etc. The recommended timeline for familiarisation and implementation of the F(R) – 10 Australian Curriculum means that we will be programming, assessing and reporting in all Learning Areas in 2016, so we can expect a lot of development of our professional knowledge of this resource over the next three years.
One great resource recently developed to support teachers in the development of the Australian Curriculum is the Leading Learning Website. This website has a broad range of stimulus materials, posters, and workshop materials including short videos to support teachers in implementing the Australian Curriculum in a way that enables our students to become engaged, independent learners. I particularly like the Bringing It To Life (BITL) section, that includes a tool to support teachers in engaging their students to become powerful learners. I think the one statement from this website that had the biggest impact on me today was this one taken from the “Into The Classroom” section;
In South Australia our primary years research shows us that there is an unintended outcome from our strong support of learners. We can be so supportive of our learners, that we inhibit their intellectual struggle with the unfamiliar and the complex. In other words, we rescue them from thinking. Learning about what to do when you don’t know something and not being thrown by new contexts is at the heart of learner resilience needed for academic and future life success.
Our school recently launched the Kids Matter Framework at our school and this was a chance to celebrate our movement into the program with our wider school community. My students wrote a recount of this launch on our class blog.
As teachers we have been training in The Kids Matter modules throughout the year and this training continued today as we developed our understanding of the skills students need to be socially and emotionally strong. We explored the five micro-skills of Self-awareness, Self-management, Social awareness, Relationship skills and Responsible decision making. I am quite excited to be involved in this program and can already see the positive benefits for our school as a staff we are beginning to have a a better understanding of why mental health and well being for everyone in our school community, especially our students, are so important. The program is giving us both the tools and language to talk about the mental health of our students and how we can better equip them to become positive, emotionally strong and responsible people. I am looking forward to implementing the framework more formally within my class program next year.
Throughout the day we were encouraged to write our thoughts, ideas and questions on our brightly colored plastic tablecloths – a great way to record our day and I think we did a great job! (see below)
Recently I started an online professional development course on Web 2.0 tools. I am embarrassed to admit that although I had heard the term bantered around in educational settings, I was really quite ignorant as to what it actually meant, even though I was already using these very tools in my classroom. I am glad to say I now understand that web 2.0 refers to the read/ write web in which the consumer of information from the past is now the pro-sumer of information – that is they have a much more participatory role in the information they locate and use in the online world, This is clearly demonstrated in the image below.
As you can see, information in the past has been fixed, provided by a few only. Digital text is now more flexible and fluid. Consumers of this information now have more control over that information and are able to edit, collaboratively share and exchange information in a much more social way. It is said that a blog is created every ½ a second. People are much more willing to take information and comment on it. Digital text, including visual text, is not only more accessible, it is easier to control, change and share.
The world is changing…..
This digital text is fast outgrowing the use of print text at a rapid rate of knots. Traditional print media sales (including televised news) have rapidly dropped in recent years whilst online media and social networking use including twitter, youtube and facebook have skyrocketed. Why would someone wait for the news to come on tv that night or the paper to be printed the next day to find out if a lost boy has been found, when you can follow what’s happening on twitter or look at the police facebook page to get updates instantaneously?
This convergence of information means that it is easier to connect with more people and be more accessible to a worldwide community than ever before. Ironically personal connections are becoming harder. There has been a significant move from the web in the past as one way deliverance of information to individuals to a more two way web where individuals not only read information but contribute to it, create it and collaborate this information. This is done whenever blogs, wikis, podcasting, video/photo sharing, social networking, etc is done. There is now an explosion of digital information available and as more and more people engage with web 2.0, this explosion is exponential as more and more sites become participative.
There is a lot of the research on the implications of Web 2.0 in education. This is based on students in secondary and higher education, usually in America. As an Australian educator of primary students, whilst the impact of Web 2.0 is yet to be researched extensively, it is potentially enormous. Junior primary teachers are now faced with students that are not only more connected than their teachers but are more connected that their older peers or siblings – the very group that most research has been done on. These students today are switched on and they are use to multitasking. They do not know what life was like before FB and similar social media or digital text.
We now live in a world where geographical barriers no longer exists. Students in Australia can do online courses in some of America’s more renown universities and whilst these courses do not attach any credit yet, it is only a matter of time. The concept that anyone can study anything, anywhere is today’s reality. At a recent conference, I expressed my frustration at how a presenter had not shown me how to create a podcast, only to have a much younger colleague reply why should he when you can just go home and find the information on youtube! Of course she is right.
Differentiated learning can happen when any student can go online and learn anything they are passionate about and gain the skills they need to do it themselves. They can then contribute what they have learnt back into the digital world.
The implications on education does create some issues. We need to rethink concepts of copyright, censorship, authorship, credibility, privacy and our digital online presence. Current government enforced restrictions on what students can see online at schools are prohibitive and outdated, especially when these sites are accessible at home. Instead we need to be teaching students about how to manage their internet surfing, what are safe sites and what are not. Educational settings need to ensure that there is equal access for all their students. Despite the infiltration of the internet in most homes, we still have students that do not have access outside of school. Not only that but how do they keep up to date with technology and infrastructure which are costly and continually evolving?
Teachers need to rethink how they teach in the classroom and what their role is. They need to embrace Web 2.0 – learn what it is, how to use it and develop their skills in using it. It is by this participation that they can help their students to engage with and contribute to web 2.0. By teaching students about content production and sharing, teachers can facilitate their learning. Teachers need to not only help students understand how to sort reliable information from the deluge of overabundance of information but also teach them how to be good digital citizens. Teachers need to help them to develop real thinking skills. Students need to learn how to be connected. They need to build their own PLP’s and develop skills to access and validate information to ensure its credibility. They need to know that blogs reflect the opinions of the author rather than facts.They need to understand creative commons licensing.
In my classroom, the use of web 2.0 has slowly increased. Students have used the internet to research inquiry based projects for quite a while now but increasingly my students have started to publish what they have learnt on the web on our class blog. They are also using youtube to learn and they have skyped teachers in other countries. In the past they have used Storybird to publish their stories and collaboratively get feedback from their peers. We are currently using Book Creator to produce their own narratives, during this they are working collaboratively on their character development and plot complication and helping each other improve, getting valuable feedback from each other and their teacher, as well as their parents and other teachers. We are in the process of setting up our class youtube channel where the students can produce videos on anything from creating imovies to demonstrating knowledge about what they have learnt by creating a short video explaining it to a much wider audience and then getting global feedback on these. In the future, I would also like to set up for my students their own e-portfolios, so that they can start to share their own ideas and celebrate their successes as well as be a digital collection of their work that illustrates progress and achievements in their learning journeys that they can share globally and receive input from a much more broader audience. I am currently experimenting with tools that allow students to develop skills in computer programming through tools such as Scratch (older children might like to use Greenfoot). I am also trialling tools based on Augemented reality, such as coLAR Mix – 3D below. I am curiously excited as to where these web tools may take my students in their learning.
In my own professional practice the use of Web 2.0 tools and social media has enabled me to develop a much broader PLP. I am able to connect with teachers and leaders from around the world, have access to current research in educational settings and can get professional feedback and advice on anything. My use of a professional blog not only enables me to reflect on my current teaching practice, sharing of ideas and resources, recent professional development and sharing matters of professional concern but also receive input and digital dialogue from a much broader spectrum of educational professionals.
Peter Albion wrote an interesting report on the use of Web 2.0 in Teacher Education in which he states; “The classroom of the Read/Write Web is one of seamless transfer of information; of collaborative, individualised learning; and of active participation by all members of the class” (Richardson, 2006, p. 127). In his view, the technologies are driving ten major shifts in education which he describes as open content, multiple teachers & 24/7 learning, social and collaborative construction of knowledge, conversation rather than lecture, know “where” learning, more active readers, web as notebook, writing beyond simple text, working towards mastery rather than the test, and striving for contribution rather than completion.
The impact on Web 2.0 tools in education is only just beginning and it is a very exciting time to be teaching. I wonder how other teachers are using these tools in their classrooms and what successes they have had?
- Web 2.0 in Teacher Education: Two Imperatives for ActionPeter R. AlbionUniversity of Southern Queensland, Australia
- Web 2.0 is the Future of Education by Steve Hargarden
- Web 2.0: The Machine is Us/ing Us by Michael Wesch
- A Vision of Students Today by Michael Wesch and students at Kansas State University