Posted in collaboration, Differentiation, engagement, Genius Hour, Passion Projects, students, Uncategorized

Celebrating Our Passion Projects!

255005_origWow what an amazing night!

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!

Posted in collaboration, Differentiation, engagement, Genius Hour, Passion Projects, technology, thinking

Student engagement in our Passion Projects!

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.


Screen shot 2014-09-29 at 8.19.26 AMThe 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  . 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!

Posted in collaboration, Differentiation, education, engagement, Sandy Warner, thinking

Differentiation in the classroom

binder cover
Image from Carroll K-12

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.


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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.

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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;

Screen shot 2014-09-09 at 6.04.04 PM

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.

Posted in Creative writing, engagement, students

Encouraging students to self edit their own writing

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.

Posted in collaboration, education, engagement, Flexible learning environments, Sandy Warner, students

My “New Classroom”~ embracing Flexible Learning Environments

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.


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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!

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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!





Posted in engagement, Face Time, students, technology

Face Timing Indonesia with my Students!

Rina and Siska Talking to us from Indonesia Photo courtesy of Bu Cathy

This term, my class has been researching aspects of Indonesian Culture in small groups. As part of this project, my students were able to use face timing to talk to Bu Cathy (- our Indonesian teacher currently in Indonesia on long service leave.) and several Indonesian teachers as well as students in Jakarta. My class used this time to ask questions that they were finding difficult to locate answers for in books or on the internet. This has been a wonderful success and you can read more about the experience on our class blog.

Some feedback that I have received from Bu Cathy has included;

“I loved that Sandy had asked each of her students to say, “Selamat pagi. Nama saya…..) before they spoke and then “Terima kasih.” afterwards. They said it so smoothly, i was so proud of them. They also spoke really clearly and on the whole we could understand them easily.”

As well as being successful for my students, Bu Cathy has also been able to effectively demonstrate to school leaders in Jakarta how effective face timing is in supporting Indonesian students in learning English. we were delighted to read her post which included the following quote…

A huge thank you to the year 5′s from Mrs Roberts class and also to Mrs Warner’s class from PEPS. You were great ambassadors not only for for our school, but also for Australia! Both classes asked terrific questions and the way you all politely and fluently greeted each visitor before introducing yourself in Indonesian impressed them all enormously! Our sister schools are both thrilled to have met you and you have confirmed for them the image of Australians as being friendly, well mannered and confident, all important values for Indonesians as well!
Bagus sekali”

I am so proud of my students as well as being grateful to Bu Cathy for creating this amazing opportunity for our class.


At the Numeracy and the Australian Curriculum Conference over 300 teachers and leaders at the Fleurieu and Kangaroo Island SFD had the opportunity to listen to guest speaker Garry Costello (Head of Schools DECD) and keynote speaker Dr Thelmo Perso (Executive Director, Literacy and Numeracy Taskforce, NT Department of Education and Training)

Garry Costello spoke about numeracy in his address and of the need for teachers to develop a deeper understanding of students numeracy through improving their mathematical literacy and providing real life examples. Teachers need to not only provide these examples but, through explicit teaching and role modelling, show students how to break down these problems. He also spoke of the need for teachers to know where students are at in order for us to teach them effectively and improve student engagement by creating an inquiry approach to learning, by improving student attendance and fostering a strong learning culture within the school and the classroom.

‘All teachers are teachers of numeracy” and as such, Dr Thelma Perso challenged us all to look at numeracy deeper, across all curriculum areas and in real life examples. She explained that numeracy was a capability – you are numerate or not. It is not a subject you can learn or be taught. Rather in order to develop numeracy, students need to be taught some maths (the tool kit so to speak), they need to be shown how to use the maths in a broad range of contexts and they need to be given the opportunity to use it themselves, independently. Teachers need to ask them to make a choice about how they are going to do it. Finally they need to use it in ways which develop confidence and a willingness to try – this is the pedagogy.

“Numeracy is the capacity, confidence and disposition to use mathematics to meet the demands of learning, school, home, work, community and civic life.”  ACARA, 2008

So how do we make students numerate? We have to realise that it is the responsibility of all teachers ( not just the maths teacher). As teachers we need to model the use of mathematics to students everyday and be more explicit when it happens – we need to tell them “I’m using maths here” and not assume they will know it. We need to ask “Will some maths help here?”

Teachers can best teach students to apply their mathematics independently by using an application framework such as the one Thelma Perso presented  below;


  1. Clarifying is the first step in numeracy and involves students determining what is needed and asking “if some maths will help”. Teachers need to teach their students to ask questions so they know the context of the question. Students need experiences with real purposes and audiences that involve them reading and understanding the language used in context, so that they comprehend what they have read. They also need to understand that there are many answers to the same question. It is essential that students ask “Can I rewrite the problem in my own words?’ and “Would a sketch or drawing of the situation help?”
  2. Choosing gives students the opportunity to make a choice about what strategy they are going to use to answer problems. How are they going to use the mathematics that they know to solve the problem?
  3. Using. Students are given the time to apply the maths.
  4. Interpreting the answer or result enables the student to reflect on wether the answer makes any sense in the context given. The purpose and audience is just as important as the answer and so students need to think about the answer and check its validity. As teachers we need to ask them to see if they can visualise it?
  5. Communicating is vital to consolidate student learning as it gives them the opportunity to validate their results through having to explain or justify both the answer and the process used to get it through self reflection.

Thelma Perso adds that the Modelling, sharing and guiding of numeracy is the second component of developing numeracy. It is through the scaffolding and modelling of numeracy through speaking out aloud the ‘in the head choices’ that teachers make while problem solving, and using the above applications, that will guide students to become more numerate.

As teachers we are also accountable to ensure that our students are learning what they should be learning and that means developing methods to inform our pedagogy as well as intervening when we have students that are not.  Thelma Perso looked at how Naplan is a tool for improvement through a numeracy lens and the place of literacy, problem solving and intervention has in this improvement. It is important for teachers to understand that the NAPLAN numeracy test requires a deep understanding of numeracy and as such, are mostly problem solving questions which use real life language. The questions can, for the most part, be done by estimating and no actual ‘correct answer’ is needed.However, students do need to be able to read, clarify and comprehend the context of the question through language in order to answer it.  Thelma demonstrated this beautifully in her slide below of a numeracy question taken from the year 3 NAPLAN  numeracy test.


The implications for teachers is that we need to be teaching the literacy in the questions our students need to answer and we need to teach them how to break each question down  from the visual to the written to the notation.

In 2008, I led a group of Junior Primary Teachers in an Inquiry Project around “What is the meta- language of mathematics?” During this project, we looked at what the language is that we need students to know and understand when we are teaching mathematics. It was interesting that the JP teachers felt the need to simplify the language in the early years and I recall one teacher saying she never referred to one of the properties of a 2D shape as vertices. As teaches, we need to be aware that even young students can learn this language and a lot of relearning needs to happen later in their schooling if we don’t teach it from the start or make those connections later in their schooling for them. The JP teachers began to be more explicit in the teaching of the language of mathematics and its use. They also had a better understanding of where their students were going and what they needed to know before they moved into the middle primary years. We also looked at the then year 3 numeracy benchmarks test and broke down what each question was actually asking. This was a really useful exercise, as teachers developed an understanding of the complexity of problem solving questions and the need to role model the thinking needed to break down these questions.

The numeracy conference gave me the opportunity to reflect on the general capability “numeracy” in the Australian Curriculum. It reinforced for me, that my own teaching practice is sound.  That I truly endeavour to understand what it is my students already know before I teach them. I look at how I will assess what they learn before I plan how I will teach what they need to learn. While I can not solely teach my students numeracy, I develop their numeracy through continuous exposure to experiences that will allow them to develop these skills across all curriculum areas. I am explicit in my teaching and  role model my thinking whenever the opportunity will allow. I show my students how to unpack the language of a question so they can understand how to find a solution to the problem. I allow them many opportunities to practice these skills.

I was told at the beginning of the day, that if I took just one thing away from the conference then the day had been worthwhile. So what did I take away from the conference?  I think it was a better understanding of how a framework for developing numeracy, can support students in understanding the context of a problem and not only allowing them to choose how to solve it but being able to use logic to understand if their solutions makes sense and then being able to communicate this.

Numeracy and The Australian Curriculum