Sandy Warner

Teaching with technology


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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.

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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.

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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.

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!


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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.


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What is the purpose of schools?

On Saturday I was fortunate to once again work with George Couros in a masterclass in Adelaide.
Throughout the morning George shared his views on social media and the impacts that they are having on teachers professionally. He challenged our own thinking on what was acceptable to post online and reminded us that nothing is ever truly private.We need to remember that connecting on social media is not just about putting information out there but it is also about having conversations and making personal connections. We need to guide our students in becoming responsible global citizens. Students are already using these tools from a very young age and they need to understand the implications of what they post.

We explored twitter. Twitter has opened up a global community to me and I enjoy connecting with educators and leaders from around the world. George is passionate about being connected and he inspired us to take control of our digital identity; our digital footprint so to speak!.

We were pushed out of our comfort zones and into the unknown where the magic happens. We were encouraged to learn more, to create and collaborate with our colleagues. We were stimulated by you tube footage to think about our own practice and how we can improve.

During the last hour, George posed the question “What is the purpose of schools?” and challenged us to create a response using two different types of formats (audio, video, media, writing, drawing, etc.) and then left us to engage in a range of “new” tools to formulate our response to this question. I am still working with my colleagues on our creative response and we will present it to staff at our school. Hopefully I will share it here also.

And so …What is the purpose of schools?

For me I feel the masterclass above mirrors the purpose of schools. Schools stimulate thought. They challenge students and inspire them. They install a love of life long learning. They engage students. Schools encourage students to ask why and nurture in them the urge to find answers to all the why questions they have. Schools allow children to create and explore. They guide students in their learning and encourage them to participate. Schools allow students to go outside their comfort zones and create magic!

The challenge is how do we ensure that schools do this?  What do we do in our schools to make this happen for every child?

What is the purpose of your school?


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Technology and Childhood ~ Part 2

Some of you may have read my earlier post Technology and Childhood about one of my parents exploring the challenges of balancing her childrens’ “childhood’ with the encroaching technology into her family.

Last night our school hosted a forum for her and other parents to discuss the challenges technology may create in families and strategies they use to help them guide their way through the potential minefield this may bring.While some may view the small number of parents that did come along to this forum as a disappointment, I feel that it was a valuable exercise and the parents that did come were engaged and eager to learn from each other and talk about their experiences.. The parents were eager to discuss topics mainly around how technology was impacting on their family lives and also how they can protect their children in regards to cybersafety. Parents clearly enjoyed the opportunity to question each other and discuss the answers that were given. one parent asked at the end of the forum, if we would be willing to host more forums in the future for parents. Which made me think, sometimes as educators do we get it wrong? Instead of just putting workshops on for parents that we think they would find valuable, maybe we should be asking them what they need more?

Our ICT coordinator Kathy Turley did a great job of helping our parents understand the significant changes that technology has had over the past two years in education and society and the impact this has had on teaching and education.We shared a video we had seen previously used to promote a teachers conference in Adelaide which I think shows how important technology is in education.

Finally I would like to share what one of the parents, Louise Brauer’s describes as “ramblings, which I thoroughly enjoyed…

Waking up in the morning busy with the list of chores in my head, I dream of emerging form the walls of our shelter and walking in the dawn light to view the sea, to pause and feel the potential in the day ahead. On the couch lie my babies side by side, fingers busy, eyes glued tight to the small electronic device whose annoying electronic beeping is interupting the birds song. “Come for a ride, lets check the surf” I invite. Technology has them in this moment and I get no response. Yesterday it annoyed me and I banned the ipod’s and insisted the kids get out of the house (tomorrow, I may again), but today i’m not annoyed just curious. Why do they need to escape? Whats in that 5x 10cm arrangement of wires that draws them in so deep they’ve forgotten my lap, and their bodies, or even the thought of breakfast?
I know they will emerge from their trance with time. It doesn’t hold them till the sun sets, thankfully. I guess its an adventure for them. New, limited only by the imagination. I feel I live in a society constrained by rules and limits that i’m now starting to question if they really exist. In some ways I like the way the electronic games open up the possibilities of what is or can be.
I’m sure in the past parents have spurrned book reading as a silly waste of time. Even in my youth I recall a friend whose parents would ban her from reading books as they thought she wasted too much time on them. I imagine most of you, like me, wouldn’t mind your son playing for hours with a pile of lego, constructiong his own world about him. As my son is entranced in Eden World Builder on his ipod, his lego forgotten on the shelf, I ask myself if there really is a big divide between the two forms of play.
I believe the world outside the computer, when opened up, offers my children way more adventure, dreams and love than anything technology has to offer. I have my days when I worry theyre wasteing their life away playing computer games “no more screens” I hear my voice nag “go outside and play”. But today, here in the dawn, when I stop long enough to think, i’m not worried. I know their souls are linked to this earth, and I know their instincts will lead them outside to connect to their lifesource, the earth, beating and breathing all around them. It will fill them with an energy never to be found on an ipod.
I look back on my life and I recall my childhood. I see it as a time when I soaked up the world around me with all 5 senses. Learning how to act and where I fitted in that world. A little explorer seaching for a way to be, trying out the limits, and seeking that which encaptured me. I believe that when my children feel secure in their freedom and assured of unconditional love, that they will experience a healthy childhood filled with adventure. I believe they will be drawn away from their ipods and into the world of people and life around them ,naturally, without my nagging. Just as long as I teach them how to listen to their instincts.
I have feared that my children spend too much time absorbed by the screens in our lives, but having paused to question that fear, I am relieved of it. I believe that my 2 year old playing on an ipod is learning just as much as in other forms of play, and I trust that she won’t play on it forever for she’ll be drawn (as I am drawn away from this computer) out to resonate with the lifeforce of the people and the earth around her.
Our mids are made to dream
Our bodies are made to move
Our hearts are made to connect
Pondering this I have come to the conculsion that im not bothered about rules of how much? and when? and where? it is appropiate for my kids to use technology, but that I need to teach them to feel and listen to their instincts so that they will choose the right time to turn them off, to move their bodies and connect again to the rest of this amazing world that is open to them. (on Technology and Childhood, Louise Brauer)