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;

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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 Web 2.0 tools

What is Web 2.0 and why does it matter?

Screen shot 2013-09-08 at 3.20.00 PM

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.

web 1 v web 2

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.

coLAR Mix

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?

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