Thursday, 23 March 2017

Challenging Our Education System

Tonight I attended the Teach First screening of the documentary Most Likely To Succeed. The film explores our education system today, questioning why we still have subject silos, why we still have bells between periods, and why we are still running school much the same way we did 124 years ago. Some questions I have never thought about before, and really struggle to answer. Why are we still so much the same?!

MLTS demonstrates the possibilities we have in education through the lens of High Tech High, a secondary school in California, who are running things differently to what we have known for 124 years. High Tech High base learning around projects students create and then share at the end of a time period (e.g. term). Classes are based around learning content through invention and creativity, with a large focus on the development of soft skills including collaboration, determination and leadership, rather than learning purely absorbing and regurgitating information. I feel this is something many schools are guilty of, still.

I am trying to include opportunities for students to be creative, like the Junior's Hāuora PowToons, or my Year 11s Stressor Trees,  but still have a long way to go! I can't wait to feel more confident in my own feet, and be able to include many more opportunities for students to be creative, and take away the focus of content and assessment. If I wasn't completing a dissertation this year, and teaching on my own for the first time, I would love to include some time for my Seniors to create projects like at High Tech High, investigating and creating something that they are passionate about. This is something I am interested in for future years, also similar to Hobsonville Point Secondary School's amazing projects.

The documentary reminded me why I became a teacher - I did not enjoy school because I felt I was regurgitating information. I felt like I didn't have time to explore, create and have fun, that learning was for assessment and not for learning's sake. I am inspired to make some small changes in my practice, keeping at the back of my mind that learning is NOT for assessment.

Here is the trailer for Most Likely to Succeed, which I would recommend anyone to watch, even if you aren't in education!

Learning in Different Environments

Today I assisted with the Senior Girls at the Eastern Tag Tournament, which was so much fun. One of my goals this year is to increase my engagement with extracurricular activities, namely sports, and this was my first day involved helping out.

As discussed here in more depth, I want to get to know the students outside of the classroom a little more, rather than always in a teacher role. By being a coach, manager, driver, supporter or first aider, I get to know the kids in a different light. Today really demonstrated this to me.

Many of the girls I had not met before, as I haven't taught them, so I was really stepping out of my comfort zone. I was nervous as to how they would respond to my instructions when they don't know me, and I don't know the sport very well. I did, though, make this very clear from the beginning - I was there as support to manage the day and the students. 

Even just asking the students to put their seat belts on in the van I was unsure how the students would respond. As expected, some groaned about it, but I was pleasantly surprised they followed my request. This respect continued throughout the day, so behaviour management was minimal. Today really demonstrated to me how stepping away from the subject learning environments changes students, many positively as they are there because they want to be. I really hope I am creating a culture in my classrooms where students are beginning to feel like they want to come to my lessons, like the students wanted to be playing tag today.

I love how sport offers another learning environment for the students. Today the girls learnt so much about determination, perseverance, encouragement, listening and self control, all soft skills incredibly important in learners. Fortunately, in PE especially we are able to provide students with ample opportunities to develop these soft skills, but I am unsure how often they can develop the soft skills in other subjects. Therefore, today was another wonderful avenue for the kids.

Although I am super nervous and lack knowledge of coaching basketball, I think this will be a positive learning experience for me in the coming months, and hopefully the boys too. I feel more confident after today about the positive impact interacting with students outside of the 'classroom' can have!

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Reflecting on Challenges

One of my goals for the year is to spend about one hour each week reading a professional educational blog or two. Unfortunately I have not been too successful to allocate time for this, but have been reading snippets here and there. I enjoyed the time last night and this morning reading through my MDTA cohort's recent posts (see links on the left of my blog), and a few posts I found on Twitter.

Two which stood out to me were about challenges and student reflection. After reading Christina Polatajko's blogpost about challenges in the classroom, Joey Feith's blogpost about student reflection tied in nicely this morning. These are two parts of my teaching and learning I am trying hard to work on.

I had the realisation after reading through some of my students blog posts (such as Pote, Taunese, Mary, and Melissa) that I possibly need to challenge some students a little more. As I am sure all teachers do, I have the odd student or two who speed through their tasks and want/need more. I have blogged before about the need to extend my extension class, but there are also kids in every other class I need to extend too. I need to have more confidence in some of my students and give them challenges I am uncertain whether they will meet. Like Christina, I may be pleasantly surprised, or students may not be entirely successful, which is another learning curve itself.

Students reflecting on their successes, and the things they are yet to succeed enables a breakdown of 'where to from here'. As Joey discusses, PE teachers can sometimes forget about the importance of taking the time to reflect on learning, particularly when faced with challenges. My challenge recently has been to provide time for students to reflect on their tasks, to think about what they are really taking away as they leave. I am still trying to find a way to formalise this though, maybe blogposts or a Google Form.

I value reflection, so I bet many students do too.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Critically Thinking About Critical Thinking

This afternoon I was fortunate to spend at a New Zealand Health Education Association (NZHEA) PD. The major reason I went was for an introduction to the new Alcohol and Drug Education resource, but ended up walking away with the resource and other thoughts too.

I really enjoyed meeting networking with new people, both experienced and new teachers, as well as catching up with some old friends. We were given opportunities to share our ideas, questions and concerns with our groups, which I thought was very helpful. There were some curly questions I had related to my teaching, which I needed to ask an experienced and passionate Health teacher. We don't have any experienced passionate Health teachers at Tamaki unfortunately, so I was thankful for this networking opportunity

One major take-away from the session was the need to develop critical thinkers, particularly in preparation for Scholarship exams. I classify myself as a critical thinker, and think this is an important skill for students have, so I attempt to include activities that involve critical thinking into my lessons. I am finding this tough, though. 

I liked the simple question we were suggested to ask students today "So what does this mean for you?" To explore further, the question could then ask what 'it' means to their whānau and/or the wider community. Additionally, we discussed what critical thinking actually is - a discussion I could also explore with students. Some suggestions of what critical thinking is;

- challenging the status quo/the norm
- exploring and challenging "age old assumptions"
- appreciating others perspectives
- being open-minded
- asking open-ended questions
- positive debating

Further information and examples in this YouTube clip.

I enjoyed participating in a couple of the activities from the new Drug and Alcohol resource, which looks like it will be incredible for my units later on in the year. I am feeling behind in my planning for Health, as my Seniors are a priority currently. But, I am still so thankful to be leading the Junior programme, and I am excited for some of the fun activities we will get up to this year. I feel confident that NZHEA will support me! Fingers crossed I can get to conference again this year...