World Teachers' Day

UNESCO World Teachers' Day is being marked in New Zealand on Friday. To quote the UNESCO website;

"The theme of this year's event is 'Recovery begins with teachers'. On World Teachers’ Day 2010 hundreds of thousands of students, parents... around the world will pay homage to all teachers who have been directly or indirectly affected by a major crisis. Be it a humanitarian crisis, such as the earthquake in Haiti and China, or the global economic crisis that has devastated many developed economies over the past year, the role of teachers and other education personnel is vital to social, economic and intellectual rebuilding. All those who are fighting to provide quality education to children of the world can join teachers and their representative organisations to celebrate the profession and show them their support"

While not suggesting that our Christchurch earthquake has in any way been a humanitarian disaster on a comparable scale to those mentioned above I think it is appropriate that we all take a moment on Friday to thank our teaching team for the emotional support they have given our children over the last month or so. 

Our wonderful staff are themselves a cross section of the Christchurch community and have been so professional in putting their own on-going feelings, worries, and losses aside to be on duty and upbeat so that our children recover well. World Teachers' Day is a great time to show our teachers how much we appreciate their humanity and professionalism. 

This song sent by Bluestone School in Timaru to Christchurch schools is a good indication of the spirit of our staff and our children.

Thanks team.

An agency doing great things - for their own cause and for education in general

Almost every government and local body agency has a good message for school children.

-how to pat dogs safely
-be safe around railway tracks
-eat well
-don't get sunburn
-start a saving habit early
-don't smoke
-be nice to whales
-be nice to Wales (perhaps)
-increase use of Te Reo
-don't touch power lines

The list goes on and on. Sadly the bulk of these sort of messages are delivered in the form of 'resource kits' and workbooks.

These resource kits and workbooks cost millions of dollars to produce, package and distribute and frankly do not truly address the challenges and opportunities offered by and outlined in the New Zealand Curriculum document.

Code the depth of thinking demanded or depth of learning experience offered in so many of these school resources and information campaigns using any taxonomy of learning, and you will find yourself swimming at the shallow end of the pool. Word-finds,  black-line masters, colouring activities, multichoice quizes, mazes, stickers and fact-boxes. Sadly watering sound messages down to superficial learning.

Swimming against this tide of 'good message but mediocre learning resource' is the innovative, useful and challenging work being done by the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) in conjunction with Hooked On Thinking. It is not only an outstanding contribution to the cause of road safety, fitness and sustainable transport, it is a great contribution to the cause of quality learning in New Zealand schools.

The high quality learning resources, which have been developed and continue to flow, more than serve their purpose for the NZTA. They also offer an illustration of the depth of learning on offer when the SOLO Taxonomy is employed in school curriculum design.

If these sets of resources achieve nothing else, they show schools great examples of the sort planning, thinking and learning possible when the NZ Curriculum is fully implemented and well interpreted.

Several teachers at our school have already used the resource to strengthen their planning and practice in other curriculum areas. Not something you often get from other 'resource kits'.

Well done Raewyn Baldwin from NZTA and Pam Hook & Julie Mills from Hooked on Thinking.

The tipping point

Updated 31/10/2010. The link in this posting has gone. Removed by the MoE and put behind password access. Although it makes this post hard to understand because readers can't see the document I am talking about it does show some reflection going on in Wellington..I hope?

Up until now I have held onto my own values and beliefs about primary education and quietly watched while the debate over national standards unfolded (apart from this previous blog post)

I like plain language reporting to parents about where their children are at.
I like schools being accountable for progress of children.
I like constant improvement and always aiming for an aspirational goal.
I like teachers knowing where their children are and what they need to do next to move the children on.

So what problem would I have with National Standards?

But having just read this ...

...I am left stunned. Is this really what our teachers, our BOT, and I need to spend our time understanding and doing?

This is not the 'plain language' reporting heralded by the onset of National Standards. I am seriously thinking about offering cash prizes to parents who can understand the "plain language" of the above web page.

I am pondering - what is wrong with simply using tools like the Literacy Learning Progressions and the progress expectations from the National Numeracy Project to give plain language reports to parents about how their children are progressing?

Do we need this level of technocratic reporting to give a plain language report to parents and to set targets for raising achievement?

Or are we going back to standards? Standard 1, Standard 2, Standard 3 and Standard 4 - what classes used to be called in the bad old days when kids were held back until they reached the mark? Yes, that is how those old names for year groups came about. Do we really want to go back to that? Talk to the elderly ex-Waimairi pupil (who is now a published author) about how that system made him feel in the 1940s. I discussed this with recently. You can guess his answer to that question. It took him 1/2 his adult life to get over being held back in Standard 2.

The restorative power of normal routines

A summary of the main points of almost all expert texts on the topic of dealing with anxiety after a traumatic event always shows that resuming normal routines is a powerful healer.

After a week of dealing with our own families' needs, our damaged homes and caring for others in our neighbourhoods it felt so good today to to sit down to lunch with our whole staff and kick off the process for a return to a normal school week this coming Monday.

Seeing the positive impact on our team caused by finally getting back to work today fills me with hope for the great impact a return to school will have on our children next week.

Time to stop 'decile' being an over-used adjective

How many other countries have such a mis-used and pejorative term like 'low-decile school'? How many other countries have such a mis-used and illusionary term like 'high-decile school'?

New Zealand's state schools are all given a decile rating.

Decile 1 schools are the 10% of schools with the highest proportion of students from low socio-economic communities. Decile 10 schools are the 10% of schools with the lowest proportion of these students. A school’s decile does not indicate the overall socio-economic mix of the school.
(Ministry of Education)

For the full explanation of calculation and application take a look at the Ministry of Education's page on the subject.

The basic and overlooked fact is that decile ratings have NOTHING to do with the performance or quality of a school and what goes on in the school has nothing to do with its decile rating

It is a system created with good intent and remains a pretty good way of addressing social inequity across the communities which the national school network serves. The problem is that as the years have gone by the decile rating of a school has changed from being a component in the calculation of its operational funding to being a way of describing the school itself, an overused and meaningless adjective.

There was a time when a certain perception was applied to many schools "that is a bit of a rough school" "that is a bit of a posh school." The arrival of the decile system has provided a pseudo-legitimised way of describing a school. What a shame this is. Only the most rampant socialist would attempt to ban parents from classifying and comparing schools, it is human nature to seek out the best for one's children, but the decile rating is not the adjective parents should use to describe a school.

Here are some of the common and totally unfounded generalisations about low decile schools:
- they have poor teachers
- behaviour is bad, bullying is high
- student achievement is low
- the school makes little difference to student achievement
- there are few extra-curricular opportunities for pupils
- buildings are in disrepair
- the community is not engaged with the school

Here are some of the common and totally unfounded generalisations about high decile schools:
- they attract and retain the great teachers
- behaviour is great, bullying is low
- student achievement is high
- the school makes a huge difference to student achievement
- there are lots of extra-curricular opportunities for pupils
- the buildings are wonderful
- the community is fully engaged with the school

If you are reading this from overseas you would say these are common assumptions made about schools in rich or poor areas in all countries. The problem is that in New Zealand we have a decile number to pin on each school. The notion of rough school/posh school is officially branded on all of them.

If you have an official brand put on a school it tends to get used. And used in the most awful ways. Here are a few examples of  very dodgy ways:

- A principal being interviewed on Radio New Zealand National on an entirely different subject was congratulated at the start of the interview on his school's recent rise from decile 7 to 8. This plonker responded by saying "thank you we are very proud of that, our staff worked hard for it". Well done staff, did you all go out and inflate local real estate prices?

- A reporter from the Southland Times reports that principal Kerry Hawkins is justified in his stance against National Standards because his school went from decile 3 to 5. Good on you Kerry, you must have dropped overcrowding in homes.

- A parent approached me at my last school to say how sorry he was our decile rating dropped after the last census but he felt sure we could work hard to lift it. Yes I am sure I can somehow improve the educational qualifications of our parents and get it up again.

- International student recruitment agencies have started to think that decile ratings reflect the quality of the school. My current school's drop from 10 to 9 at the last census has been viewed in Seoul, Korea as a drop in worth of the school as an international education option.

The media now consistently use decile as an adjective to describe any school being reported on. How sad that any achievement from low decile schools is usually reported as some rare wonder (as patronisingly as disabled people doing something great). This is a rare exception.

Expectations of failure very rarely fail. Sadly the new generation of under-graduate teachers have grown up with decile numbers (and false expectations of failure or success of pupils) being attached to schools. These teachers undergoing training sadly also verbalise the same old expectations of a school's culture because the school has a government number attached to it. They expect bad and dumb kids at low decile and good and clever kids at high decile.

From parents to newly qualified teachers the effect is getting worse and worse. What other country brands schools like this? there must be a better way to calculate operation funding without putting a brand on a school...

...and don't even get me started about how real estate agents use decile numbers. Maybe, one day, New Zealand will not have a system of describing schools in this way. We might get back to having rough schools and posh schools again. Nicely ambiguous and not able to be used to sell houses in a certain area.

Arise Sir Peter

I salute Sir Peter Leitch. I was listening to the car radio on way home tonight and heard him being interviewed. He reminded the audience that he still does not know his times tables or alphabet.

I remember sitting with him in the studio green room waiting to go on a TV show with him a few years back and getting the sharp end of his tongue because he mis-understood a comment I made about dyslexia. With millions of dollars in the bank and success in so many areas of his life the ability to be wounded by a school principal was still evident.

What is it about schools, and those of us who work in them, that we can such inflect emotional pain (that is life-long pain) on the people we are meant to care for? See my older post about Michael Hill.

Anyway - go Peter! You are an inspiration for many youngsters for whom school is not the be-all and end-all in life. And you offer those of us who work in schools a very worthy challenge - value all children, not just those who shine in the 3Rs.

Facebook and School

Well here we go with another exploration of new media in a school setting.

Wanting to take a little bit of control over what is said and posted under our school's name in the Facebook world I have set up an official Waimairi School Facebook page. Now the experiment begins.

Some thinking behind taking this action:

1. It is good to link our existing Twitter feeds to a wider audience, Facebook offers that.

2. For a long time I have worried about the large number of our children who have ignored the 13 year-old rule and set up a Facebook account. Often these accounts have no privacy setting activated and these kids are far too open with what they post and reveal. I am thinking a few of them will end up 'liking' the Waimairi page, thus offering a great chance for me to have a good solid cyber safety conversation about why the heck they are on Facebook (with them and their parents).

3. For a long time I have worried about staff with very open Facebook privacy settings. I am thinking a few of them will end up 'liking' the Waimairi page, thus offering a great chance for me to have a good solid cyber safety conversation about what they are showing the world.

4. It will be nice to engage parents, staff and ex-pupils in the vibrant life of the school.

So it is all about wonderful celebration and showcasing - and also pushing social networking accounts into a defined workplace arena which will stimulate considerable reflection on privacy and content. Been looking for an authentic context to teach cyber safety with children, parents and teachers think I have found one now (who wants the worst of their Facebook life hanging out for all to see and linked to their school's website?)

Drop in to to see how it all unfolds.

She Blinded Me With Science

Well hey, I can't start a blog post about science without the Thomas Dolby song. It just pops into my head every time I start thinking about science. One of the many benefits of being a child of the 80s. And we all know that Magus Pike is the real star in that song and video. 

Anyway, science is what Term 3 at our school is all about. Term 3 also marks our entry onto phase three of our journey into implementing the revised NZ Curriculum. What were the first two phases?

Developing Learning @ Waimairi (our localised curriculum)

Phase one. Back in late 2008 it was all about clarifying out values and beliefs about learning at Waimairi. After community consultation workshops the staff used our two-day retreat in January 2009 to build up our definitive set of values and beliefs about learning at our school.

Staff retreat January 2009

What emerged were a set of andragogical rather than pedagogical values and beliefs. This is an important distinction. We worked out the values and beliefs for teachers to use to create great learning, not a set of words for kids to work towards. The pedagogical values are already set out in the NZ Curriculum document, how we unpack, filter and engage our pupils with these will soon become a natural flow...
Having established our Waimairi values and beliefs for teachers to work with...

We value success/excellence - We believe learning at Waimairi is about excelling
We value knowledge  - We believe learning at Waimairi is about substance
We value creativity - We believe learning at Waimairi is about originality
We value passion and inner drive We believe learning at Waimairi is about dedication and zest           

We value relationships and community  - We believe learning at Waimairi is about rapport

We value needs based learning -We believe learning at Waimairi is about being distinct

... meant  a strong literacy learning curriculum statement (Literacy @ Waimairi) could be put in place.  This was done by matching  our values and beliefs about learning to the knowledge of effective literacy teaching gained from the school's two-year long LPDP professional development programme.

A similar document called Numeracy @ Waimairi, which matches our school's values and beliefs with the knowledge of effective maths teaching outlined in the National Numeracy Project, is in its final draft stage.

A parallel professional learning programme (all teaching staff taking part in a ten-day-long PD experience) was designed and implemented to make sure the staff who are designing and implementing the NZC are adult learners who have been exposed to a variety of approaches and models of school curriculum localisation. The two key aspects of the PD programme during 2009/2010 were: the five-day tour of  innovative and best practice schools in the North Island and training for /implementation of 4 Minute Walkthroughs.

Phase two looked at the Key Competencies of the NZ Curriculum. We can't expect teachers to have any moral authority to build key competencies unless we know and understand what they are, and how they shift depending on the context they are being used in. So in July 2009 it was off to throw some axes and shoot some bows and arrows.

Key Competencies in teachers' lives. June 2009

The point of this was to show that everyone who thinks they: participate and contribute, relate to others, think and manage themselves don't always do so in equal measure in very challenging situations - such as those which our children face every day in their schooling. This experience led to the 'key competency quadrant we are now under trial.

With the key competency of thinking emerging as the overarching one in our localised curriculum who better to up-skill and inspire our staff than Tony Ryan. In January 2010 Tony set us on course to make sure thinking was explicitly embedded in the way we teacher and learn.

Phase three What is the 'essence' of the other subject areas? And what is our localised curriculum approach to them? Well we are starting this term with Science. We have had to work out exactly what learning about science means at Waimairi School. 

Over the next few school terms that same treatment will be given to Social Sciences, Health & Physical Education,  The Arts and Technology. Watch this space.

Anyway, here we go with science. Looking at page 28 of the NZC it is very easy to work out which words represent what science education is all about. Words like;

Problem Solving

...just roll off the tongue. But the big question is what does a high quality and advanced level of each of these mean?

This is the real curriculum challenge. To take just one of these words - 'Hypothesising' if we want our students to learn how to do this and to get better at it we need a framework to help them and their teachers build up their understanding. We want to build understanding of knowledge, not just more knowledge.

In comes SOLO Taxonomy. Five stages which describe levels of increasing complexity in student's understanding of subjects. Here is an example of how this is being used this term.

What this space to see how our trial of this phase three tool unfolds. For the the most important aspect is the inclusion of the children in a simple, yet, powerful, framework. This means the learner as well as the teacher can plot progress over the term, assess themselves against the taxonomy and really understand the formative feedback they might get from a teacher.

Moving into this phase three of our curriculum localisation has freed teachers and children to engage in such a diverse range of scientific learning. The school-wide commonality is embedded in what we are learning, as outlined above. How we are learning is ranging from space to plants, to chemicals, to wherever children's interests and inquiries take them. We adults can cook up as many circles and diagrams as we want but children's setting of direction and understanding of their own learning is what really makes the difference... so now you have guessed what phase four will be...

adding the children's voice, passions and interests to things like this...

So where are our localised curriculum documents?
In the words of Lester Flockton "the bigger the document the less effectively used it is in classrooms"

I like to view Learning @ Waimairi as something which documents the good practices we are developing. If we see document as a verb not a noun we understand that the phase three work with SOLO has to run its course as a trial before really sound use of it can be documented in Learning @ Waimairi.

Do you know what this is? Maybe you should

This is Nilla, my six-year-old daughter's Moshi Monster. Looking a bit sad in this screen grab but that is all part of the story. If you have anything to do with primary aged children (teacher, parent, principal) then you really need to know some things about Moshi Monsters and the many similar virtual worlds currently engaging our kids.

We relentlessly write about rich, real, engaging, authentic and relevant 21st century learning on our school brochures, in charters, on strategic plans and even nice signage outside our schools. So where are the virtual worlds in our junior classrooms?

"Successfully nurturing a Moshi Monster is no mean feat. It takes a variety of skills that your child can develop over time. Your child will need to think creatively, hypothesize, strategize, manage resources, collaborate with friends, and nurture a wide variety of other skills that could extend positively into their everyday lives." Publicity from the site.

I have been watching my daughter's Moshi progress with interest. She grabbed a laptop and googled it after seeing an advert on TV. Since then she has kept Nilla alive and healthy. To do this she has had to do more maths, problem solving and all sorts of thinking, participating and contributing, managing-self and relating to others than than most junior school teachers would set and expect in the classroom. All done at a slightly higher level than most junior school teachers would set and expect in the classroom.

I'm not pushing this on our junior team at school, just wondering if any junior teachers anywhere are capitalising on this learning opportunity and wondering how it works out if we 'schoolify' it. E.g. getting around the usual lock-down, aversion schools have to things that sound like social networks or virtual worlds.

Sure, we have to put the black hat on and look out for the pervert pretending to be a child lurking on the message board section and I don't like the unspoken Moshi messages about shopping and consuming being good leisure activities. But if you are aware of the issues you can mitigate the risks. Kids might get run over by cars if we take them walking outside the school gates, but we still do it - with care. These issues have given me a perfect, in-context reason to give my daugther her first internet safety lessons. So even the risks can be turned into teachable moments.

Please share your experiences and opinions. All I ask is that you don't go down that po-faced comment pathway which is all about children shouldn't be inside staring at screens, messaging each other, they should be interacting with real kids and climbing trees because in my experience those that knock virtual worlds and social networks also think it is great when children spend lots of time reading. And reading is GREAT but it ain't social or cardiovascular exercise. Everything is good in moderation. You will also find lots of kids at our school up trees.

Engage me or enrage me - an important consideration for teachers of  five-year-olds and 16 year-olds.

So what?

So... when you find out  - what are you going to do about it? So much teacher time is being spent hand-wringing about how we measure kids' progress. National standards, learning progressions, Asttle, PAT, 6 year net, running records, exemplars... the list goes on. Nationally we are developing an unhealthy obsession with how we 'weigh the pig' when good farmers always look to how we 'should fatten the pig'.

 This week I sat in one one of the best and most effective teacher meetings. The teachers were not debating which assessment tool to use, or trying to invent a new one. They were just getting on with working out new practical ideas for lifting  achievement. By whatever means, every month children at our school are identified as being at risk of not achieving. This identification on its own will not help the children concerned. What will make a difference is the ideas and strategies these teachers give each other while examining the children's actual work.

We don't automatically reach for the current fashionable range of technocratic solutions (more WALTS won't help these kids). All ideas are considered, and tried. If these ideas don't work the same kids will be back on the table next month. Good teachers don't keep trying the same thing if it is not working. There is no one recipe for educational success which fits all kids - sorry 'formulaic teaching' lovers, it is not as simple as that. The only thing that will reach all kids is a set of ever-changing approaches and ideas. Good teaching can't be bottled or recorded as a recipe. We have to do the hard yards every few weeks (together in teams) to constantly look for another way when the previous ways don't work.

How is teachers’ time best spent? Protesting about, or debating, the best way of measuring how kids are doing? Or just rolling up our sleeves and looking at actual work samples and sharing ideas on how to move the children on? If we collectively spent more hours doing what the teachers in this picture are doing rather than designing and re-designing ways of measuring progress we might actually make some progress.

Leaving on a jetplane

I will miss being part of the Waimairi community for most of next week. Late last year I was surprised and honoured to be asked by Greg Whitby, Executive Director of Schools in Parramatta, Sydney, to run a masterclass programme for the principals in the schools in the schooling system he controls.

In the Bulletin Magazine Smart 100 List Greg was named as the "nation’s smartest, most innovative and creative person working in education in Australia today." So I felt unprepared (and under-dressed) for his call on my cellphone, taken while I was tending the fire for the Year 3/4 camp hangi on our back field.

One other NZ principal is also running workshops at the masterclass and this has got me thinking about why a section of the Australian education system would want to hear what we have to say?

I think the answer is the skills, attitude and commitment of kiwi teachers. And the world-beating national curriculum we work with. Any principal in the world can espouse a desire for a school to be a learning community where teachers and children work, focussed on learning enduring, life-long skills to propelling the nation forward. Only NZ has a National Curriculum that requires if, rather than inviting it.

Breaking this down to a local level Waimairi School is full of teachers who understand the above and are committed to doing it. It all clicked into place in my mind tonight at a meeting of our junior class teachers (yes Friday night and they are still getting together to think about how to improve learning for our kids). The general theme of the meeting was 'how can we do better?' Not get better at technocratic learning intentions and the like, but get better at holistic education. What a winning attitude!

So, while representing NZ in Australia next week I will be saying that we have a long and proud tradition of excellence in education in NZ, and this is certainly illustrated at Waimairi School. 

Kiwi teachers, be proud of our NZ National Curriculum. Waimairi teachers, I am proud to be showcasing what you do. Waimairi parents and children, take the time to appreciate your teachers and the fact that overseas educators want to hear about what they do in our classrooms every day.

Open for Business

Our newest play area opened today. This is our builder's yard, the 'construction play area'. Several Year 3 and 4 pupils helped with the planning during 2009. Thanks to funding from the PTA, parent help at a working bee and a generous donation from the Pauling Family, we are now in business.

The 'construction zone' is a fenced off area for those kids who like to imagine, build and dig. It is equipped with tools, sand  and timber. What more does a builder need to play with?

There are more photos of the play area here.

A great kiwi school tradition

The great kiwi school working bee is responsible for lots of New Zealand's school facilities and infrastructure.

It is about more than saving money (or doing things schools can't afford from their operations grant), it is about building community.

Last weekend it was a real pleasure to join in with the volunteer families for an afternoon moving sand and putting up a shed. It was also a rare chance to take my dog Murphy to school for the day without too much hassle.

Often a mainstay of rural school community life, those of us in the city still have a lot to gain from the school working bee. A big thanks to Sunday's team. You can see some more pictures here.

I am so sick of hearing the 1 in 5 line

The National Party were very clear before the last election that they would launch a 'literacy and numeracy crusade'. I have no problem with that.

The National Party were very clear before the last election that they would implement a 'national standards' policy. I have no problem with that.

It was all very open, written in the manifesto and there for voters to give their tick to if they liked it. And a majority did. I like democracy.

The National Party are now the elected government of New Zealand. State schools are schools of the state. We must follow the laws enacted by the elected government. I have no problem with that.

What drives me nuts is the inability of the Minister of Education to give any answer to any question about how the mere existence of national standards will improve standards of achievement. The only answer I can find is that "1 in 5 children leave school without required literacy and numeracy skills". She parrots this one-liner out at every opportunity. There is no other depth to her reasoning. I am really keen to hear more from her. I like debate and enjoy listening to all sides of an argument.

I want my minister to speak, clarify and explain, beyond just saying that "1 in 5 children leave school without required literacy and numeracy skills".

What does 1 in 5 actually mean?

1 in 5 means 20%. 

This is a bell curve. It shows the national expectation of performance of children in New Zealand in one of the standardised tests which we use at our school (and which we have used for years). The national statistical expectation on the curve is in brackets. The Waimairi School numbers are without brackets. Children in the 1,2 or 3 stanine band are the kids the Minister of Education claims are the shocking 1 in 5. 

Yes, of course there are 1 in 5 failing nationally. In any population 20% (or 1 in 5) are going to be at this end of a bell curve. That is the very nature of a natural spread of ability across the population.

Minister, it is not shocking that 1 in 5 fail, it is a statistical reality. In this illustrated PAT graph the expectation is in fact 23% (the 4% + 19%) failing.

What sort of principal would just accept that 1 in 5 children in his or her school failing in this way? Not many of us and certainly not me.

The way that we have addressed the 1 in 5 in our school over the last two years has been through the Literacy Professional Development Project (LPDP). They have been named, they have been put into focus groups in classrooms and the teachers have been taught how to try, try and try again with an ever changing approach to teaching to move these kids away from being at risk.

And it has worked. Year on year we are helping these children be the best they can be. We don't take 1 in 5 as the status quo. We aim to make it better. We have data to show this approach is working. We are one of the schools that Trevor Mallard is talking about in this video clip.

So back to the main question. How will the mere existence national standards help the 1 in 5? 

We already know who they are. We work our behinds off to shift them upwards. What will another way of being measured do for these kids?

The distribution of children across the schools of New Zealand does not follow a nice neat bell curve. Many schools have a disproportionate number of the  '1 in 5' as their student majority. If league tables on student performance are published as a result of national standards how can any meaningful judgement about the quality of education at those schools ever be made? I hope it never happens.
1 in 5 is part of life but the uneven distribution of the 1 in 5 across a city’s, or the nation’s schools makes a for very uneven playing field. Every suburb in every town does not look like a bell curve. Certain schools have certain parts of the curve as their main pupil base.
I am not part of the tedious NZEI protest bus tour. I am not part of the Principals' Federation campaign. I am just wanting the Minister of Education, my boss, to speak to me intelligently and tell me something I don't already know. 

Yes 1 in 5 fail, I got that bit. Now tell me how national standards will help kids achieve and help teachers make sure that they do.

I'm keeping you in after school

Here we are in Room 8 at 4:30 pm on Friday last week. The kids have been at school for nearly eight hours but the questions and answers are still flowing. You can just make out the teacher on the whiteboard. He is D'Wayne Edwards, head of design at Nike. He is running the class from Los Angeles and teaching 37 other classes of children all over the world at the same time. The design worksheet the kids are working on was emailed ahead so that everyone was on the same page, literally.

This is Rock Our World (ROW) in action. ROW was started after a group of like-minded educators got together at the University of California, Monterey Bay in 2004. The challenge was to come up with learning projects that made the best use of the technology we have in our classrooms. It has proven to be a powerful, and sustainable project as it now enters its 12th round and 6th year.

All of the children involved work together to collaboratively compose a piece of music, and seeing as they are connected by this experience they also work on many other cross-curricular projects. In this round they are exploring art and design - hence D'Wayne teaching the introductory lesson. Tune in to Room 8’s blog to follow the progress

Teaching with a LISP

I'm off to the school pool, but not for swimming.

On Friday mornings it is a pleasure and a privilege to join our junior school teachers and children for 'discovery time' and so now about this time every week I find myself having to plan my teaching for the next session. The big question in my head is "how can I address the focus on key competencies and also honour our school values (specifically about learning being about knowledge and having substance)?"

Adding to my thinking process came an email from Lynda (which also reminded me what a talented teaching staff we have at Waimairi). The killer line in her email is " keep us all focused and to prevent our time becoming just an activity time?"

I believe the focus which Lynda calls for in her email needs to be our school-wide learning theme, which this term is a bit of a watery affair. So what has floated into my head is a memory of the Learning in Science Project (LISP). This is why I am off to the pool. Floating and sinking, making boats and rafts with all sorts of different materials, questioning to find out the children's pre-conceptions and basing the next teaching steps on their pre-conceptions.

It will be lots of fun but also powerful learning for the children and for me.

Looking back at the old LISP documents I am wondering how lots of the 'old' findings link to the new ideas in the revised NZ Curriculum. I am looking forward to discovering this. If you want to  get right into this in a big way you can read the 270 page long Literature Review into Science Education. Or you could just read this post on Bruce Hammond's blog 

I will post an update to let you know how things turn out because 'teaching is inquiry' and we need to try things out and be learners alongside our pupils.

Yes, this is another jargon-filled posting but by following the links on this entry you can try to dig deeper if you are interested or curious.

Marty wins again

More good news for Room 15 teacher Marty Lukes. He won the New Zealand Athletics 100 km Championships, part of the Great Lake Relay, in Taupo last weekend.

If you read this news story you can also see he was an inspiration to the other athletes in the race.

Good on you Mr Lukes.

Poison Pizza

Marge: Now be good for Grampa while we're at the parent-teacher meeting. We'll bring back dinner.

Lisa: What are we gonna have?

Homer: Well, that depends on what your teachers say. If you've been
good, pizza. If you've been bad... uh... let's see... poison.

Lisa: What if one of us has been good and one of us has been bad?

Bart: Poison pizza.

Homer: Oh, no! I'm not making two stops!

We really want to see all of our parents and students between 1 and 12 March. Parent/student/teacher interviews are the first connection of the year. They are a time for us to listen, for you and your child to help map out the most immediate priorities for learning, and let the teachers know what makes each kid tick.

Meeting face to face is one of the most effective ways of reporting and communicating about learning. So book your time slot now on the web, on the phone, or in the office.

Tribute to Uncle Seymour

Apologies to those who have already heard my thoughts on Seymour Papert in presentations and speeches I have made at various conferences over the last few years because I am repeating them here.

This morning I took a couple of 'roamers' along to the junior school discovery time. Surprise, surprise within 10 minutes the 5 and 6 year olds were into the 10 and 11 years olds' geometry headspace. "Can you make this go forward? I wonder how long this room is? if 90 degrees makes him turn left will 180 degrees make him turn right around?"

I spent a lot of time with Ethan who was very determined to programme the roamer to head away from him, turn 180 degrees and come back. It took him six minutes of trial and error. Six minutes of solid thinking, the sort of arduous thinking that builds the human brain.

The logo legacy left by Seymour Papert remains unrivalled as a tool for letting children operate at mental levels well beyond their developmental range in a way not possible without this technological assistance.

Lots of jargon in this posting but the links should help clarify, best way to understand what I am trying to describe is to pop on into school any Friday morning between 9 and 10:30 am. Our little logo programmers will be happy to show you their roamer mastery.

Thank you for these gifts to the children of the world Seymour and all the best for your recovery.

Keeping up the momentum

Last week the teachers of Year 1 and 2 children spent Friday in our teacher development centre planning to make sure the gains we made in junior school literacy during 2009 are continued and built upon in 2010.

It is great to have all of the junior teachers aligning their practices and so committed to our on-going targets for reading and writing.

From this week onwards all of the Year 1 and 2 classes will be learning together during discovery time. This will be a reassuringly familiar time of the week for those children who moved up from Te Puna this year. It is a wonderful opportunity for all of our 5 and 6 year olds to learn together and strengthen their bonds and friendships.
Learn more about discovery time here

Back into learning for 2010

The pupils came back to school this week but the staff were already well and truly into the new year at that stage.

At the end of January the Waimairi staff (teaching and support staff) spent two days at a school development retreat at Wainui, Banks Peninsular.

The first day of the retreat was facilitated by Tony Ryan. Tony is one of Australasia's leading thinkers on building a culture of thinking and well-being in schools.

There were two main themes of the day. The first was maintaining the 'zest' for teaching. If we are to deliver the best education to our kids then we have to be in the best physical and mental health possible.

The second was the need to approach 'thinking' as the overarching key competency as we implement the revised NZ Curriculum. Thinking really is the key and it is in this way we are approaching how we develop the key competencies at Waimairi this year. The good news is that it is not rocket science. Everyone left with ways to develop our children's thinking abilities which are not taught on top of content but part of our curriculum content.

We also learnt about how to keep our adult brains fit and functioning into old age. The key is engaging in demanding mental activity, learning genuinely new things. So with that in mind the evening was spent learning to juggle, a very new experience for almost everyone in the room. Waimairi parents should watch out for the staff trying lots of new things things year, we are all going to step out of our squares and learn new things. For me it will be a musical instrument. Keep me honest by asking me how it is going as the year progresses.

If we teachers force ourselves into new learning it reminds us of the sort of feelings we induce in our students day in and day out. Frustration, anxiety, not wanting to be seen to be getting it wrong and developing a realistic understanding of our own strengths and limits.