Collaboration, co-operation, co-construction, choice….

At EducampTheTron today, one of the discussions we had centred around collaboration. In our schools we are all grappling with it; teachers collaborating together to create learning programmes, students collaborating with each other on solving problems and teachers collaborating with students to co-construct learning.

A few questions cropped up which I thought were worthwhile jotting down. Not that I have any answers but maybe this will spark some thoughts.

two girls working together. They are in a school playground, with a large paper map they have designed. They have a robotic car which they have programmed.

How far do the tasks, projects, problems – call them what you will – that teachers set, lead to real collaboration? Are we providing tasks that allow for collaboration or cooperation? Do we allow for students to make real choices about what they learn? Do we co-construct learning with our students?

Often we create tasks with elements that students can divide up so each person has a different section to complete. This is cooperative. When does cooperation move to collaboration? Does it need to – are both essential skills that students need to develop? Is one necessary for the other to happen? What place does peer feedback play? How can reflection lead to more effective collaboration and learning? If each person has their own space to work in and they know that what they complete has to fit into what the others are doing, then they need to communicate and negotiate to ensure that the connections are effective and the outcome is successful.

If I ask a group of students to explore a topic and come up with a presentation to show their learning, do I provide them with enough scope to choose their area of inquiry, to work together not just in terms of sharing out the work (co-operation) but also to collaborate on the research, the findings and the outcome? Do they develop the skills to question each others findings, critique them, wordsmith text, wrangle with meaning and hone arguments, trial tools to show learning and make decisions together, bringing each person’s particular strengths to the table to help them all learn?

A year 13 class is working on a collaborative social justice issue. This is a ‘collaborative’ project. A group of up to 6 students work together to design a social action campaign to argue their case. Alongside this they also have to produce some individual evidence of their learning. My first wondering is what the optimum number for effective collaboration is? My second is how the task is scaffolded so that students develop the competencies and skills to collaborate effectively. What does that look like? If the task is poorly structured it will lead to confusion, and a lack of understanding about how to approach it. There is also a perception amongst kids based on previous experience that ‘group work’ is unfair – some kids do all the work whilst others slouch, but they all get the same mark. This leads to a reluctance to engage or some members of the group protecting what they have done and not sharing.

One of the people in our discussion today is a computer science student and she explained that in peer programming, a more advanced student works with a less accomplished student on a project. They learn together as they develop the programme and inevitably go more slowly. Who gets most benefit? The mentor or the mentee? As a business model, she suggested that it was not necessarily cost effective with two people doing the same job. But it builds sustainability in the long term and it has been well documented that we learn more through teaching. The Tuakana Teina model has already been adopted in many schools where students work together – a mentor and a mentee – to support each others’ learning in a zone of proximal development.

Let’s examine an example of co-construction and choice. In a Year 13 language class students study a set topic and produce an individual piece of work. There is some choice given to the students in as much as there is a list of possible issues to discuss and sometimes, if there is a particularly interesting topical issue e.g. election, natural disaster, social issue, there may be scope to deviate from the usual list. Students then have some explicit teaching to model language, sentence structure and content before they go off to put their learning into a finished product. There is also some opportunity for feedback during the planning process from the teacher. But what if that topic – chosen by the whole class – doesn’t suit some students? How does that affect their engagement in it and subsequent outcomes? The difficulty here for the teacher is having potentially 30 students all studying a different topic – how do they structure a task so that students will meet all the language criteria to achieve a wide scope of topics? How do they provide the content? How do they provide a context for the language that is needed?

How can digital technology support both of these scenarios? Collaborative tools in Office 365 or the Google Suite as well as a range of teamwork platforms such as Trello or Evernote allow students and teachers to work asynchronously, to share documents, to assign activities, to choose appropriate media to find content, analyse it and critique it and to give feedback.

But how much input does the teacher need to provide? A degree of re-thinking of what ‘we have always done’ is needed. Collaborative projects need scaffolding, they need a solid rubric that provides clarity about the task and the required end product. Teachers need to work alongside the students, checking in regularly with them, questioning what they are doing, observing the interaction and mentoring where necessary to help develop critiquing skills, provide effective ways to give each other feedback and to be demanding of what students are doing. Jeffery Heil talked at the recent Google Summit about having regular, staged check ins to keep kids honest. He says that it is important to have a concrete achievable goal, so students don’t get lost in the process with frustration. Left to their own devices they will leave everything to the last minute – don’t we all? It’s human nature! But when a teacher, who is used to providing content and leading the activity in the classroom, finds themselves in a mentoring role, where they are facilitating groups of students or individual students, they may feel a sense of redundancy and assume that students don’t need them. My fear is that teachers assume that students, by the time they are in year 13, know how to work collaboratively. Because the digital tools enable students to work together at home there may be a temptation to let students get on with it on their own and use class time to get on with other work which is more teacher centred.

I would welcome your thoughts. There are more questions than answers in this post. How do you enable true collaboration and provide choice for your students?

Two girls in a school yard collaborating on a project using an ipad

Photos by Anne Robertson taken at Broadlands School. Permission to publish obtained.

Oxfam Trailwalker 2017

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It was a tough day out on the trails yesterday. A 6am start was a new experience for us and we’re not sure whether we like it! The new route meant that we could move our way up the field before the single track stuff started so we didn’t get stuck behind slower teams.  After that, though, apart from the ‘Aussie Boys’ and ‘Dad’s (Dodgy) Army’ who we played tag with, we were pretty much on our own. It was a bit lonely, especially in the dark, so checkpoints were a very welcome sight. A 7am start in the past has always meant that we were in amongst other teams, we had targets to aim for, people to joke with, chat with, share the journey. On the other hand, we saw the sun rise over Ohope – a beautiful pink glow in the sky rising to full sunshine and a hazy blur over the ocean as we walked along the beach.

The new course promised to get most of the hills out of the way in the first 50kms, but 1500m of ascent is quite a lot and it was not all over! The remainder of the course included plenty of ups and downs on uneven terrain in the dark on tired legs. But that is Oxfam Trailwalker and that is the challenge!

The weather this year was so much kinder than last year! But it was hot and exposed, especially along the beach and over to the airstrip where there was no shade. This certainly had an impact on us.  As is always the case, we all hit walls of varying sizes at different stages of the walk but we worked together to support each other through the bad patches.  Sadly, Jo had to make the painful and very difficult decision to retire after 65km as she suffered some dizzy spells and we were about to walk into the darkness and into an area with no cell phone coverage and no road access.  So just three of us set off from Rewarau Road, after a tearful goodbye, determined that we would see it through.

Feet covered in blisters – Jo and Shelley had adopted the stylish sandals and socks fashion statement early on to reduce the pressure on toes and heels! – sore hips, knees, calves, shoulders… (we are a set of old crocks!!) we trudged on. Our mantra was “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…”. One foot in front of the other in the pool of light from our headtorches.   I think at one point Shelley counted a thousand steps to estimate when the next KM marker was, just to focus her mind on something other than the pain! I know I sang the CORE waiata in my head to keep my rhythm and momentum up. Kilometres went by in silence as we focussed on our own battles in our own heads (especially up the hills) and then someone would say something and spark a conversation which kept us going for another few kms.

Our chant as we entered each checkpoint was as much to rally our own spirits as to announce to our support team that we had arrived. We think it also raised other people’s spirits as everyone commented on it.  The line “We are strong and we are keen” was changed after we lost Jo to, “We are running out of steam” as we definitely didn’t feel strong or keen at that point!

We also found it useful to set ourselves a target – there was a danger when Jo had to retire that we would lose momentum as she is such a motivator in our team.  So we focused on a time by which we really wanted to be off the course, worked out if it was realistic given the terrain and the speed we could physically manage at that point, and kept it in mind as each kilometre passed.  We had two targets – an ideal which was probably slightly unrealistic, and a fall back which was more realistic.

It worked. We were buggered but we did it thanks to the good pace we had set when we were a full team of 4 with Jo and the sheer bloody mindedness, determination and just a hint of craziness of the whole team from start to finish. There is no “I” in TEAM, there may be a “ME” but “MATE” is the whole thing. And mates work together, look out for each other, laugh together, cry together, know when to be quiet and when to cajole and when to tell it like it is.

Not sure if we will embark on another Oxfam Trailwalker – between us we have done more than 10 with different people. We make regular donations to Oxfam as monthly donors, so we may bow out and turn to different challenges. It was a gruelling and very emotional 20 hours 54 minutes. A big shout out to our support team, Rob, Nigel and Nathan who kept us fed and watered, put up with the tears, the frustrations and the demands we made of them.  They are as much a part of the success of completing 100km as we are.  A shout out too to the teams who supported us with their banter, encouraging words, kind words, and understanding when they could see we were struggling.

Oxfam Trailwalker is a test of friendship, teamwork, coping with uncertainty, frustration, and digging deep inside yourself to find reserves you didn’t know you had.  But it also brings out the best in people; in times of adversity (and this year was not the first time we have had to deal with adversity on an Oxfam Trailwalk) we learn how to support each other, we give –  not just things, but ourselves, our emotions, our energy, our passion.  I think we left everything out there on the course in Whakatane yesterday, like many other trailwalkers, and we are better people because of it.

Thank you Jo Munn, Shelley Mackay and Paula Klein. I am proud to call you my friends, sisters in arms, fellow adventurers, mischief makers ….

Photo by Photos4Sale Thank you

Photos in slideshow by Anne Robertson and Photos4Sale Event photographers  CC-BY-SA

Copyright for Innovation


Large copyright graffiti sign on cream colored wall by Horia Varlan  CC-BY

A few weeks ago I attended a panel discussion about copyright and how fair use of media, copyrighted material promotes or inhibits creativity. It was hosted by the University of Auckland Law Department.

A panel of international experts on copyright and innovation led the discussion about copyright, fair use of intellectual property, open access and how it all works in the media, education and business.

At the bottom of this post is the Storify of the evening (edited – now converted to a Wakelet since Storify ceased to exist).

But how does copyright etc apply to schools, teachers and students?

Mention copyright in staff rooms and people’s eyes usually glaze over.  The only real exposure most teachers have to it is in ignoring the poster over the photocopier warning them about what percentage of a book they can legally copy!  Some schools have a vigilant admin person who manages all the photocopying and enforces the rule strictly, in other schools the law may as well not exist.

Drama and music departments have a better understanding of copyright laws as it directly impacts the work they do.  Some media is available for use in an educational context but the limitation lies in that the content cannot be published or presented to the public. It may be possible to perform plays, use musical scores, sing songs within a school context to an audience composed of people within school, but as soon as you invite an outside audience in you may find yourself breaching the terms of the copyright unless you have sought permission to use it. (

So far so clear.  But what about films? I know that films are used extensively to support learning in many subjects. They are also used as ‘end of term fillers’. The philosophical and pedagogical rights and wrongs of this I will not go into here. However, it is clear from the guidelines on the TKI page Guide to copying and showing films that the showing of films should be for educational purposes only.

“You may not show a hired or purchased video/DVD in your school simply for entertainment purposes. For example, you can show the film Shakespeare in Love when it relates to your drama course, but you may not show it to your drama class merely to entertain them at the end of term.”

And you cannot copy the film multiple times to enable every student to have their own copy, nor can you make it available on the school learning management system. Read more at Electronic copying and works on the internet.

OK, so all this is well and good, and the law is quite clear if we bother to find out about it and pay any attention to it.  But there are areas around use of media and ownership that are less clear (or more open to interpretation).

Who owns what you produce as a teacher for your students?  At any time of the day or night, term time or holidays?

The answer is simple: your employer. The Board of Trustees. Not you.

What does that mean?  It means that legally speaking anything that you create in the course of your employment has to stay in the place of your employment when you leave and you cannot take a copy of it with you. WHAT?!  My work, my time, my blood, sweat and tears, my creativity, my imagination!

How does not being able to share my work fit with Kāhui Ako (Communities of Learning)? How does it encourage collaboration across schools and between teachers? How does it encourage me to be creative, spend my time working on great resources if I can’t keep them? How will anyone know if I take a copy anyway? Who is going to stop me?

Well the answers are, it doesn’t and nobody. Unless you start to sell them and make megabucks, or if you take them and don’t leave a copy behind for your colleagues to use and they are left in the lurch.

So, how can I legally own what I feel I morally own because I created it?

A CREATIVE COMMONS policy provides teachers and schools with a way forward.  Put simply, if a school adopts a Creative Commons Policy, then the BOT maintains ownership of resources but agrees that those resources can be shared as long as they are shared under the same license.

So what about images and media that you and your students use in your work? How do I know who has created media on the internet? Who owns the photos in “Google Images”? How do I know what I can use and what I can’t? How do I attribute ownership?   Creative Commons provides answers there too. There are heaps of ‘free to use’ media if you know where to look.  In Google images, go to Tools and then Usage rights to get a return of open source images.  Photos4Class is a great one to send kids to as it inserts appropriate referencing too.  Unsplash has heaps of amazing images that are free to use and they also provide the attribution code for you to use. And

The Creative Commons website has a heap of links to open source resources as well as useful information on how to appropriately attribute and reference media you have used.  Saying “Retrieved from Google Images” just doesn’t cut it!  Or take your own photos and use them and apply a Creative Commons License. Encourage your kids to be creators rather than consumers. Because, as Amy Burvall quotes from Jean-Luc Godard in her book “Intention: critical creativity in the classroom

“It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.” 

And we really do want to encourage our students to use other people’s creative works, to be inspired by them, to build on them. As Mark Twain said,

“All ideas are secondhand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources.” 

And all creative work is derivative – as Amy quotes from Isaac Newton in her book (p.51)

“We all stand on the shoulder of giants.”

But we also have to ‘teach our students the value of providing attribution when appropriating even the smallest elements.’ p52, Intention: Critical creativity in the classroom

Nobody is very likely to prosecute you if you use an image or a piece of music that is not yours to use unless you are particularly unlucky. Although, there are plenty of examples when that has happened, especially where music is concerned. And I have heard plenty of teachers and students say, “But how will anyone know if I have used a photo, a video, a piece of music?” and “Why should I care?” and “Will anyone really stop me?”

It comes down to trust, to values, ethics and morals. The values of citizenship that we instil into our kids, that are enshrined in our school charters, that we live and work by everyday.  Taking what is not legally yours without asking permission is theft. Pure and simple.  Using media that is created by someone else without attributing it to them is just bad manners and shows lack of gratitude. And as educators we have a responsibility to model good practice.



It’s all over now!

Last 9 Instagram Posts; 1st January 2017

This time last year I started a photo blog. The challenge was to post a photo every day for the year. 2016 was special because it was a leap year and the hashtag I used was #366photos2016

Yesterday was my last post on that blog. I was reluctant to press the button and post as I have enjoyed finding a photo each day. Sometimes I had to choose from so many that it was hard and I confess to cheating and posting more than one or making a wee collage! Other times, I got to the end of the day and realised I hadn’t taken a photo at all. Those times were rare as I always have my phone in my hand in case there is a photographable moment! When that happened, I either found a subject within shooting distance of my chair, or I edited a previous photo that had relevance for the date.

Yesterday, I had a wee look back at the first posts of 2016, then flicked through to some mid-year posts. How had I already forgotten about some of the things that happened?  The blog will always be there to go back to and serve as a record of 2016 but I am wondering how I can save my ‘story’ in a more tangible way.

I have had a go at creating a ‘book‘ with BlogBooker.  As with all sites the free version is quite limited and I can only export to PDF so it is a bit ugly. It’s a start though. I’d really like to be able to create an ebook but haven’t found anything yet that will easily export the content in my blog directly.  Doing a Google search pulls up all sorts of suggestions but most are plugins that only work with the .org version of WordPress or they are links to sites which have since demised!

I recently saw a link to a blog in a tweet from a friend of ours in which he talked about ‘flickring’ his flickr photos.  I’d love to do that to my photos but my flickr photos are badly tagged so I don’t think I’ll be able to do it easily, nor do I think I have the technical knowhow to do it!

Anyway, lots of food for thought and exploration.


Prize Giving: Celebrating success or stigmatising failure?

boy standing on a rock above the clouds at sunset
On top of the world

It is that time of year; successful students, arms full of certificates, trophies, books and envelopes stuffed with book tokens, stumbling across stages all over the country.  Principals praising the students for their engagement, their tenacity, for overcoming challenges, balancing the pressures of academic study with sport, the arts, community service and coming out victorious and ready to take on everything the world can throw at them.  Student leaders waxing lyrical about the love and commitment shown by their teachers and mentors and the support their peers have provided on the rocky road through school.

It is indeed a time for celebration and well-justified too. But as I watched Prize Giving at my son’s school yesterday evening I couldn’t help but think of the 90% of kids who don’t have their successes celebrated in such a public way.  The ones who are expected to sit through the ceremony to collectively celebrate the school’s successes but who don’t win prizes.  I wondered who it is all for.  What is the purpose?  Don’t get me wrong, I truly believe in celebrating and sharing success but I believe in recognising everyone’s successes in all their guises.  And I’m not convinced that a rewards system is the best way to engage children in learning.

George Couros writes eloquently on the subject in this blogpost “The Impact of Rewards” so I won’t repeat what he has said but I will offer this quote from Alfie Kohn:

“In short, good values have to be grown from the inside out. Attempts to short-circuit this process by dangling rewards in front of children are at best ineffective, and at worst counterproductive. Children are likely to become enthusiastic, lifelong learners as a result of being provided with an engaging curriculum; a safe, caring community in which to discover and create; and a significant degree of choice about what (and how and why) they are learning. Rewards–like punishments–are unnecessary when these things are present, and are ultimately destructive in any case.” (Alfie Kohn, The Risk of Rewards)

And I have severe misgivings about a system that ranks students with a top ten system.  What criteria are used?  Are they open, transparent and fair?  Massey University education researcher Jenny Poskitt says;

“If you want to motivate and inspire kids to strive for excellence in all endeavours, they need to perceive that it’s fair, need to know what the game is and how to play it, to be inspired. If it’s not fair, or they don’t know how to get it, then it’s not going to motivate them.”  (Schools allay fears over school prizes)

In my experience the value of awards decreases for those kids who constantly get them whereas for the kids who never get them the damage to their self-esteem and pride is significant.

One of the things my husband and I had to do yesterday was persuade our son to attend the prize giving evening. He wasn’t getting an award.  None of his friends were getting awards. None of his friends were planning on attending.  The school releases the students at lunch time with the expectation that because they get the afternoon off they should attend the prize giving evening.  He didn’t see why he needed to sit through 2 and a half hours of speeches and a litany of names being read out and prize winners traipsing across the stage (many of them more than once).

He said it made him feel stupid and useless and reinforced his sense of ‘failure.’  We assured him that he is not stupid, reminded him of his skills and achievements.  The things he does like coaching a junior hockey team, and putting himself out there as an umpire, like teaching himself to play the guitar from Youtube videos.  We tried the arguments that it wasn’t about him, it was about sharing and recognising other people’s success, the school’s success and being proud to be part of that collective.   He wasn’t buying it!  And, to be honest, I get it. We have always supported the school prize giving in the past and we have always encouraged our boys to attend.  I have spent 30 years as a teacher attending prize giving occasions and I have occasionally questioned the need for them but, on the whole, just accepted them as a part of the school calendar. But he was so distressed about it that it really made me think.  I wondered as I watched how he was feeling, what impact it was gong to have on his motivation to learn, did we do the right thing in making him come?

The more I heard the word ‘success’ the more I wondered whose success we were celebrating and why we were doing it in the way that we were.  The more I heard the word success the more I wondered about its opposite: failure. If the students on the stage were successful, are all the rest failures?  Of course they are not, but if you are a kid sitting in a theatre who isn’t getting a prize watching those that are being lauded, how would you feel?

The New Zealand Curriculum vision is to develop confident, connected, involved, lifelong learners. The demands of living in an ever changing 21st century world require competencies and capabilities such as resilience, adaptability, communication skills, empathy, flexibility, problem-solving and creativity.  Qualities and dispositions that are difficult to measure.  So no prizes.  But the 90% who didn’t get celebrated yesterday evening or indeed around the country right now probably have them in shedloads.  Who recognises them?  When does anyone tell them they are valuable and worthwhile members of society, that the skills they have are worth celebrating?

In schools all over the world  the ‘industrial model of education’ is being shunned because it is no longer fit for purpose.  Is the end of year “Prize Giving” ceremony just a hang over from the industrial age?  Do we see the tradition of it through rose coloured spectacles?  Is it the tradition that we hold so tightly on to?   Because we’ve always done it that way?  We live in a knowledge economy where content is freely available, the way we learn is changing, the things we learn are changing, the way we assess is changing.  What does ‘success’ now look like?  Will the way that we celebrate ‘success’ change?   I wonder.



Korero make the world go round

Time seems to be in short supply at the moment and blog posts are at the bottom of the pile of mahi! I have so many ideas to write about but need time to organise my thoughts into some sort of coherent stream.  
Today though, I want to note a couple of things very briefly.

The day started with discussions with the rest of an interview panel for the appointment of our Kāhui Ako / Community of Learning leader. I am the BoT representative for my school and feel very privileged to be on the panel. It is allowing me a unique perspective of the whole process and as well as being able to support the community it will help me when I work with Kāhui Ako / CoLs in the future. I was a little apprehensive at first but am now looking forward to the whole process. Exciting times. 

After that I headed to Rotorua for NetHui just in time to catch the end of the discussion about Maori ICT.  I then joined in the kōrero about Digital Inclusion and Collective Impact. They were fascinating discussions and it was enlightening to hear the stories from outside an educational setting. Too often, as educators, we are blinkered by the ivory towers of the institutes of learning we call schools!

I just wish more teachers could have been there. As we strive to make learning more authentic with real world contexts to prepare students for life, the connections we make with business and other sectors of the community are increasingly important. NetHui facilitates those conversations and enables the connections. The collated tweets below tell the story until I have more time to process my reflections.  

in the foreground the screen of a laptop. The viewer is looking over it at a panel of people sitting behind a wooden desk. There is a speaker at a lectern to the left of them

Photo by Anne Robertson CC-BY