#edblognz Week 2 Challenge 1

Rather late in the piece because my head is buzzing so this will be a quickie! Just waiting for my breakout to start the morning after the night before! And what a night it was. Ulearn15 put on the razzlemadazzle once again out on the high seas with cutlass wielding pirates, rum tipsy sailors, shimmering, glimmering jellyfish, the “undead” of the Titanic and the crowd favourite “out of the box” thinking Pavarotti. He got my vote and the Twitterati vote – almost trending for the evening!


But this post isn’t about the Gala Dinner.  One of the challenges was to find two blogger I admire, take a selfie with them and then write a blog.  The first blogger I met as I entered Sky City on Tuesday morning was the MAGICAL Anne Kenneally who amazes me with her passion and excitement. This comes through in her tweets, her FB posts and her blogs.  I didn’t buy her a coffee but I did get her safely to the Twitter Dinner!


My other inspiring blogger is actually one of a special groups of people: my fellow #efellows14. Marnel Van der Spuy is such a passionate teacher. Her sheer joy of teaching and learning is infectious and inspiring.

efellows 14

Have a read of their blogs, and connect with them on twitter @annekenn @1mvds. Be inspired!

Is school toxic to learning?

whirlpool editLast Thursday I went to a lecture by Guy Claxton at the University of Waikato entitled,

“Topsy Turvy Education: The Challenge of Embodied Cognition”.

To be honest, I didn’t really know what the title meant.  I mean, what is “embodied cognition”?
However, I have read and enjoyed the ideas in Claxton’s book “New kinds of Smart“, and was interested in hearing what he had to say.  He is an easy person to listen to, softly spoken, but clear, fluent and engaging.  He seems down to earth and he speaks knowledgeably and convincingly.  A small, discrete venue helped – there were maybe 40 people at most in the lecture theatre in the Education Faculty building – and so the discussion after his talk was dynamic and uninhibited.

The thrust of his idea is, put very simplistically,  that there is a disjunct between school and the real world.  That school does not prepare its learners for life beyond the four limiting walls of the classroom, that we are not equipping our children to be “lifelong learners”.  That in school we still follow a Victorian, industrial model of education that focuses on content,  learning “about” stuff, and that there is a natural order in which content should be “learned” (“elementitis”).  The brain or the mind is seen in isolation from the body, the senses, our environment, our experiences, our culture, and we assess “intelligence” by how effectively students regurgitate content and disembodied “knowledge”.  Claxton suggested that “Teaching is toxic for Learning” – I can’t quite remember who he referenced that quote to, but he referred to Sugata Mitra who said,

The Victorians were great engineers. They engineered a [schooling] system that was so robust that it’s still with us today, continuously producing identical people for a machine that no longer exists.

victorian education

Claxton talked about “Interoceptive awareness“,  the idea of neural connectedness, that the body is the brain, and that intelligence is dependent on more than just knowledge.  

One of my favourite ideas was that of thoughts “unfurling” or “welling up” –  they don’t just happen, they arrive as a gradual unfurling like a leaf.  Emotions trigger responses, thoughts and ideas take time whilst we get on with other, often mundane, repetitive things.  Then ideas or solutions to problems may pop into our heads “out of the blue” – like a bud bursting into flower. In reality, the process has actually been happening for a while but that “pop” is the culmination of the thought process – see Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind.

I also liked the idea that the skin is a constant site of trading, it is not a boundary – our knowledge is not something that can be picked up and put down somewhere else because it is part of our experiences which help shape what our knowledge is and who we are. Our knowledge is also dependent on the people we interact with, the ideas we interconnect with, the places we live and work and play.  A great analogy was that “You can’t take a whirlpool home in a bucket” – it might look like an object but it is dependent on its situation, it is a part of things that are happening around it and they are a part of it – the repercussions, reactions, sparking of ideas bouncing around like a pinball game.

This made me wonder, as I was writing up my notes, whether knowledge can be taken home or into an examination hall? Or, if knowledge is connected with so much else, if it is contextual, experiential, dependent on understanding and if our understanding of concepts is dependent on the interconnections with our experiences, our culture, our senses, with how we percieve the world to be and with our instincts …  where does that leave teachers who “impart knowledge”?  

My notes are somewhat erratic but I have endeavoured, at least, to put them into some order.  If you want to read more and access the links to the many references Guy suggested, here are my Evernotes

Measles…..or what are you waiting for?

Hamilton is in the grip of a measles “pandemic”.  Well let us not exagerate;

dictionary definition of the word pandemic


Advertising Campaign poster 1940s by H E Bateman showing people in a railway carriage with someone coughing and not using a handkerchief
Advertising Campaign poster 1940s by H E Bateman

The total cases in Hamilton on 18th June as reported in the New Zealand Herald was 60.  However, the panic that has resulted may well be described as “pandemic” as schools scramble to accrue evidence of immunisation from students and staff and, I suspect, but only have anecdotal evidence, that Dr’s surgeries are scrambling to get supplies of the MMR vaccine to administer to those who are currently unimmunised.

However, I am being flippant because measles is a very unpleasant disease – I do know that because I remember suffering from it as a child in the 1960s, and it is a killer.  And it is spread very easily especially in busy places where “coughs and sneezes spread diseases” such as classrooms, hospitals, conferences, cinemas, in fact wherever we go to lead our daily lives.  Already two schools in Hamilton have sent staff and students home who are unimmunised, reduced their timetables, cancelled all sporting fixtures and withdrawn groups from cultural competitions.

So what can we do if we have a measles outbreak and students, or even you, are stuck at home in quarantine?  I wrote this handout for our staff at school and thought that it would be useful to reproduce as a blog – who knows where measles will go next given that the trend has been, over the last few years to either choose not to have our children immunised or to be in a marginalised section of society where access is not easy.


There are many staff with young children who may not yet be fully immunised and if the pre-schools and primary schools that they attend are hit they may well find that they have to stay at home with children who need looking after. There are possibly also some staff who are vulnerable because of the time they were born when the MMR vaccine was not yet universally offered, and if we have an outbreak of measles, they will possibly have to stay at home.  Not just teachers either, think of the ground staff, the cleaning staff, the administrative staff; schools may well have to close for at least two weeks but we still have a responsibility to provide opportunities for learning for all those students.

Fortunately, there are plenty of options for providing work to students whether you are in school or at home but  unfortunately, they will require some extra effort on your part and on the students’ part. Here are some suggestions of what we can do. I think it is important that departments pull together on this so that the load does not fall on individual teachers.

Google Docs

If you are already using Google docs and your classes are set up then you can provide all your resources to those students who are quarantined.  You can upload photos of notes on the whiteboard into your Google docs or save pdfs of smartboard notes. Students can continue to work on coursework and you can provide feedback using the comments function or if you would like to use verbal feedback try using the Kaizena add on.

You can see how the students are getting on by creating quizzes using Google Forms which you can grade using Flubaroo.  Goobric is a great way of providing formative feedback.

If you are feeling brave have a go at using Screenr or Jing to create videos of key teaching points and upload them to your Youtube channel and share them with students. Keep them short though; research shows that students lose interest or don’t even start watching if the video is more than eight minutes long.


Some people are using Edmodo which is a great way of communicating with students and sharing resources. You can set up quizzes and assignments and share all your Google docs and videos from one place. Make sure that you share your docs as View only if you don’t want students to edit an original.  If you want students to write on a document remind them to make a copy of the doc, name it and share it back to you.

Google Sites

Google sites are relatively easy to set up but you need to think through how you want to structure it. I have created a template which you can find in the template gallery called “Creating a Google Site” to help you think things through. The Google help sheets are relatively straightforward if you are happy following instructions and have enough time to experiment.


In the short term using and intranet might be the easiest option for sharing resources if most of your current resources are Word docs or ppts. Of course these do not have the option of easy feedback or discussion but in a pressure situation at least you are providing the information to your students.

Other students

Why not also use the students in your class to help you share resources? They might be able to video a science experiment and share it with a friend, or they can record discussions on their phones that they have in small groups in class to share, they can take photos of work that they brainstorm on paper and upload them to a shared Google doc or to Edmodo. You can also get the students in the class to create a shared document and add notes to it from the lesson so that those at home can read them alongside the resources you have shared with them. If there are things that they don’t understand they can ask using the comments function which will encourage those in the lesson to reflect and explain what they learned. Real higher order thinking!

Skype and Hangouts

Maybe you could also Skype or Google hangout your lesson to those stuck at home? Then they really are a part of the lesson and can ask questions and contribute their ideas in real time.

Google Group

You could set up a Google group and have a conversation/discussion that those at home can join in with in real time or use Twitter, Facebook chat or TodaysMeet to involve everyone in a lesson in real time.

Web Tools

Learni.st or Blendspace are great tools to create lessons that students can follow anywhere. You can add resources, links to webpages, videos and your own explanations to create a series of lessons and activities.

I ended up also turning this original google hand out for teachers into an Eduignite presentation and it got me thinking – all these things are what we have been trying to encourage other colleagues to do anyway, why does it need  the threat of a “pandemic” to spur them into action?  But that is a whole other story!

seagull hovering against a clear blue sky with text that saysLearning is finding out what you already know. Doing is demonstrating that you know it. Teaching is reminding others that they know just as well as you. You are all dreamers, learners, doers and teachers. Richard Bach, Illusions

Poets, one and all!

This year, I have added the role of English teacher to my repertoire.  Despite my concerns and anxiety about teaching a subject that I have never taught before, I have had a great time.  I love teaching English. So far. I teach my Yr 9 form class so it is an excellent way to get to know them better.  They have embraced the first term’s unit on poetry and I have been amazed at the poems they have produced.  I am sure that this is nothing to do with my teaching and everything to do with their enthusiasm.  Anyway, I thought it was worth sharing some of their work.   There were so many great ones to choose from and I can’t post them all here but I have chosen three.

The first one is from an activity to explore personification.  The students had a list of nouns and a list of verbs that they had to match up and then craft into a poem.

The sun rising behind a hillside with the beach in the foreground
Dawn over Tapotupotu Bay

Personification Poem by Olivia

Dawn awakes
Splashing colours all over
The blank canvas
Creating an oasis
That smears itself across the sky
Like an artist blending all sorts of colours
With just one simple stroke

The morning sings
As the birds
Their well-rehearsed song
Tweeting peacefully
Splitting silence
Lingering in the air

As the heat of the day increases
The sun dances across the skies above
Shining it’s rays down
Over the cities below

The waves smash themselves forcefully
Yet so softly
Against the damp sand
Leaving a splash
Of cold salty spray
Clinging onto particles
Of the dusty golden goodness
The sea whispers softly
Words of encouragement
Filling the ears
Of scared little children
Taking their first steps into the water
Liquid licking their toes
Parents clutching their tiny hands

One mountain
Stands tall
Looking over the green countryside
Like a king overlooking his kingdom
The sky brings a beautiful bright blue
Contrasting with the trees
Dotted over the mountain

A stone sleeps
After a long day
Of hopscotch
As the sun gently melts away
Into darkness
Enveloped by long grass
Slightly swaying in the cool air

Night takes over
Shadows forming
A pitch black darkness spreading
Only once being brightened
As the moon comforts
Murmuring campers
As they await sleep to fall upon them

Stars guide the way to the morning
Leaving a sparkling trail
Like a snail
Twinkling against the black duvet of the sky

This one is Rosie’s final poem. She chose to have a go at a nonsense poem.

two statues of llamas on a traffic island
Llamas in Wellsford

The Llama who thought He was a Man

Stop! Wait. Go back.
Eating grass!
Cut some slack
you’re nuts

I’m not a llama
I don’t eat grass
At least, I don’t think
I have in the past

I am a llama?!
Seriously, cut the joke
You’ve said nothing but tosh
since first you spoke

Oh stop it!
I’m quite sick of this game
You don’t know a thing about humor
You’re jokes are laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaame!!!!

Nope, I’m not listening
What childish behaviour
I’m going away now
See you later!

Stop following me, I say!
Please go away!
Can you not hear me at all?

I do believe
You don’t understand
Your listening skills are poor

But perhaps, I wonder
If you do understand
Then why do you insist

On insisting
I have a fury coat
Which my eyesight
Has somehow missed!

Fine, I shall prove it!
Come here to this puddle
I’ll prove I’m no animal
Your brain’s in a muddle

You see, you nutcase
My reflection is fine
I am a huma-
Wait! That face is not mine!

How can it be?
Things shouldn’t be as they are
Something is wrong!
Something is- AAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!

I’m a llama! I’m a llama!
What a dreadful sight!
I’m a llama! I’m a LLAMA!
Goodness help me, YOU WERE RIGHT!!!!!!

And finally, Sophie’s poem about camp is full of energy and paints a great picture of what camp was all about.

girls at a campground in a circle trying to sit down on each others knees.
Mass sit down

Year 9 Camp 2014

In bushcraft we made manuka tea
Which I had to skull down on 1, 2, 3
At archery we aimed to hit a bulls eye
But I did not I just hit nearby

In rock climbing we had to climb a big wall
While trying not to think what would happen if we’d fall
If your group didn’t work as a team in ABL
You would realise you were going to be unstable

Mountain Biking had its ups and downs
Which made some of us end up with the browns!!
At raft building we had to float our team
Which in some cases was a bit extreme

You had to be good at mountaineering
To complete the challenge of orienteering
Waka Ama was a race
And we had a hard time to chase

In kayaking falling into the muddy water
Was like watching a lamb at the slaughter
I finished my week with the tramp
Which was a great way to finished such a good camp!

Ulearn13 – a reflection

images from Ulearn13

Another whirlwind three days of stimulation, learning, exploration, interaction, meeting new people, meeting up with old friends, putting faces to twitter handles, sharing ideas and having fun.

This is my fourth Ulearn and I think I an finally getting the hang of it! My first was in Rotorua, the sole representative from my school, and I had never been to such a big conference before.  I was lost figuratively and literally, I knew not a soul and felt quite daunted by booking breakouts, making notes, finding my way around, plucking up courage to speak to people, I really felt like the new kid on the block.  But I was so inspired by the speakers at the keynotes and in the breakouts I went to and went back home with my head full to bursting with ideas.  It took me weeks to process my detailed notes!

In subsequent years I have managed to persuade colleagues to come along too and this year I was one of eight delegates from my school.  The opportunities for sharing what we have learned is going to be huge.

I have always avidly taken notes at every session I have attended. Sometimes I have then diligently transcribed them and created reports that nobody reads. I have blogged about sessions that have particularly inspired me and shared Google docs with colleagues.  Feedback to staff at school has been ad hoc, mainly through the conversations I have with members of my department and others as I support them using technology and during interval and lunch time but also more recently through or PD sessions that this year are focused on blended learning.

This year I decided that I was not going to frantically scribble notes but instead join the rich seam of twitter interactions and use the comments and conversations that ensue to reflect on the sessions.  It was energising!  The key messages were tweeted and re-tweeted, quoted and referenced and have since been Storified or blogged, and tweeted out again for further comment and reflection.  More people were tweeting than ever before and the depth of comments and interactions is getting better and better.  There are still the soundbites but if you can keep up – and I have to confess that I struggle – the replies, favourites and retweets tell a really rich story.  graphic of top tweeters after the first 24 hours at Ulearn13

But the most exciting thing about this year is that I was awarded an e-fellowship. I have to confess that this dominated my experience of this year’s conference.  Wednesday was spent trying not to let the secret out to friends and colleagues whilst bursting with excitement and anticipation on the inside!   On Thursday morning I had to avoid arrangements to meet up with colleagues as we (the e-fellows) were to meet at 8.30am to get instructions about the “announcement”, and Mark Pesce’s excellent keynote was spent in a whirl of congratulatory tweets after we were presented on stage prior to his speech.   I was amazed at how many people came over to me to congratulate me, I had not quite realised how many people I knew or who knew me. Isn’t it strange that you think that people don’t know who you are even though you know that you recognise others.  I tend to think that they are more well known than me and that I am just, well, me!

The next challenge was my own presentation on Friday morning. My first time presenting and on the morning after the night before! “All that glitters” was not really glittering in our presentation room as some delegates wandered in looking decidedly ragged!  The conference dinner was fantastic, the music was great, we danced until our feet were sore and sang until we had no voices – well, some people did. I confess that I reluctantly left at 11pm but not before a good dancing session.

ulearn13 conference dinner delegates - theme "all that glitters"

So, I will share more notes and reflections of the sessions I attended but for a start here is my storified version of Dame Anne Salmond’s closing keynote. It was an inspiring, thought provoking speech that encapsulated many of the themes and ideas of the conference. It is just a shame that so many had to leave to catch planes before they could hear it.  And for those who couldn’t be bothered to stay, you really missed out.


…and the take away from the conference – lifelong learning.   I want this tee-shirt!


tee shirt with words "I'll stop learning when I'm dead. ....maybe"

Life outside the school walls

Le Dentiste 


Do you sometimes feel that your whole life revolves around school, education, our students, the lesson you are teaching next, the next round of reports, marking?  It is often difficult to gain some perspective and remember that there is a world outside school.  We also sometimes get very wound up about the fact that “we have no time” to do anything but meet the daily demands of our work, like improve our practice, read about what other teachers are doing in other schools or go to conferences.  I was reminded this weekend of an analogy made at a conference a couple of years ago about our reluctance sometimes to keep up with new approaches to teaching and learning. Imagine you went to the dentist, you walk into the surgery, there is an old uncomfortable leather chair that has two settings; upright and flat.  Instead of bright shiny, clean instruments the dentist has the sort of equipment that you remember from your childhood.  There is no injected anaesthetic or even any mouthwash, there are spitoons on the bench …. I don’t need to go on.  Would you be horrified that this dentist had apparently not moved with the times, was not taking advantage of the benefits that technology and advances in his field could offer both him and his patients?  Wouldn’t you EXPECT a dentist or a doctor or any other professional with whom you have interaction to be abreast of modern methods, technology, thinking, science?  I would.

I found this article, “Virtualy Reality display lets fire crews see in a blaze” in the New Scientist and marvelled at how this technology could help save lives and these sorts of advances are happening and being used in creative, humanitarian ways all over the world and in all sorts of professional spheres.  Now I know that teachers are not in the business of saving lives …… but we are in the business of changing lives.