Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Activating Prior Knowledge - Earth and Beyond

Term 4 has started with a rush and a roar, or rather a countdown and a blast off! This term for Inquiry we are investigating the Earth and Beyond, the Final Frontier, and began the unit by activating our prior knowledge. It's always a good idea to start with what you know. By discussing ideas and concepts (and misconceptions) that we already know about Space, we can identify areas we need to investigate further and make connections with new knowledge.

Mrs Manuyag did an awesome art lesson on the first day back as part of the Inquiry Unit's big reveal. The students created representations of our solar system, with planets, the Sun, and an asteroid belt using inspiration from the Mandala art technique.

A common way that we get the students talking and thinking about a new topic is by completing a bus stop activity. Miss Aireen and I came up with questions that related to the topic, eg. What words do we know that are associated with Space? 

Students are organised into small groups and start off at one of the bus stop questions. Before the activity started we had a rousing whole class discussion to get the brain juices flowing before setting off for quick fire stops. Students had around 2mins at each question to jot down their ideas.

Once all the groups had answered each of the questions we had a feedback session where groups identified the top 5 answers on their sheet. I recorded these ideas on a class presentation for the students to refer to and add to as a follow up activity. The feedback session generated some more interesting discussion and I can already tell this Inquiry topic is really going to generate some great questioning and debate amongst the students.

Onwards and Upwards - To Infinity and Beyond!

Oh and yes we have already had lots of giggles when mentioning the 7th planet in our Solar System, whoever named Uranus has a lot to answer for!

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Ako - Learning and Teaching from each other

I am very lucky to be working in the Senior Syndicate at TPS with the wonderful, experienced, and 'expert', teacher Aireen Ah Kui. She is also my Mentor teacher supporting me towards achieving full teacher registration at the end of this year. 

TPS places a strong emphasis on fostering Tuakana/Teina relationships within the school, blending the Maori concept of Ako, learning and teaching from one another, with Vygotsky's idea of learning from the 'expert other' through scaffolding.

The mentor/PRT relationship is a great example of this process and Aireen and I have enjoyed almost two years of learning and teaching with, and from, one another. I recently had an couple of mentor observations; Aireen watched me teach, both a whole class lesson and 2 group instruction sessions, on written language. I received really useful feedback and feed forward and had very helpful professional discussions about where to next with my students' learning and lesson planning. 

Our written language programme is integrated with our inquiry topic of Practicing Peaceful Play and is focussed on speech writing. I first introduced the speech topic - "why it is important to practice peaceful play" and discussed the key features of an speech introduction.

Working with what Aireen observed during my lessons and the level that the students were working at, we discussed what the next series of lessons would need to focus on. Aireen came into our classroom and led an awesome lesson solidifying and building on what the students already knew. 

I saw repetition of key ideas, detailed scaffolding, student movement around the class, whole class/buddy/small group discussions, talk moves, think/pair/share, and student independent reflection and evaluation. 

To assist the lesson I created a detailed speech writing success criteria, along with exemplars of an introduction paragraph and structured explanation paragraph. These were written to a level 4 (Year 8 standard). These was used for annotation and as a learning and teaching tool for the students to refer back to when evaluating their own speeches.

After a whole class discussion and scaffolding of the learning task, students identified and highlighted examples of the key elements of an introduction and then shared these with the whole class. You can see from the photo below that clarification was necessary through whole class discussion to clearly show different elements of an introduction. 

Here you can see the students working independently, discussing and re-voicing ideas together on the mat, and taking part in the fantastic 'doughnut' sharing technique.

I was able to observe and discuss with Aireen all the different strategies she used during the lesson and gain an understanding of why she used them, along with identifying the needs of the students and seeing how Aireen adapted the lesson to meet those needs. The lesson was slowed right down and ideas were repeated and re-voiced again and again. It was great to see by the end of the lesson that all students were able to produce an introduction with all the key elements.

Another lesson was delivered in a team-teaching style the following week with both the Year 7 & Year 8 students (both Aireen's and my class). This lesson allowed me to put together how I teach, with the ideas and techniques that Aireen utilises. Delivering the lesson together allowed us to 'riff off' each other and build on our existing written language techniques and strategies. We were also able to identify specific areas of the writing process the students were struggling with and target those with tailor-made resources and more exemplars and discussion. 

The speeches are still being written and as this is the last week of school for Term 3, the students will continue to craft and re-craft their speeches until next Term. I am sincerely looking forward to hearing the different ideas and explanations that the students are coming up with - next step: presenting skills!

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

The importance of Hauora or just be kind to your knees.

I love sport. I love playing it. I love watching it. I love talking about it. 

Unfortunately my body does not always keep up with my love of sport.

I had my first knee surgery at 16 and on Thursday last week I had my 4th knee operation, removing a bone spur and one of the pins in my left knee. The procedure went well and now I have an interesting memento to share with my students when I get back to school in Week 7.

My second year of teaching is throwing up a multitude of challenges, obstacles, and learning opportunities.
It is frustrating to have health issues interfere with your work life but it very important to take note when you are not well. 

As teachers, we know that our students pick up on our moods and respond to our general disposition, so when one area of hauora is unbalanced this affects more than just the teacher, it affects the whole class.

Hauora refers to 4 key areas of personal well-being: taha tinana (the body), taha wairua (the spirit), taha hinengaro (the mind), and taha whanau (the social). Dr Mason Durie's Whare Tapa Wha model is embraced at TPS and we help students to recognise the importance of having balance and stability across all 4 areas of self to promote health and well-being.

So I am practicing what I teach :-) and taking care of my taha tinana.

I am very much looking forward to getting back into the playground and running around with my students - with 2 working knees.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Cat's Cradle, Witches Broom and an Eiffel Tower - Learning String Games

Learning String Games - Tuakana/Teina Session

In Week 3 we decided to link our inquiry topic - Practicing Peaceful Play - with a Tuakana/Teina session and had the students exploring different types of string games.

It was fantastic to see a mixture of 'expert others' in both the Year 7 and the Year 4 classes. Students who were able to share their existing knowledge of string games (for example Cat's Cradle) and teach their buddy.

I introduced the students to a selection of youtube clips and they were off!! Students watched the videos and taught each other how to complete the more complicated string games like the Eiffel Tower and Fishnet. 

It was really interesting to see the different ways that students learnt - some responded really well to the videos while others learnt better by having a buddy talk them through the steps.

A couple of the students showed great patience teaching me how to correctly make the Cat's Cradle and to 'cut off my fingers', and I think this kind of learning and teaching experience is invaluable. The students are empowered to take control of their learning and to understand that they have skills and knowledge to share. 

My highlight was seeing the persistence and focus of many of the students, who set themselves challenges to complete complicated and difficult string games. It certainly paid off with many students mastering a range of different games.

Following on from the exploration session, the students were asked to create step-by-step instructions to teach others how to complete a specific string game. Check out Marcus, October and Mason's instructional presentation here.

I found that some students were much more suited to oral instructions and so I borrowed a couple of Ipads and got some of the students to make their own instructional videos. These just need a little editing before posting but check back on the class blog soon.

A thoroughly enjoyable set of lessons and it's great to see that these types of old fashioned games still make up an important and fun part of children's lives today.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Conquering the summit - thanks to Kids Can


Today some of the students from Tamaki Primary School were given an awesome free trip to Rangitoto Island, courtesy of Kids Can, Tasti and Fullers Ferries. It was so great seeing the children all bright eyed and very excited in the morning, all smart and warm in their Warriors Jackets (thanks Kids Can!).

The bus ride and ferry terminal were filled with the enthusiastic and very loud voices of approximately 60 students, all eager to start the adventure! The photo below is of a large group of the students taking part in a new and noisy game of 'Pukana' which was a lot of fun and also provided some entertainment for the tourists walking around the Cloud this morning!
We had our own chartered Fullers ferry for the journey over and all of the children received a Charlie's Bottle of Water and assorted Tasti snacks which were promptly devoured on the ride over to Rangitoto. For some of the students it was only their first or second ride on a boat so again the energy levels were very high as we made our way out of the harbour. Many of the students had never been to Rangitoto before and were a little bit daunted when they saw the summit we were heading for way up in the distance.  

The wonderful group of volunteers supporting us were from Tasti and once we had sorted the students into their groups we started off on the ascent. After a false start where the leaders tried to take us to Motutapu Island we made our way onwards and upwards through the stunning volcanic rock and interesting vegetation. The older students were practically running their way to the top - which provided more rigorous exercise for the teachers than expected!

It was an invigorating, educational, talkative and fun ascent and descent with a quick stop at the top for lunch. A lot of the children were knackered by the top but still found the energy for games, loud conversation and lots of joking on the way down. Needless to say we did not see any wildlife and other visitors to the island definitely heard us coming! It was so heart-warming to see the excitement and joy in the students and I was so proud of them all for showing resilience and perseverance. The thank you speeches at the conclusion of the day made me proud to be part of such a great group of students and so thankful for organisations like Kids Can, Fullers and Tasti that support our students to experience these types of amazing adventures. The students will remember this for many years to come!!

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

New Maths: Talk Moves

This year our school is continuing with maths professional development however the approach has changed. Building on the diagnostic approach and direct instruction from the previous year; the new focus is on Problem Solving and Talk Moves.
Here is some of the literature behind the Talk Moves initiative. The main idea is that maths thinking and learning is supported and developed through talk, between the teacher and students but with the emphasis on discussion being student-led.
The five practices of Talk Moves are
  1. Anticipating
  2. Monitoring
  3. Selecting
  4. Sequencing
  5. Connecting
How will the students answer the problem?
What strategies might they use?
What might be their misconceptions?
An activity that is likely to increase the amount of time spent in planning a lesson.
Give the students the problem and then allow them independent thinking time to answer it.
Record the different strategies during anticipating and then using that to record when monitoring what students are using each strategy. Not just watching but also questioning students to check their understanding.
Selecting and Sequencing:
Identify students that have got a correct strategy, although still choosing the students who have common misconceptions and sharing and discussing those answers too. Try to have students sequenced through their different strategies eg. from additive to multiplicative.
The Teacher draws connections between each of the students’ strategies. Highlights different strategies or indicates progression from additive to multiplicative thinking.

This approach seems quite different, noticeably in lesson delivery, than the previous years maths instruction. As such I have identified that I need to focus on my maths instruction and have set the implementation of this approach, merged with the previous years approach, as a goal of mine this year.

Monday, 8 June 2015

New strategies, new knowledge

Flash forward to the classroom.
I was teaching in a Year 7 & 8 classroom with students who were achieving at standards ranging from Level 1 to Level 5, or stages 2 - 8. A massive range for me to get my head around.
My school has identified maths as a specific area of focus and as such significant professional development has been, and is still being, administered for teaching staff. As a beginning teacher in my first year I made sure to make the most of any opportunities to observe maths group instruction, and tried to take full advantage of the professional development we received through a facilitator from Cognition.  
Towards the end of the year I was able to observe the Cognition facilitator deliver the same lesson to year 5 & 6 students and my own students in year 7 & 8. The group dynamics were a big factor in the delivery of the lesson content and the progress that the learners made. To be able to compare the learning experiences of my learners was invaluable.
It was great to see the progression of the learning experiences - knowledge check, use of materials, recording of student strategies, clarifying of maths language, to the co-construction of WALT at the conclusion of the lesson.
Certain concepts were not understood in the session with my learners and so had to be addressed through the use of materials.  There was unbalanced input from only certain members in the group which led to an uneven exchange and the facilitator was not sure of the understanding of all group members.
The discussion post group session involved establishing a group treaty of expected behaviour including not calling out and all members participating. This was a very interesting observation for me, as a beginning teacher, to see how important behaviour and group work expectations are when teaching in groups.
Here is an example of the format and modelling of the type of maths instruction that our school focussed on delivering last year. I have borrowed this image from my colleague Aireen. I was lucky enough to work alongside Aireen last year in a team teaching environment and she continues to be a wonderful mentor for my development as a teacher. This is how I tried to shape my maths group instruction in 2014.