Posted in Criterion 1, Criterion 6, Standard 4

Our Interdisciplinary Learning story


At Whangaparaoa College, a few of us have been chatting about the possibility of trialing interdisciplinary learning in 2018. For a while, I have been pondering how we could make this happen without too much disruption to the timetable. After a fruitful lunchtime conversation with my friend and colleague, Debbie Culliford, the light went on! Our year 9 and 10 classes all travel together so what would be needed was a group of teachers of one class who would meet and plan a theme or project and how they would teach it to the class.

A few days later, Tim Rea, the head of the Social Science faculty, came into my class and asked whether I would be interested in making it happen in 2018. We chatted and agreed that it would be good for teachers of the four core subjects to be a part of the pilot. Unfortunately, our Maths HOL was not keen at first because in the past the Maths curriculum had not been covered sufficiently. I totally understood where he was coming from but was disappointed. However, he later came on board to try it for a term after another discussion. Dawn, our DP, then organised a meeting between the core subject Heads of Learning.

Before the meeting we started a shared brainstorming document of the following ideas:

General interdisciplinary learning ideas:

  • Choose a class and trial for a term/year.
  • Choose a common theme/project/problem to learn about each term.
  • Maths, Science, Social Science, and English.
  • The trial class would have a project/problem or theme that they would complete learning in each subject area about.
  • Communication with the community is essential.

Why should we do this?

  • To make learning engaging and relevant.
  • Learners will understand the ‘bigger picture’ and be able to connect to real life projects.
  • Opportunity for teacher collaboration.

How can we make this happen?

  • Survey our learners to see if there is interest.
  • Choose teachers of a year 9 class to be involved.
  • Teachers meet and plan a term together.
  • Create resources and share on Team Drive (set one up for this trial).
  • Identify feasibility asap so that planning time can occur in term 4.

 Questions to consider

  1. Should the teachers involved have a non-contact at the same time for planning purposes?
  2. Should teachers have a non-contact when one of the group is teaching the class so that they have the option of team teaching?
  3. Should learners apply to be involved or select the class as an option?
  4. Can we make this happen for 2018 or do we need more time to plan?
  5. Could Design Thinking be part of our process?
  6. How will we assess learning outcomes?
  7. Will we plan forwards to the outcomes or backward from the outcomes?
  8. Will we make the key competencies much more of an explicit focus within this class
  9. What taxonomy will we use to guide our levels of differentiation?
  10. How might we serve our community?

At the meeting, we chatted about how we could make this happen and agreed that the simplest way would be to choose a year 9 class for 2018 and select interested teachers to teach this class. We left the meeting agreeing to find a keen member of each of our departments to take part.

At our next Curriculum Meeting, Tim Rea and I presented our ideas to all the HOLs and asked for their thoughts. Everyone was surprisingly very positive, especially the Year 7 & 8 HOLs who teach in this style most of the time. This means that if our trial in 2018 is successful, we may be able to roll it out to more curriculum areas and classes.

The next steps are to choose the teachers to teach the class, ensure that they have time to meet and plan, and then timetable the class. We also need to discuss the questions above and make some decisions regarding assessment.

Reading and Viewing links

Posted in Criterion 2, Criterion 6, Criterion 7, Criterion 8, Criterion 9, Standard 1, Standard 2, Standard 5, Teacher Registration, Teaching Standards

Can we truly personalise learning?

I have a dream! A vision of learners who are excited to come to school and learn because they have chosen what they will learn about and how they will do it. Their learning is totally personalised.

If I was at school today I would want to learn how to form a rock band, write and record songs, plan a tour and a marketing campaign. To do this I would choose music, English, business studies, design technology, fabrics (costumes are important!) and maths – eek!

How cool would it be to do subjects that you could see were totally relevant to what you wanted to do in life?! I realise that this is not an original dream or vision and that there are many schools already achieving this to some extent. But I feel like I can almost taste it, that it is just around the corner…but how do we get there?


What is Personalised Learning?

Recently I decided to do some research into what personalised learning is and how it actually happens. According to The Glossary of Education Reform website:

The term personalized learning, or personalization, refers to a diverse variety of educational programs, learning experiences, instructional approaches, and academic-support strategies that are intended to address the distinct learning needs, interests, aspirations, or cultural backgrounds of individual students. 

A range of strategies and methods are employed to personalise the learning of each student. These strategies and methods include developing strong relationships with learners; mentoring; differentiated learning; creating learning portfolios; including student voice; passion projects; and inquiry based learning.

I was surprised to realise that many schools already offer a range of these strategies and methods. We are on the way to realising the grand vision!


What do we already do?
In the English faculty at Whangaparaoa College, many of us use Project Based Learning as a teaching and learning style which gives our learners choice and voice. With our junior classes we add a Solo/Gardner’s learning matrix in which learners collaborate to choose activities and then present their learning in a visually appealing format of their choice. This could be a slide show, a video, or a website.

Many of us gamify our junior classes by using Class Dojo or Classcraft to provide competition and motivation. Some teachers also create podcasts that are used to flip the learning so that learners can choose when they engage with the information they need.

We have a Creative Writing group which is run at lunch time for those who enjoy writing. These learners can choose to complete the internally assessed writing standard at either level 1 or level 3 as these are not part of the English programme. We also have a choice of English course at level 2 and 3. At level 2 learners can choose either a literacy heavy reading and writing course or the viewing and presenting course which is focussed on visual texts and a speech. At level 3, learners can choose a literacy course to catch up on missed literacy credits or the mainstream English course offering the usual subjects.


As a school, we offer Academic Counselling instead of form classes or tutor groups. Academic Counselling is focussed on goal setting and reflection, creating digital learner portfolios, and preparation for the Learner Led Conference held in the middle of the year. The Academic Counsellor mentors each learner in their group by offering support and guidance. They will contact home and the learners’ teachers when necessary to advocate for their learner.

The Social Science faculty offer social projects where learners identify a social issue and plan a campaign to help. Recently a couple of our learners were on television and interviewed by John Campbell about the issue they had chosen. Our PE department have a Sports Institute that learners apply to become involved in and this has proven to be very successful.

Cross disciplinary personalised learning opportunities?

We have made a solid start towards the dream but I wonder about the following:

1. How do we move from where we are now to a cross disciplinary approach?
2. How might we involve the community?
3. How might we incorporate and value diversity?

The Heads of Learning at Whangaparaoa College have begun to meet regularly and we discussed personalised learning recently. We have created a spreadsheet and each added a page detailing what topics our faculty will be covering each term. We then looked at each other’s pages and identified areas where we could work together. For example, when year 9 social studies are investigating political systems they could write a descriptive piece for English based on a dystopian setting. It’s only small steps but its a start.

To really achieve the dream of truly personalised learning it is going to take a massive disruption to schooling as we know it. Timetables will have to go; faculty silos will have to go; year levels will have to go and that’s just the beginning!


I’m up for it, are you?




Posted in Criterion 10, Criterion 11, Criterion 3, Criterion 4, Criterion 6, Criterion 7, Criterion 8, Criterion 9, Standard 1, Standard 3, Standard 4, Teacher Registration

Year 9 Priority Learner Progress

Have I seen any improvement in the learning/behaviour of my PLs so far this year?

I have 9 priority learners in my year 9 English class, there were 11 but 2 have been moved to a different class. They comprise of a mixture of Maori, Pasifika and Pakeha learners whose curriculum level ability range from level 2 to 4. I have definitely seen an improvement in the behaviour of this group this year. One of my learners was very disrespectful at the beginning of the year and now we have a positive relationship. They are all completing their learning and four out of nine have passed their first common assessment test. Four did not submit the test and one failed.

Explain the possible reasons for this. What did I do that worked/didn’t work?

I am happy that four learners passed their assessment and I attribute this to the task they were given which was well scaffolded and easy to understand. I have also developed positive relationships with these learners and have given regular feedback/feedforward on their learning. Using Google Classroom has been effective as it means that I can check on what learners are doing by looking at their document in the Classroom folder in Google Drive.

I am disappointed that so many learners did not submit their assessment even though they had completed some of it and I had seen it. I sent a letter home to these learners and did receive some supportive replies from parents who said that their child would complete the assessment and send it to me but only one of these did this. The learner that did submit their learning achieved well.

Where to next?

I have been doing some reading about how to help Maori/Pasifika learners to achieve and, as these strategies will work for all learners, I will apply some of these principles. I will focus on teaching until my learners understand as I sometimes can get impatient and not do this.



Posted in Criterion 12, Criterion 5, Criterion 6, Department TAI, Department TAI, Teacher Registration, Teaching As Inquiry

Motivation, Engagement and Consequences.

When brainstorming ideas for Teaching as Inquiry, our department focus became centred around how we could encourage our learners to complete their learning. This is a challenge that many of us face. We decided that we would link our TAI to some of the Whangaparaoa College school goals which include:

Objective 1: Challenge and support all learners to give of their best and achieve their best in their learning and the other areas that they pursue.

Objective 6: Further integrate eLearning into our curriculum in order to enhance the achievement of learning.

Objective 16: Ensure that self review becomes part of the culture of the College.

What is the current situation/problem?

The current situation is that many learners lose motivation and do not complete their learning. This has happened a couple of times throughout the year, especially if the assessment does not go on reports. It seems that if a piece of learning is not worth credits then learners are not motivated to complete it. We have found that if a senior learner has another subject’s assessment due then they will work on that instead! It’s like they’re cheating on English with another subject!

My intervention will be…


I have written about Classcraft previously in my post on Gamification and Assessment. It’s a game that is more appropriate for junior classes than senior ones. I trialled Classcraft over term 2 with my year 9 class and it has been very effective in helping to modify their behaviour.  Classcraft engages and motivates learners by rewarding specific behaviours with points which learners can use to level up or to buy powers and costume accessories for their avatar. I modified the point system to reward the key competencies and 21st century skills. I also gave points for some work completion so that my learners realised that it wasn’t just about playing the game.

What happened and how do I know?

The class took to Classcraft like the proverbial duck to water. They were excited about getting points and suddenly became very helpful and complimentary about my fashion sense. I’ve never blushed so much! Apart from the fun aspect, my learners’ grades either stayed the same or improved by one grade. Some learners had worse results where they either dropped a grade or did not submit.

  • Same = 6
  • Better = 10
  • Worse = 6 (2 did not submit whereas last time they did).

What does this data tell me, and what should I do next?

This data tells me that Classcraft is worth persevering with as most of the class either had the same results or got a better result than the previous essay. I have developed a very positive relationship with the learners and really look forward to seeing this class now. Previously, I had dreaded them a little as they were quite a challenge both behaviour and learning-wise. The class have really enjoyed playing Classcraft and the stories that I have told about its use have encouraged other people in my department to have a go at using it themselves.  Motivating learners to want to complete their learning is a positive strategy for dealing with this issue.

Discussing the importance of finishing well is also something that I will do with all my classes. The sense of satisfaction for a job well done is something that most of us enjoy and contributes towards living a life of integrity.

While I am in favour of rewarding positive more than punishing negative behaviour, there is a place for a negative consequence. Not all learners in this class have had a change of heart when it comes to their learning. Contacting the whanau when learning is not completed is something that will happen more frequently as, in my experience, it mostly gets good results. We are, however, on the right track towards all learners in this class completing their learning.

Posted in Criterion 10, Criterion 11, Criterion 12, Criterion 2, Criterion 3, Criterion 4, Criterion 6, Criterion 7, Criterion 8, Professional Development, Teaching As Inquiry

Gamification and Assessment


The research topic area that will be addressed is the impact of gamification on assessment results. In the reading that I have completed there is much evidence of improved engagement and motivation when game based learning and gamification are utilised in the classroom. “On the one side, experiment qualitative analysis suggests that gamification can have a great emotional and social impact on students, as reward systems and competitive social mechanisms seem to be motivating for them…” (Dominguez et al., 2013, p. 391). However, there is not much evidence to prove that these strategies improve higher order thinking. “…On the other hand, researchers have indicated that merely accessing learning content via playing games might not be sufficient to engage students in higher order thinking, such as analysis, evaluation, organization and creation.” (Hwang, G. J., Hung, C. M., & Chen, N. S., 2014, p. 130).

I have a very weak year 9 English class who have written essays that have not gained many marks higher than Not Achieved or Achieved. Higher order thinking is necessary for higher grades. I am hoping that the use of the game, Classcraft, will help provide motivation to improve engagement and the effort required to improve essay results. Classcraft is a gamification website in which learners complete their learning in groups that are set up by the teacher. Each learner can set up their own profile and choose to be a Mage, a Healer or a Warrior.

Points are rewarded based on the behaviours that the teacher wants to encourage. I have created a list based on the Key Competences and 21st Century skills.  In a study of the use of 1:1 devices to improve maths achievement it was found that, “…the use of 1:1 mobile devices showed promise to assist students in 21st-century learning skills…“ (Carr, 2011, p. 278).  One way of encouraging these skills is through gamification and rewarding their use with points. Points can be deducted for being late to class, not handing in an assignment and disrupting the class. Essentially Classcraft is a behaviour modification tool which extrinsically motivates learners to engage, work collaboratively and be motivated to learn. If getting a better result is about engagement, motivation and more effort then the use of Classcraft will be worthwhile. However, I have read that gamification is not successful for all learners, so it will be interesting to see whether it does lead to consistent engagement for all. “These good results don’t happen for everyone though… In some cases the system was even discouraging, as some students don’t find it fun to compete with their classmates for a rank in the leaderboard.” (Dominguez et al., 2013, p. 391).

21st century skills graphic


  • How might the use of Classcraft increase engagement, motivation and lead to improved essay writing results?
  • How might extrinsic motivation lead to consistent engagement and improve the results of less motivated learners?


  • Tino Rangatiratanga: The Principle of Self Determination

The skills rewarded in Classcraft that relate to this principle are persistence, managing self, and participating and contributing. These are the skills that are needed for self-determination and independence. Points will be rewarded for using initiative and learning independently.

  • Whanau: The Principle of Extended Family Structure

Classcraft encourages family involvement by providing a parent code for each learner so that the whanau can see how well their young person is doing. The data and evidence will also be shared with the whanau and they will be invited to respond and share any feedback they may have.

  • Ata: The Principle of Growing Respectful Relationships

Learners will play Classcraft in teams which will require respect, effort and energy, and discipline. Points will be rewarded for interacting positively with others and collaborating effectively.

  • Mahi Kotahitanga: Co-operation

Learners will co-operate and consider each other as they learn and play. Points will be rewarded for participating and contributing, interacting positively with others and collaborating effectively.

  • Ngakau Mahaki: Respect

This is a core value of Whangaparaoa College where learners are expected to respect themselves, each other and the environment. Points will be rewarded for respecting and understanding cultural diversity.


The communities that I will be engaging with in this project are my Year 9 learners, the staff in my department, and the whanau.   It is hoped that my Year 9 learners will see this as fun and therefore want to put in more effort to gain points and level up. They are mostly quite weak learners whom I have had difficulty engaging and motivating, especially with using their devices. They have mostly preferred to use pen and paper and a few learners did not bring their devices to school until they could see that many of their classmates were enjoying making websites to showcase their learning. From previous experience at Orewa College, I know that using devices is a key to better quality writing, especially among less able learners as they do not see it as such a chore and happily write 500 words in an essay where previously they struggled to write 200 words on pen and paper.  It is hoped that by teaching these learners to become more confident in using their devices effectively by participating in Classcraft,  that this will lead to better quality writing.

Secondly, I will also keep the staff in my department informed about what we are doing in the hope that if this is successful they may adopt Classcraft as a strategy to help their learners.  Many of my department have had limited experience with using technology to enable their pedagogy but they are mostly interested in how to do this. Showing improved results and the results of a Learner Attitude survey at a Curriculum meeting will help to prove the validity of gamification to those members of the department that are sceptical. I will invite those that are interested to come and watch how I use Classcraft with my learners.

Thirdly, Classcraft has a parent code for each participant so those parents who are interested will be able to see the progress of their son/daughter and encourage them in the game. This will enable parents to see firsthand what we are doing in class so that they don’t think we are playing games that don’t add value to learning.


I have data from the essays that were written in Term 1 which I will compare with the results from the essays written in Term 2. This data will show whether there has been improvement or not. I will observe my class and their interactions with the each other to see if they are talking about their learning, gaining points and taking steps to gain those points. During the term I will ask my class to complete a Google Form which surveys their attitudes to Classcraft and their learning in this manner.


I discussed this project with Lisa White, one of our Deputy Principals, and explained it to her and then asked for her opinion. Check out the video of her response:

One of the things Lisa suggested was to have points rewarded for progress along the way and the final product at the end so I have added in 3 new categories for receiving points. I think this is a good idea and I have made the point value quite high so that my less motivated learners will think that the task is worthwhile.

Lisa also suggested asking a group of learners their opinion on my plan. I haven’t done this as I had already started the game before our discussion but this is something that I will do in the future. However, I will ask them about the kinds of rewards and prizes they would like though as I do value their voice and would like them to take ownership with me.

I asked Lisa whether she thought other teachers might be interested in implementing Classcraft and she offered some useful ideas on how to share what I will do. Sharing what I am doing and the results from it will be the best strategy as having some examples and proof of effectiveness would be more convincing than just saying that learners are engaged.

The issue of learners doing the bare minimum to get points and not necessarily doing the required learning was something that I had not thought about so having this feedback from Lisa helped me think about ways to prevent this. Her idea of rewarding milestones along the way is one that I will implement.


The potential impact of the inclusion of Classcraft with my Year 9 class is that their essay writing results will improve through the extrinsic motivation of gamification because they will be rewarded for skills such as TRUMP, collaboration, problem solving, innovation, adaptability and other 21st Century skills. This will hopefully ingrain these skills into their mode of operating and will be carried over into all aspects of their learning in other curriculum areas. I believe that TRUMP and 21st Skills are essential skills for a successful career and life.

Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 1.38.16 PM

I am excited about this because I have been looking for a away to reward these skills for some time now and Classcraft seems to be a great vehicle for this. If the use of Classcraft is successful with my Year 9 learners then I will consider using it in my other classes. I’m not sure whether it will be as effective with senior classes as it seems to be aimed at younger learners but I could try it and see.

If this inquiry is successful it could be used by many other teachers to encourage and reward TRUMP and 21st century skills which are important for our learners’ futures as many report that the jobs our learners will do haven’t been created yet. Therefore, having these skills and being able to adapt to future environments is of utmost importance.


  • Assessing the relevance of my project

To assess the relevance of my project I will discuss it with Lisa White, one of our Deputy Principals, to gain feedback on what she thinks will benefit our learners and what other aspects I need to consider. I will also discuss it with members of my department to explain what I am doing and to get their feedback on how they think it will work.

  • Gathering the data/evidence

I will record the results from 2 essays that will be written in Term 2. These results will be compared with the Term 1 results to see whether improvement has been made. A survey of learner attitudes to using Classcraft will be completed using a Google Form and I will used the chart making part of this app to collate the data. I want to find out whether my learners found Classcraft enjoyable, helpful and motivating. This should show me whether there were any learners who did not find it engaging and motivating and the reasons why.

  • Sharing the data/evidence with relevant parties

Once my Year 9’s have completed 2 essays I will compare the results to the Term 1 essay results and then share this data with my class. The purpose of this will be to show them their improved results and explain how Classcraft was instrumental in helping them to gain these improved results. I will explain that TRUMP and 21st century skills are essential for success and tell them that these are the skills they were rewarded for. Because they demonstrated these skills, their results were improved.

The results and the data from the learner survey will also be shared with my department and Lisa White so that they are able to see the success of Classcraft in improving learner engagement, motivation and essay writing results. This may inspire them to try Classcraft with their own learners. Results and data could also be shared with parents in an email which would explain the whole inquiry. I would invite their feedback to reflect upon and consider for future use of Classcraft.


  1. Smith, G.H. (1990) Principles of Kaupapa Maori. Retrieved from
  2. Te Noho Kotahitanga (n.d.) Retreived from
  3. Carr, J. M. (2011). Does Math Achievement. Journal of Information Technology Education: Research, 11, 269–286. Retrieved from
  4. Dominguez, A., Saenz-De-Navarrete, J., De-Marcos, L., Fernandez-Sanz, L., Pages, C., & Martinez-Herraiz, J. J. (2013). Gamifying learning experiences: Practical implications and outcomes. Computers and Education, 63, 380–392.
  5. Hwang, G. J., Hung, C. M., & Chen, N. S. (2014). Improving learning achievements, motivations and problem-solving skills through a peer assessment-based game development approach. Educational Technology Research and Development, 62(2), 129–145.
  6. VG Business (2010) Amazing Statistics. Retrieved from:
Posted in Criterion 6, Criterion 7

A life of its own!

In the beginning…

My year 10 class have studied Shakespeare’s The Tempest this term and, after reading the play, I began to introduce the work that we would do – a PBL unit in which they would create a multi touch study guide to be shared.

After I had explained the project one student piped up and said, “we should do a performance of the play!” I had just returned from a trip to Singapore and had a cold so was feeling quite groggy but said, “okay, lets do it! ” The class buzzed excitedly with plans about how we would pull it off, I felt quite stunned at the end of the lesson but very excited about doing it.

I created a Padlet board with notes containing different headings for the class to add to and it quickly filled up with ideas.

We then had a committee meeting about the first steps we needed to take and discussed the style of performance we would do. We decided on a modern interpretation with a rewritten and condensed script. We want the vibe to be dark but stylish. The costumes would mostly be dark colours and the lighting would be dramatic. The music would reflect this vibe also. The  musicians in the class planned to have some live music and singing. The actors playing Ariel and Stephano both have good voices so can pull off the singing parts well.

I realised that in order to complete the perfomance and the study guide we would need extra time so I told the class that the study guide would be due next term.

Over the first weekend I had one student email me with a proposed rehearsal schedule and notes on the music that would be needed because she felt like doing it! It was so great to have this kind of enthusiasm.

And then…

The rehearsals  began and progesssed well. I asked a colleague, Kayleigh Haworth, who is an actor and has appeared in TV programmes Go Girls and Agent Anna, to come and watch a rehearsal and give my kids some feedback. She offered some great advice which helped the actors to deliver their lines with more emotion and gave them an awareness of their audience.

I went over to the drama department one day to lock down the performance date and see if we could use the drama room for the last couple of rehearsals. A new teacher to school but an experienced drama teacher, Annie Millard, offered to help out with the rehearsals as she wanted something to get her teeth into. Fortuitously, Annie had non contact periods for most of the periods that I had the class so we were able to do nearly all rehearsals in class time. It was great having an expert to help with this as she got the best out of the kids.

Each period I sent a group of students to the drama room to rehearse their scenes. Other students practised and recorded music; one student designed the lighting and sound; 2 students, who would MC the play, wrote and practised jokes. There was a team for costume and make up and a team for set design.

One student used Pages to design the tickets and a programme to sell to parents and family for $2. We raised $103.00 and the proceeds will go to Amnesty International to help the fight against human trafficking. I had to print these and found that my print/photocopy card no longer worked because I hadn’t used it for over a year!

The Big Night

Finally, the night of the performance came. Annie and I were a little nervous about how it would go as the rehearsals were still a bit shaky in parts. It was a big ask from students who had only had a month to pull this off and many were also involved in other performances that were on. But as long as everyone had fun and the families enjoyed seeing their kids perform, all would be good.

The performance was awesome! The venue, although small, was packed and everything ran smoothly. There were no noticeable hickups and it was a polished and entertaining rendition. At the end of the evening our MCs presented Annie and I with flowers to say thank you which was an unexpected and lovely moment.

The kids were stoked and excited about what they had a achieved. I received the following email from one student:

This makes it all worthwhile.

The next day we celebrated with a class party and we watched a little presentation that I created in Photos on my Mac. A great way to end a long and busy term.

Posted in Criterion 6, Criterion 8

Developing a Body Paragraph

At Orewa College we have recently finished our senior Practise Exams. I asked my students to reflect on how they did in their exams and also asked what they would find useful as a revision activity. A few students asked for help on how to develop a body paragraph. I teach PEEL (Point, Example, Explanation and Link) but the request got me thinking about what more I could do to help them.

What I have done previously:

After a bit of research and discussion with my colleague and friend, Althea White, I discovered some further ideas to incorporate:

  • Explain the point, explain the evidence, add and explain more evidence.
  • Include transitional phrases.
  • Refer back to the essay topic at the end of the paragraph.
  • Explain what human behaviour/nature is.
  • Include tips on what the marker will look for and what Excellence level thinking is.
  • Have a checklist to tick off each part of the body paragraph.

I have really enjoyed researching and thinking about how to do this and feel like I have learnt quite a lot. It has also affirmed what I was already doing as a good place to start.

Here are the presentations that I made:

 Level One

Level Two

Some helpful links that I found:

So hopefully this will help my students, I’ll let you know how it goes.

Posted in Criterion 4, Criterion 6, Criterion 7, Personal TAI

From Essays to Teen Talks

The SAMR model, created by Ruben Puentedura, has had a huge influence on the way that we use technology in our teaching at Orewa College. When we first became a BYOD school we marvelled at the fact that our year nines were now writing essays of 500 words with ease and without complaint whereas, previously, it had been a struggle to get 250 words from some students on pen and paper.

We progressed from substituting the written for the digital by getting our students to augment their essays by inserting images to make them visually appealing. We also experimented with using Google Docs to collaboaratively write essays or brainstorm ideas. As we modified essay writing further and embraced blogging, we asked our students to embed YouTube clips of the scenes they wrote about in film essays into their blog posts. They were also asked to comment on each others’ posts and share ideas.

In the recent past we have redefined essay writing with digital essays which have become popular with many teachers as a way of presenting understanding of key concepts. Students visually present information with a voiceover. Here is the presentation I created to help my students of 2014:

What happened this year?

This I year I wanted to experiment with something a bit different. So I created a PBL unit titled: Movies under the Microscope for the study of the film,  Life of Pi. The plan for my students was to create a mash up of a TED Talk/ Talk show/Film Review Vlog to demonstrate their understanding of the film.

Check out the plan here:

We began the unit by watching the film and then discussing key aspects of it. I explained the Driving Question: What is the recipe for a blockbuster film? The class then moved onto researching the aspects in small groups. While they were researching and thinking about the film that they would make, a few students asked me whether they needed to include all the information that they had researched. As there was a 5 minute limit on their presentation I suggested that they selects parts of it to include. They could publish their research as a blog post with images to support the examples they gave. I checked with my HOD to see whether this could be part of their report grade instead of a traditional essay and she agreed. Here are a couple of examples:

Alex and Jamie

I was fortunate enough to have a student teacher who was a media studies major so he became my expert. Kyle taught the class how to write a good concept, script writing, how to storyboard and gave them some editing and sound tips. The scripts that the class have written are professional looking: Lewis and Kate wrote some great scripts.

Various students brought in tripods and cameras which surprised me because I thought that they would use their mobile devices to film. They also brought in costumes and had me book various spaces around the school such as our auditorium so that they could film in more realistic locations than the classroom. This created a few challenges as we were not the only class filming and the groups who did not book spaces early found it hard to find suitable locations to film.

  As the project progressed I realised that, to do a really good job of the teen talk with quality preparation, we would need much longer than the original time period of 4 weeks. So instead of making the Teen Talk and a second film (music video or film trailer) I decided to give my class 6 weeks to complete the one film.

I noticed that some students had finished filming and were editing and some were still in the planning phase. There were also days where members of a group would be absent so the group could not film. I wrote some reflection questions for those students who could not do any work on their Teen Talk for one reason or another. They published their reflection on their blog.

This reflection from Alex made me tear up a little with happiness because what he has written is the exact result that I was hoping to achieve with this unit of work. Sophie also reflects positively. Some students commented that they did not feel they had learnt how to write a film essay and would not be prepared for the end of year exam. It was good to get this feedback and I discussed it with the class the next time I saw them. I gave the class the option of completing a film essay, if they would like to, and told them that we would cover it in our revision at the end of the year. I referred them to this presentation:

Finally, the day came to view their films. We had a shared lunch and sat back to enjoy the fruits of their labour. I created a Google Form for the class to vote for the best film in a variety of categories such as best concept, best actor and best editing. My favourite Teen Talk was the one below because it was engaging and interesting to watch. The research information, which could have been a bit dry, was presented with variation in voice tone and overlaid excerpts from the film.

What worked well?

  • Social learning. Each group enjoyed being able to collaborate, cooperate and create together. They had a lot of fun with this project.
  • The discovery of significant content. By researching, writing a script and delivering the lines in the script I believe that students will have a good knowledge of the key aspects in the film they studied.
  • Learning new skills. Creating a film requires a lot of preproduction, learning how to use cameras, and editing in iMovie.

What would I do differently next time?

  • Ensure that the research information was totally accurate and well explained. I could do this by adding more specific feedback onto their research blog posts.
  • Show exemplars of excellent Teen Talks and discuss what made them interesting and engaging. I will be able to do this next year, this year was the first year so I couldn’t.
  • Include one written essay to cater for the students who didn’t feel that they were prepared for the end of year exam. I would also discuss the connection between their research and an essay so that they understood that the same information was required for each.
  • It would be really awesome to have a decent studio for each group to film in. The set is the part of each film that didn’t look so great. Hopefully this will be an option for next time as it is under discussion currently.

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed this unit of work and feel very proud of what my students have achieved. Project Based Learning is an engaging and relevant method of teaching and learning because it enables differentiation, it engages boys well, and easily reflects the redefinition part of the SAMR model. 

Posted in Criterion 12, Criterion 2, Criterion 4, Criterion 6, Criterion 7, Criterion 8, Personal TAI

Entering the Matrix

Over the past few weeks my Level 2 Viewing and Presenting class have been studying The Matrix(1999) directed by the Wachowskis. Students who choose to do Viewing and Presenting are typically students who find reading and writing a challenge so choose an option which focuses more on the visual aspects of English. This film study is an external standard so they will be sitting an exam at the end of the year.

The Plan

We viewed the film and then discussed the 2 main settings, the Matrix and the Real World. I did this to try and help the class understand the difference between what was real and what was computer generated. The class then completed a timeline of events from the film. I introduced an activity matrix to help students engage and undestand the various aspects of the film and provided an interactive ibook study guide for them to refer to. I created a planning document for students to keep a log of what they worked on each period. 

One of the themes in The Matrix is Fate vs Free Will. The computer programmed world of the Matrix is linked to Fate because everything is preplanned as it is a computer programme. The Real World is linked to Free Will because there are choices about the outcome of the future. I wanted my students to have free will when studying this film, choice about what activities they did and when they did them. The outcome was also their choice!

My intention was also to reduce the amount of time I spent at the front of the classroom and have my students create digital artifacts to demonstrate their understanding of the key aspects of the film. Their work would be published on their blogs.

What happened?

After 3 weeks on this unit, of which most of the class seemed to be happy and engaged, I introduced an essay and gave the class the option of working on their essay in class or continuing on their matrix activities. I gave due dates for both but they had the choice of what they would work on. I did this so that I could be available to help with the essay in class time as it was their first literature essay for the year.

After 3 weeks of checking their blogs, alarm bells began ringing. There was very little of their matrix work published. In class I had been roaming the class, asking if anyone needed help and giving it where needed. However, most didn’t seem to have completed anything fully. I asked them to begin posting their artifacts so that I could give them feedback but still very little work was posted. After the essay due date I checked theIr blogs again and only one third of the class had posted their essays. After threats of letters home and being kept in at lunch several more essays were posted but there were still 7 outstanding essays. I realised that social learning was a failure in this class. There was too much choice and not enough structure.


Where to next?

After much reflection, I made a few changes but I was still really keen to avoid chalk and talk so had to think creatively about how to move forward. This is what I tried:

1. I found some YouTube clips which analysed the themes, characters and symbolism in The Matrix. We watched these as a class and then had a class discussion after viewing.

My colleague, Mel Brown, found some research which found that students are more likely to absorb information from a  visual presentation than from simply listening to a teacher talking and I found that this was true. My students have repeated some of the video information back to me in later discussions. They also became more confident in completing their matrix activities. An article in Psychology Today supports this theory.

2. I created several Kahoot quizzes to test information given in the iBook study guide. The winner of each quiz received a chocolate bar. I reminded the class that I would be testing them on info from the study guide so that they could prepare but I don’t think many did. 

John Kleeman, a British software assessment writer, has researched the benefits of quizzes and explains it in his blog post, he emphasies the importance of feedback also.

Kahoot is great because you can see how many people got each question correct and then use this data to inform a later discussion or area to revise. Check out this post from Sam Gibson to find out more. The class really enjoyed the Kahoots and it did help their learning. As I was checking with a student what he was working on, I questioned whether he was familiar with the themes in the film and he replied that knew them because he learnt them from the Kahoot quiz.

3. I spent more time with small groups of students discussing ideas and also helping them get started on activities. A couple of students commented that the activities were too hard and that they weren’t smart enough. They complained that they had to think too much!

I had a conversation with one group and explained that in the past I had simply got students to copy notes from the whiteboard but that this method did not help them undertsand the content even though it may help them remember it. One student commmented that she liked copying notes but it was boring and that the way that we were learning was more interesting because if she didn’t know something she could look it up and find out for herself. 

4. I sent letters home informing the parents of those who have not been producing the required amount of work. Those parents will also be emailed just before our parent evening next term and invited to attend.

5. I gave the class a goal each period which was to publish at least one artifact. If they did not publish, I needed to see where they were up to and discuss when the artifact would be published.


Final Thoughts

These measures did result in an improvement in work ethic and helped me to realise that students who find the work challenging do need more structure. In the study guide there are Keynote presentations embedded with structured activities that I had initially planned to do before deciding to flip the class. I will do these instead of the learning matrix next time if I have a similar type of class as most of my students couldn’t cope with Free Will. Those students who are self motivated will have the option of working through the activities at their own pace as it is still important to differentiate and not let the ‘tail wag the dog’.

When I was on duty with a more experienced colleague we discussed the issue and she helped me to realise that it is great to have high expectations but it is also good to be realistic. A helpful way to go forward is to expect the work to be done and to expect students to work to their full potential. But sometimes, as some wise soul said, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.



Posted in Criterion 11, Criterion 2, Criterion 4, Criterion 6, Criterion 7, Criterion 8, Personal TAI, Student Achievement Analysis

An Unexpected Outcome

I have 2 year 10 English classes, one is an extension class but it is not this class that I am writing about today. I have just completed entering the grades for my mainstream year 10 class and have had a pleasant surprise – 10 Excellences for the visual text essay! This is unheard of for me, I would normally get 2 or 3, and it has led me to reflect on how this may have happened.

                                                             Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 10.55.19 am

What happened?

We viewed the film Little Miss Sunshine and close read 2 important scenes together. I then flipped the teaching and learning by making all tasks and activities available on our learning management system. Students then worked through the activities at their own pace. They published each artifact that they created on their blogs. At 2 points during the film study I gave due dates for 2 essays and provided flipped resources to help students write their essays.

Flipped Resources

All tasks and activities were on a powerpoint which also included explanations of key themes and terms. I provided an Explain Everything video and essay templates for the weaker students. I also made myself available during class at the Essay Help Desk, and at other times via email.


 Tasks and Activities

Explain Everything

Essay Templates

Checking out the data

  • I completed an informal survey to see what resources had been used and found that most students had used an essay template. 
  • I also had a quick discussion wth 2-3 students about the unit of work and they commented that they enjoyed being able to work at their own pace and choose what they wanted to work on and when. They seemed to think that I had taught them something! I did prepare resources but there was very little sage on the stage.
  • I questioned whether I had been a little generous in my marking so I looked in my Kamar markbook summary and found that 5 of the 10 excellence students have a GPA over 75 which means they are very capable students. The other students had helped each other or I had worked closely with them at my Essay Help Desk. 

So what worked well:

  1. The choice of film. Students love this film as the characters and their issues are easy to relate to and understand.
  2. Allowing students to choose what tasks they wanted to work on and when to work on them. I often had some students writing essays, some pimping out their blogs for our class competition and some creating artefacts to demonstrate understanding in the same lesson.
  3. Giving extra time to write the essay. In the past I have spent one period teaching essay writing or brainstorming and then made the essay homework to be handed in a week later. This time I did very little essay teaching and allowed a 2 week deadline. Students were also able to work on their essays in class time so that I was able to help them when needed, and they also were able to help each other. Many students actually identified and wrote about themes other than the ones explained in the resource.
  4. Making all resources available on line – including me! I did have one or two students email questions about their work to me and I was happy to reply at a time that suited me. One student is very reserved in class and she was the one who emailed me the most. It was great for her to be able to ask questions in a non-threatening environment.

Examples of Student Work

Have a look at the following student blogs to see how well they did: