Sunday, 2 November 2014

Becoming a Connected Educator

This year I have started on a new journey, taking on a new job at St Andrew's College, Christchurch, but doing the same thing, teaching Mathematics. One of the biggest differences between this year and all my other years teaching is the way I have connected with other teachers around the world. I have always considered myself a competent social networker, even without the technology we associate with that phrase nowadays. However, now I have become a "connected educator". I guess the connotation "connected educator" has now, is that it is a teacher who engages digital media to connect and collaborate with other teachers everywhere. 

Before this year, I was still networking with other teachers, but through traditional channels such as my subject association and conferences - in short anywhere teachers would gather together physically. I have still kept up meeting with other teachers in the "real world", in fact even more than before, but an entire other dimension has come about through Twitter primarily, but also blogging, Yammer, and

What got me thinking about how I have become connected was when I was looking at the statistics page on my blogger site. I was amazed to have had over 1000 people view my blog and over 800 on one single post.

What is more interesting is where the views are coming from. Views from my own country account for less than 10% of the readership, while the most come from the USA, over 10 000 km away. 

How it got out there over time is also an interesting story:

The post that accounted for this increase in views was posted on the 22nd of September, yet as you can see, it had a very low readership until about the 20th of October. So you have to ask the question, what happened on the 20th of October that so drastically increased interest in my blog? Here's the answer:

Microsoft OneNote's twitter account tweeted a link to my blog. Only 10 retweets and 7 favourites and then 500 views in three days and about 25 a day ever since. This is what makes me so excited about being a connected educator: what I do in my class room can influence in some small way the practice of others around the world. But perhaps even more importantly, my practice can be influenced by every teacher in the world.

We live in an age of democratisation of knowledge. Whether this is good or bad can be debated, but for my part I take an optimistic point of view. I am put in mind of Marcus du Sautoy's story of the Wisdom of the Crowd. The premise is the story of how hundreds of people can guess the weight of something extremely accurately if you average their guesses, but no one individual guesses correctly. I think a parallel can be drawn with education. No one educator can deliver a pedagogically perfect lesson. However, if you took all of our best practices and averaged them out you would end up with something very close to the best possible practice. The only way this can happen is if teachers are aware of the practices out there and are able to pick and choose what will work best for them in their environments. Perhaps the same can be said for students too. They need to be aware of what attitudes and principles makes other students successful and emulate that. In either case we need to be well connected and I would ague this needs to be both with people we meet physically and now online as well. 

For me, I started really with twitter, getting involved in the fortnightly discussion group #edchatNZ. This led to a physical conference the fruit of which for me was a fortnightly mathematics teachers' discussion group #mathschatNZ. Through these channels I have connected with dozens of educators in New Zealand and abroad, who engage with me online in a similar way to how I bounce ideas of my colleagues in my office. Through this interconnected web is how Microsoft picked up on what I was doing with OneNote and shared it with their 15 000 followers.

Dean McKenzie in his blog discusses what this might look like from a student's point of view.

If you are a teacher reading this, consider joining your local subject association, getting involved in a twitter group like #edchatNZ or if you are not lucky enough to live in New Zealand, #edchat. Get a Yammer group set up for your school or district. Set up a facebook group for your class. But whatever you do, take care to improve your own practice off the backs of others.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Reflections on the Microsoft Expert Educator's weekend

Last weekend I was privileged to attend and participate in the Australia/New Zealand Microsoft Expert Educator's weekend in at Microsoft's offices in Sydney, Australia. It was an intense and valuable weekend where I met many like minded teachers. I am quite chuffed to now be distinguished as a Microsoft Expert Educator, so I wanted to briefly reflect on some aspects I found to be particularly interesting to me.

Firstly, it is amazing that there are so many incredibly passionate teachers out there who are showing incredible competency in how to become more competent! These teachers all know they need to continually update their practice and push the boundaries to improve the success of their students. They have incredibly ambitious plans, but are also very open about failings they have encountered along the way. I was honoured and humbled to be in such company.

An interesting concept I came across from another delegate was Hale at Home by Michael Valentine. I think the concept could have application in my own school that has a sizeable number of boarders like Hale in Perth. Michael has set up a sort of online school that engages with potential boarders while they are in year 7 and 8 to build up a rapport with the students and introduce them to some of the academic life of the college before they attend. I can see this could be an avenue to investigate more fully at St Andrew's.

The last thing I will comment on is the design of the Microsoft offices and how it might inspire a modern learning environment in a school. The whole floor levels were wide open spaces.
There were no desks "owned" by an employees and they were free to roam about or base themselves at whichever space suited their needs. Such a model requires huge trust from the employer and a great deal of motivation and discipline from the employee.
However, as it was pointed out, performance was still a key indicator of success. I reflected on the possibility of having such a set up in school, as I have seen at Hobsonville Point Secondary School during the #edchatNZ conference. At the time I reflect on how the model would require redefinition of how a school operates. Seeing the Microsoft offices did not change that opinion. However, my vision of feral students gaming unsupervised in the corner while teachers roam the halls trying to track some kind of work going on, is starting to be transformed. Now I feel that it could be an incredibly empowering experience for students if they were given some room to be independent and self directed. In such a case the teachers' jobs become one of managing this without "putting out the fire"

All in all I had a wonderful time, met some wonderful people and was left inspired by some wonderful ideas. I can't implement everything all at once, but I will start with something small. Hmmm, some more with OneNote perhaps...

Monday, 22 September 2014

Microsoft OneNote: Replacing whiteboard and notebook? A Geometry example

Throughout this year I have been using Microsoft OneNote with my students at St Andrew's College. Sam McNeill has a fair account of how I have been using it here with my year 9 one to one computing class, I have been constantly reflecting on how I can continue this journey.

Using the SAMR model, I have currently been operating in the Substitution and Augmentation stage, where technology replaces some traditional aspects of teaching, such as "Chalk and Talk", but with some added advantage. In my case, having examples, notes and work always live and accessible to students through Microsoft OneNote and also recording my lessons as I deliver them and link them back to my class OneNote. This is a very teacher orientated model and I would like to see students more empowered through their use of technology.

In the last topic I covered with my year 9s, Geometry, I took OneNote to a new level, setting up my students with their own editable OneNotes within the class OneNote.

Here you can see the topic tabs up the top and the lesson pages down the side. You might also notice some tabs to the right of the topic tabs with names on them. These belong to my students. In their OneNote, they can only see their own OneNotes and edit them, whereas I can see them all as tabs and also edit them with the purpose of giving feedback.

Here is a sample of some student work:

In this case the student is investigating circle geometry, with a triangle whose hypotenuse is also the diameter of a circle. Incidentally the program used for drawing the circle, triangle and measuring the angles is Geometer's Sketchpad. While there is nothing revolutionary about the learning happening here, the thing I really like about it is the efficiency. When this task is done without digital technology could easily take up a whole lesson, but this task took no more than 10 minutes. With Geometer's Sketchpad, the student was able to investigate the properties of the triangle by fixing a triangle's diameter into a circle, then vary the two shorter sides while measuring all the angles.

He was able to quickly copy and paste some questions and a sample of their drawing. This gave the student a framework to explore a rich aspect of geometric reasoning. I like that in this case, time can be given to this rich task, where many mathematics teachers would simply draw the example, say the rule and get the students to copy it down.

When I reflect on where this task sits in the SAMR model, I feel that to an extent it is still mostly Augmentation. But there are aspects of modification. The ability to investigate a geometric rule using Geometer's Sketchpad has modified the way I teach the topic in so much as it is a much more containable and manageable task within the confines of a 50 minute period. However, the way the student articulates themselves by pasting and commenting in OneNote is augmenting what they would do with pen and paper (and scissors and ruler and compass).

It will be interesting to see how my students perform in their next Geometry assessment. But I feel they have had more time to grapple with why these rules work rather than just apply them to a situation.

In terms of moving towards Redefinition on the SAMR model in this context, at the moment I am not sure how I would go about that. Perhaps I could get groups of students to explain different Geometric rules then the class can share their results using OneNote.

Feedback is appreciated.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Informal chat with Dean, Cathy from St Andrew’s and Grant from Westlake boys’ and PB Tech

As I already know who I am voting for this election, I chose not to attend the political debate. Instead I thought I would inspect the hardware on show at the PBTech stall. One device caught my eye in particular and that was the Asus 8” tablet with intel atom processor and a stylus.

Since I have been using a tablet this year and it has been an integral part of my teaching, I am keen to see what is out there at an affordable price. While I would not use the Asus table myself, I immediately saw the potential for it as a student device.

Why is it not a teacher device? It is too small. Teachers type a lot and require a large keyboard and screen for things such as reports. The Surface Pro 3 satisfies these requirements and also has an accurate stylus for handwriting.

However, as a student device, perhaps even a secondary student device the Asus is spot on. Its size makes it portable. With an intel processor it is able to run a full desktop version of Windows. And most importantly in my mind it has a pen/paper accurate stylus which allows the user to write with their palm resting on the screen. Combined with Microsoft OneNote, and a price of $520 + GST, this makes for a formidable competitor to any other tablet on the market.

During this time I ran into Dean Mackenzie and Cathy Kennedy from St Andrew’s and Grant Saul from Westlake Boys’. Our chat centred on OneNote and the wider Microsoft ecosystem. Grant demonstrated OneNote toolbox. All I can say is, this, along with each of my students having something equivalent to the Asus tablet would make my class a dream. My students already have convenient access to the notes and examples I do in class through OneNote. OneNote toolbox just lets me have that same access to their OneNotes.

Creating connections –Cheryl Doig

Cheryl Doig is an ‘ex’ primary school principal. She now works as an educational consultant. She spoke about strategy in influencing others, particularly those above you in the hierarchical structure.

Her rationale was that it is teachers at the ‘coal-face’ that have the best ideas of how to progress educational policy within a school, yet all the power resides in those whose time in the classroom has diminished to very little.

Her methods were closer to quiet persistence rather than abrupt confrontation. She suggested understanding the way in which those around and above you think and how you can address their requirements as a person. For example, if your leader is a logically inclined individual, avoid engaging in emotional discussions as this will have little bearing on their decisions. Instead you are better off providing reasoned well researched arguments that they can discuss and work through to understand. Equally don’t bog down a ‘big picture’ leader with details or facts around what you want to do.

This was an interesting section, giving me plenty to reflect upon.

Hobsonville Secondary Secondary School tour with Principal and Board Chair

This was a guided tour of the new campus at Hobsonville Point Secondary School, led by Maurie Abraham, the Principal and he was assisted by the Chairman of the Board, Alan Curis.

The campus is unlike any secondary campus I have ever visited. It is built to accommodate 1350 day students, but currently it has a roll of around 120 year 9s. The roll is expected to be added to year by year for the next five years. There is a wide central corridor, with large open areas branching off in either side. There are no classrooms as such, however, within each broad space, there are smaller room that can be closed off if necessary.

The feel of the building is much more in line with what a modern library, university campus or software development company office might feel like. It is physically set up to encourage openness and collaboration.

The hierarchical structure of the school is also very different. Although there are still traditional positions of responsibility like Principal and Deputy Principal, the boundaries between teacher/student are somewhat more blurred than in traditional schools. Students are on a first name basis with their teachers and freely roam all areas of the campus, including the staffroom.

There are no classrooms, form-groups, timetables, bells, periods or subjects. As a teacher from a ‘traditional’ school, the question begs, how on earth does anything get learnt?! (or taught)

Yet, despite the apparent lack of structure, the year 9s were busy doing all sorts of things. The walls were covered with examples of student work.

Whole term themes underpin the direction of the school. Teachers come together to discuss which achievement objectives from the curriculum are to be covered in that term and what will have to happen in order the learning to take place.

Students are also given scope to choose their own direction within the theme. Students are free to explore their own curiosity and pursue particular areas of interest, while linking it back to a particular theme.

What struck me a lot within the way students self-direct themselves was the way they are encouraged to be self-aware of their goals and what they will have to do along the way to achieve them. Maurie quoted an example where a student articulated that he needed to choose a maths option in an elective area to ensure he had prerequisite knowledge to do further maths that would lead to credits in NCEA in three or four years’ time, enabling him to get into the university course he needs.

Such a pedagogical structure places massive amount of responsibility on the individual student. This is not a fact lost on the staff at Hobsonville Point. They seek not to fill young minds full of facts, but develop a sustainable disposition of self-awareness so students are able to know their own strengths and weaknesses and develop them appropriately.

I was inspired, not so much by the building, but the philosophy of education at Hobsonville Point. It is about taking the onus of teaching content off the teacher, putting them in more of a position of ‘guide’ or ‘facilitator’. The onus is on the student to be responsible for their own learning, but in a very caring and supportive environment.

As I reflect on the big picture of society, and question what do I want to come out of process of education in New Zealand, for me the answer is not ‘people filled with knowledge’ but ‘community minded individuals, filled with drive, conviction, responsibility, collaboration, diligence and determination’. Can this happen only at a campus like Hobsonville Point Secondary School? No, I think it can happen anywhere. But it has more to do with the teachers and leaders within schools than the physical buildings they occupy.

My next step will be to ask my year 9s a few questions like: -what do you enjoy? What do you want to do? What has been most interesting in maths this year? Then I want to explore how I can fit the curriculum around their responses. They must learn, but they don’t have to hate it. 

#EdchatNZ conference reflections

Over the next few days I plan to do some reflections on the various workshops and discussions I had at #EdchatNZ conference.

All in all it was a great time and already I can't wait for the next one. I just hope that between then and now, my teaching practice has changed somewhat for the better.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Looking forward to edchatnz conference


What better way to start my blog then to have a precursor to the conference I'm going to in a couple of weeks. It was so cool to see someone I have become aquatinted with through twitter on television showing the nation how important teaching (and learning) is. Here Claire Amos is interviewed about what teaching looks like in the 21st century classroom.

Anyway, it makes me really excited about conference and heres to blogging!