Lessons and Carols

And so we come to the Christmas season.

For many it’s a time of buying and receiving presents, for last minute shopping, for stocking the house with enough food to last through a blizzard.

For my kids (21 and 24) their presents come care of Oxfam Unwrapped and Kiva.org. Both are causes we think are worthwhile and are ones where we are thinking of others less fortunate than ourselves. We have no need of gadgets and presents – we have enough of them – oh, we might WANT more but we sure don’t need them.

We spend Christmas Day with just us – Jon, Emma, and me. Both are working now and will work up to and after Christmas so it’s a day of rest for them both. We’ll watch favorite videos, and play family games, and yes, we’ll do a bit of eating too. But it’s also a time to remember family who are no longer with us: Dad – who died in September 1987; Mum – who died in January 2006; and my nephew Mark who died much too young.

At mum’s funeral I spoke about the ‘lessons’ I’d learnt from her:

  • You’re never too old to do something new
  • Always try to do the thing or things you’re passionate about
  • Don’t give up just because things seem impossible
  • You don’t have to be young or a male to influence other people
  • People aren’t important because of possessions or money, they’re important because they’re people
  • Music is a universal language – you don’t have to understand the words to feel the emotion
  • You don’t have to stop working just because the government says it’s time for you to stop
  • Even if you can’t travel you don’t have to remain ignorant of other peoples and cultures
  • You can’t judge something you have no experience of
  • Rules made by men are not necessarily the same as what God would say
  • You’re never too old to be a rebel
My mum was a true inspiration to me – and I take heart in what she set out to accomplish later in life – she didn’t see anything unusual in gaining her Bachelor’s degree at the age of 62! And boy what a rebel she was!!
My personal faith has taken a beating over the last ~10 years – but there are some things I still hold dear. My favorite carol is O Holy Night – here is a version that I think you’ll enjoy.

Conference vs (un)conference

I’m back home from a wonderful weekend away in Dunedin and Invercargill. While I stayed with friends in Dunedin, a car-load of us drove down to Invercargill for an educamp. I love educamps – they’re so different from the usual conferences I attend. Don’t get me wrong – I love conferences too – but educamps provide the opportunity to sit down and have conversations with others in a way that’s very difficult at a conference. At conferences we tend to maintain a frenetic pace rushing from one session to another; grabbing moments to catch up with old friends and meet new ones, and occasionally getting to sit down over a meal for a quick conversation. I love reconnecting with friends but come away feeling like we’ve only managed a bit of a conversation and needing more.

Enter educamp. I’ve been to three now – Wellington, Dunedin, and Invercargill. They’ve all been different because what happens is dictated by who attends and what’s important on the day. The one key factor for all of the educamps I’ve attended has been the conversations. At Ulearn, one of the presenters at the Pecha Kucha session talked about that while our online connections are important, it is also important to turn our computers off and meet each other face to face for conversations. How true this is.

Being able to sit down with a small group of like minded people and talk about what’s happening in our classrooms or our schools, or what we’re passionate about, or the current learning that’s been happening for us, is extremely valuable.  If I just sit around talking with my colleagues from school I’m never going to learn about how things work in a small school, or a rural school, or even a school in a different area of the country.

Educamp provides wonderful opportunities to talk about the things that are important to us. We can ask questions, debate, agree or disagree.

Most of all we can learn.

 

Stronger together

I’ve been reflecting a lot on my teaching practice over the last few months.

Teaching traditionally has adults working in isolation with age-leveled groups of children. While there is usually an overview set by senior teachers/management/school, what happens in the classroom is a result of how the teacher interprets the overview and presents to students.

I hate teaching like that – it’s not my natural style and I fervently believe it is not in the best interests of the students.

Over the last few months I’ve been having conversations with various colleagues – some at my school and some long distance.

Driving to my friend Jo’s house after school one day we pondered and discussed why we had to work in our year levels – why couldn’t her 5 year olds work with my 9/10 year olds? We wondered what an open plan type classroom might look like.

Meeting my twitter friend @annekenn for the first time in July and starting a conversation that four months later is still continuing, we wondered what a distance collaborative classroom would look like and how we might manage it.

Conversations with my team leader Julie in the middle of our learning street between our two classrooms were about how we can best serve our learners and happened while watching with some bemusement and awe at our learners (a year 4 and year 5 class) intermixed and worked alongside each other (and sometimes even to the point of going for help to the other teacher).

Anne and I started putting together a plan of how we could run our classrooms collaboratively – involving each other’s learners, not just in one-off projects, but in daily/weekly ‘ordinary’ things. We talked about using a collaborative wikispace and guiding our learners into taking ownership of their learning with ePortfolios. We talked (and wrote) about how we could use the wonderful collaborative spaces available to use through Google Apps and wikispaces. Big dreams.

Back home, similar conversations were taking place with Jo, Julie and I. We looked at the slideshow about Hingaia Peninsula’s Learning Studios and asked ourselves how can we do something like that with existing classrooms. We tossed ideas around, talked with our principal and DP and came up with a plan.

Anne has just been here for two days to work with me and my class and to meet up and have conversations with Jo and Julie – because we’re going to merge our two plans. Great to sit and talk with 3 others with a shared vision! And we’re really looking forward to a visit from Jane who is the principal of Hingaia Peninsula School later this month when we can sit down and talk with her about their philosophy around their learning studios.

Because behind the ‘good ideas’ we need to have some firm understanding about why we are doing this. Why collaborate? Why not just teach in the ‘tried and true’ method? We believe that we are stronger together. When we share our strengths and our visions; when we plan and collaborate together; when our strengths complement each other; when we are accountable to others – we are stronger. And being able to give our learners that variety of learning leadership (rather than teaching) has to be more powerful for our learners.

It will be interesting this time next year to look back and see what lessons we’ve learned. I believe that that four of us – Jo, Julie, Anne and I – will be better teachers for the experience. We will have learned alongside our learners – different lessons but similar journey. We have already determined that we will document our journey and any resources we co-create (under a CCbySA license of course).

(I deliberately haven’t talked about how we might set up our learning spaces for next year … that’s for a later blog post!)

 

ShowMe

 

I don’t often rave about apps but this one is definitely ‘rave-able’! Craig posted yesterday about using this app in his classroom so I thought I’d download it and show it to my class today. Well – talk about excited! They got together with buddies and scripted some quick maths videos.

 

  

I found a ‘relatively’ quiet place for them to do the recording and left them to it. Half the class has had a go already and the rest will have a go tomorrow. They really enjoyed working like this and reckon they won’t forget their demos when it comes time to use them during maths lessons.

Here are four of the videos they created.

 

 

 

Ulearn – A Tale of Two Halves (aka TCE-1 vs TCE5)

Over the next while I’ll be blogging about my thoughts and reflections from Ulearn11 but I thought I’d start with a good old ‘compare and contrast’ post.

Way back in 2006 I attended my first Ulearn. I was the only teacher there from my school and didn’t really know a lot of other people who were there – there were some from our cluster but that’s all. My boss had thought it would be a great idea for me to attend and get a hold of some new/innovative ideas to bring back to school. Now that wasn’t a bad idea – but it also wasn’t so great. While I loved the challenges of the various breakouts that I attended, I didn’t enjoy anything else. I was extremely isolated and because I didn’t really know other people, I had no one to talk with about the new things I was learning. I didn’t even go to the dinner because I couldn’t bear being alone in the crowd.

Teleport to the present and it’s a whole different story!

Twitter went public in 2006, I first heard about at Learning@Schools in 2007, and finally joined up March 13, 2008. L@S07 was different because I went with 7 others from school – we had lots to talk about and it was refreshing experience. L@S09 was a smaller group of people from school – but I also had my twitter PLN. Ulearn09 saw 2 of us attending from school; Ulearn10 I attended ‘alone’ and now I have  just finished attending Ulearn11 (‘alone’).

The contrast between Ulearn06 and Ulearn11 couldn’t be greater. I am a naturally gregarious person (all my friends will LOL at that comment) but the feeling of isolation was terrible at 06. There are an increasing number of us who attend Ulearn/L@TS on our own – and often self-funded. We go because it’s the best PD out there (thanks CORE). We go because we get to spend several days socializing in RL with our Twitter friends – Twitter has become our lifeline – especially for those of us who are isolated in our schools – or even in small/rural/one teacher schools.

For many of us that first face-to-face connection seals the bond of friendship – we move from virtual colleagues to RL colleagues. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

(I’ve taken the liberty of coining a new acronym – TCE = Twitter Common Era!)

(Acronym definitions: PLN=Personal/Professional Learning Network or community (PLC); RL=Real Life; PD=Professional Development; L@S=Learning At School)

Who pays the price of war?

In conversation with a friend a day or two ago, I was reminded of a series of plaques I first saw quite some time ago on the Wellington Waterfront. They commemorate the arrival of 732 Polish children by ship on their way to Pahiatua to experience a different kind of life to one they had become accustomed to during the war. I remember standing reading their story with tears running down my face.

It made me stop and think about the price of war – who actually pays for it? For these 732 children it was momentous and advantageous – to move from an area that had been ravaged by war to one that was untouched. And many of these children stayed here in NZ and became citizens.

I think about my dad who enlisted in the RAF before the declaration of war, even though he worked in a protected industry. He was ~20 at the time. The next 10 years of his life was spent at war and taking part in the clean up in Europe after the war. By the time he mustered out of the RAF he was in his 30s. His next move was to emigrate to NZ under an assisted package deal for ex-servicemen. He was 40 when I was born. I never ever saw my dad as anything but old. War stole his youth, his 20s – that time when we get to experiment with life and figure out who we really are. I only knew my dad for 30 years – war stole him from me – today we’d say he was suffering from a combination of delayed PTSD & Alzheimer’s.

And let’s not forget the millions of innocent people who have died over the years simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, or were from a culture that was perceived as being wrong or ‘dirty’, or who ascribed to a religious belief contrary to the beliefs of those in power.

War is a dirty business. Some would say it’s necessary. Maybe I’m too naive – but I wish people were better at debating and negotiating and compromise and listening and accepting. Maybe then we could live in harmony.

Music makes the world go round

During term time I don’t spend a lot of time listening to music – when I get home I savor the peace and quiet and don’t turn it on. However, come holidays, I enjoy listening to favorites both old and new. One of my students sent me an email today with a couple of youtube links in it. I really loved this one:

 

I was immediately reminded of another piece of music – this one classical which I recall fascinating me when I was younger.

I wonder what amazing ways today’s kids will find to create new music.

CORE eFellowship 2012

CORE education have announced the deadline for their 2012 eFellowship awards. As a 2011 eFellow I’d like to encourage innovative educators to think about apply for this award.

The CORE Education eFellowship Awards recognise innovative e-learning practice by New Zealand teachers. The Fellowship celebrates teaching excellence in an eLearning context and aims to raise public and educational community awareness of the benefits of eLearning. Once inducted into the fellowship, fellows will provide ongoing, community-focused leadership in the field. In any one year up to 6 new fellows may be selected for the CORE Education eFellowship Induction Programme.

I’ve really enjoyed my time this year – getting to meet others, from different sectors of education, who are doing different things to what I’m doing – we’ve all learned a lot from each other.

As 2011 draws to an end, I’m aware that I’m going to miss our masterclass times together, but I’m excited at my growth this year and for my continuing e-Learning journey. I’ve been working on my poster for showing at the CORE stand at Ulearn2011 and my research wiki. This journey doesn’t really have a destination – it’s ever-changing and evolving – which makes the journey even more exciting.

This is my current draft of my poster – for a non-arty person I was feeling somewhat overwhelmed and have had to learn a whole new set of skills using GIMP to produce this poster. My initial idea was quickly thrown away and I’ve toyed with a few ideas before settling down to produce this.

You’ll notice the QR code – we’re all going to have QR codes on our posters – I think I’ll put this poster up at school and see if anyone there asks me what it is.

 

 

 

Why MMP is important to keep

Disclaimer: This is just my opinion being expressed here.

I remember voting in a number of elections and becoming more and more confused. Numbers didn’t seem to add up at times and I think for a lot of us the 1981 election results tell a graphic story. Back in

the day we didn’t have all those little parties that we have today – we had the major players – National and Labour and we started getting some smaller parties that were growing throughout New Zealand. In the 1981 election Social Credit was the minor player and the results by number were quite interesting.

Labour took 39.6% of the vote (702,630 votes)
National took 39.4% of the vote (698,508 votes)
Social Credit took 21% of the vote (372,056 votes)

That looks like this in a pie chart:

Based on those results Social Credit should have got 21% of seats in parliament (around 19 seats out of 92) – instead what they got was 2 seats – clearly a vote for a minor party was worth less than one for the major parties.

MMP gives us a fairer system – it’s not perfect but it is fairer. And it means that if you want to vote for a minor party then you can – and depending on the proportion of votes they get we will see them in Parliament.

And if you’re still not sure then think about this fact: The last time a single party got the majority of votes in a New Zealand General Election was … 1951 – that’s more than 50 years ago!

Make sure YOU get out there on November 26 and VOTE!

Mini-posters in Google Draw

I’ve just created some Google Draw templates for my students to use to create mini-templates. I got the idea from creating my mini poster (see previous blog post). One of the things I want my class to be aware of is creative commons licensing and to make sure they don’t use other people’s images without attribution. To get them started I chose 5 of my own photos (taken last year as part of my 365 photo challenge) which are all freely available on Flickr under a creative commons share alike basis (much the same as this site is licensed).

Google docs makes it easy to submit these as templates so that students are able to access them and use them. (Create new-from template-submit template.) Hopefully next week there will be some student examples to display.

I want to encourage my students to start taking their own photos and using them for drawings like this and also for presentations using the Google Presentations tool.