Friday, July 15, 2016

New Website

Hi all,

Miss Em's Blog has moved.

Her latest post, Ako, Flow and Skate Parks can be found at

Many thanks and sorry for any inconvenience.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Lighting the way for science inquiry - A reflection on the #TeachMeetNZ experience

From an unexpected tweet, I had the opportunity to present for #TeachMeetNZ/Science Learning Hub - International Year of Light session. Quite exciting considering the calibre of educators on-board already, including Andrea Soanes from the Science Learning Hub and the #SciChatNZ heavyweights themselves.

Getting up to speed with the technology was intimidating. Being in China, I had lost touch with various IT developments, but I was fortunate to have the expert and fellow #TeachMeetNZ veteran, Matt Ives, to scaffold me from China's end through the process. As well as the #TeachMeet superstar Sonya Van Schaijik to support me online.

Through the practice sessions the team got to know each other and it was great to build camaraderie and have a few laughs. Definite 'mind-explosions' happened as a result of all the AMAZING presentations, reflections and conversations being shared. I recommend checking out each educators presentation. Relevant, authentic, meaningful, on-the-ground teaching, which will bring inspiration to your practice.

The topic focus was around the International Year of Light, which narrowed my presentation down to a previous unit I taught through the International Baccalaureate transdisciplinary theme - How the world works. The Central Idea: Light has many sources, properties and uses. At the time of the unit being taught, I was curious around students perceptions of a scientist and whether they saw themselves as scientists. As well as gaining an understanding of the IB Curriculum while transitioning from the NZ Curriculum. 

The #TeachMeetNZ experience consolidated my thoughts and gave me the opportunity to identify
PYP - How the world works Grade 2 planner
aspects of the unit I needed to investigate further for my own professional development. Fortunately, the Grade 2 How the world works unit was to be taught the following year. This lead the Grade 2 team to have a lengthy meeting where ideas were challenged and change occurred. One key change was the central idea and we incorporated an aspect which meant we could focus on science skills.

Pre-assessment. 'What is a scientist?'

Central Idea: Using scientific knowledge helps us to investigate the sources, properties and uses of light.

This helped us to target science specific skills from the Science Scope and Sequence document from the Primary Years Programme of the IB Curriculum, which would be similar to the Science Capabilities of the NZ Curriculum. It allowed us to add an additional line of inquiry which helped us to explicitly teach the 'skills of a scientist' and focused our teaching enormously.

Science skills poster
I approached the unit using the same pre-assessments as the year before, asking students to draw and write what they thought a scientist was, followed by the Science Learning Hubs - Light and Sight assessment. Both assessments showed a large amount of student misconceptions.

Through a series of investigations inquirying into the sources, properties and uses of light the students and I came up with a poster of the skills and knowledge scientists require and drove home the fact the students were being scientists.

Science investigations and Science Fair photos
The summative assessment went well, which involved a mini science fair where students had to come up with their own science investigation and before this took place we (students and I) were able to create our own science communication success criteria.

Sci comms success criteria
Interestingly, when it came to the post unit reflections, I asked the students to draw and write what they thought a scientist was. Majority still reverted back to previous drawings, with some students adding male physicists to their drawings of chemists (or potion-makers), so some change did occurred. And, students did record the skills required of a scientist from our class poster, showing an awareness of what we had learned to an extent.
I considered this to be a successful unit and as teachers we worked incredibly hard to address the lines of inquiry, but the stereotypes of what a scientist is are so deeply embedded into society its near impossible to shift thinking in a 6 week unit.

Post-assessment 'what is a scientist?'
To shift students thinking towards seeing themselves as scientists there needs to be a whole school approach where instruction around skills is explicitly taught on a regular basis. In an environment designed around building innovation, creativity and experience.
As well as using the tuakana-teina relationship where we break the silo-ed approach to learning and have our middle school and secondary school students mentor and scaffold younger students with the teacher facilitating. This way students are able to see tangible next steps in their education from students only a few years older than themselves.
In addition, I advocate for the vital importance of the diversity of role-models in the science profession and show-case their thinking and talents in an educational context to support our children and wider community to develop their scientific literacy and awareness of what a scientist is.

The #TeachMeetNZ experience was a fantastic opportunity to challenge my thinking and better my practice. I appreciate being able to engage with wonderful educators and be awed by their thinking and practice also. If anybody is presented with the opportunity to be part of a #TeachMeet session, don't hesitate in giving it a go. It's a lot of fun!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Undertones of inequality
I was in a large circle of men and women at a retreat when one of the women spoke up addressing the undertones of inequality that were happening. The men instantly became defensive and she asked for support on the issue from the women. At the time, I had no concept of what she was talking about. I remember putting my hand up sheepishly to support her, but wondered if I had zoned out of an important conversation. 'These were kind, intelligent, insightful men. What was she talking about?'
I'm thankful for having that experience. It awakened my subconscious to how I perceived the world due to my background experiences. I noticed something was happening that I wasn't fully aware of.
Monument acknowledging Margaret Sievwright  
I grew up learning about the plight of the suffragettes - how they campaigned for equal rights and responsibilities of citizenship as men. Then, the range of feminist movements establishing equal opportunities for women in education and employment. I knew about the many forms of abuse and had experienced its different forms throughout my life. I understood how disempowering it felt and the loss of self-esteem and confidence. I understood how hard it was to find strength to speak out, to have a voice, and to challenge someone else's thoughts when you knew the consequences would be aggressive or manipulative ones.
The defining moment came when I took my class of Year 3 to an assembly to acknowledge an organisation providing dictionaries for the Year 4. We sat and listened as the representative talked about their organisation and then proceeded to talk down to the students about how they were offering a 'hand up not a hand out' to them. Being of the same race and class as the rep, it was in that moment I became conscious of the subtle undertones my friend had spoken about at the retreat. Later, the rep addressed the Year 4 and asked them to look for words in the dictionary while we sat and watched. Only to hear him say 'Lets give a word to the girls to look up. Girls, find the word fashion.' I was gobsmacked. 'Was this really happening in this day and age?' Another teacher turned to me and stated what a wonderful gift the dictionaries were and I snapped back saying I thought dictionaries were becoming obsolete and the money would have been better spent on a laptop. It isn't entirely true, dictionaries still have their place. I looked at her strangely 'Was she not seeing and hearing what I was?'
When the spectacle was over I stomped back to the classroom, while my class tried to keep up with my pace. We sat down on the mat and I praised them for sitting and listening patiently for as long as they did in assembly. Then, continued to make them sit and listen (poor kids) while I read them Jane and the Dragon by Martin Baynton. The students listened, engaging with the story, knowing something wasn't quite right with Miss Em. The story had nothing to do with our unit of inquiry. When I had finished, one of the boys asked innocently 'Can girls be knights?' I was dumbfounded by the statement. ' Kids still wondered this question?' I remember the tears pricking my eyes as I became concerned with the messages society were dictating to these little minds. I said 'Anyone can be a knight, including girls. If you are determined and persevere you can be anything you want to be and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.'
The students may not remember that day, but it was a huge wake up call for me as an educator. I, then, started to recognise, identify and learn the subtle undertones of sexism, racism and bigotry and they are everywhere.
I tell my students 'Once you have learned about an injustice, you have a responsibility to do something about it'. In this case I realise I need to be a role-model and champion the girls who want to be knights and support the boys who are brave to ask if girls can be knights. I need to be one of the many voices in this movement and be part of collectives driving this change. I'm certainly not perfect and will continue to make mistakes along the learning path as I grow, but am open to this discomfort and the challenges it brings. Hearing about the experiences of others is encouraging and I recommend watching Roxane Gay's TEDtalk - Confessions of a bad feminist.
Above all, I want to acknowledge and thank the men and women who have the strength to stand up and address inequality. You never know who is in the room or the catalyst you become for their journey.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Discovering the art of Inquiry (again)

Since moving to China and starting work at Suzhou Singapore International School. I've been learning the IB Curriculum and Primary Years Programme, which has a strong inquiry focus. This was one of the incentives to moving overseas.
How We Express Ourselves Grade 2 Expo
New Zealand's curriculum is designed to develop and teach Inquiry Based Learning and before National Standards, it was an exciting time to be in NZ Education. Schools were given the opportunity to develop their own curriculum, catering to their community, under the NZ Curriculum Framework, and design learning for contemporary times. Even though this was still the expectation, the introduction of National Standards stilted and stifled the creative process around curriculum development and teachers' professional learning development. Don't get me wrong, elements of National Standards are good, especially in areas of formative assessment, but overall these standards should be benchmarks and I don't agree with the reporting system or the gathering of student data used to drive the current initiatives in the education system.
Performing a Haka to the School
The PYP development I have been receiving has been beneficial in helping me continue the process of teaching effective Inquiry which, I felt, I lost when National Standards was introduced.
How We Organise Ourselves field trip
The PYP has enabled me to gain a strong understanding of how to develop strong backbone planning to support students to lead their learning. Through a collaborative team approach I've been able to explore how to weave subject areas together using transdisciplinary themes and central ideas, focus my teaching through lines of inquiry and teacher questions, develop the
learner profiles and attitudes, instil key concepts and, ultimately, prepare students for the big wide world. Above all, I've learned how to effectively assess students learning through Inquiry Based Learning, which is something I needed development in when working in NZ, but wasn't able to obtain. Most importantly, it's brought back my passion for teaching because I don't feel as restrained as what I did in New Zealand.
How the World Works investigation
I look forward to consolidating this knowledge over the next year and thinking of ways this style of learning can become a strength of NZ teaching again, so we can invigorate our teachers and students to remember the enjoyment, reward and diversity of learning.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A defining moment in failure.

We all have, at least, one great story!
A defining moment in our lives where our thoughts and actions changed and we became better people because of it. The trick with teaching is that you incorporate your learning moments to impart and spark learning with your students...

Base Camp, Windless Blight, Ross Island, Antarctica

My defining moment began when I looked at my watch and the group of people congregating for a briefing. I had 15 minutes. Surely that was enough time to go to the make-shift bathroom to do my business and pack the required gear needed to go practise self-arresting. A survival skill needed in case one found themselves sliding down an icy peak while in Antarctica.
Antarctic toilet
I nipped to the toilet with my pee bottle and she-wee. The Madrid Protocol requires those in Antarctica to take all waste back to Base to be disposed of correctly while in Antarctica. New Zealand prides itself on following this protocol and setting a standard and upholding the values of the Antarctica Treaty.
So, I found myself fumbling around with this unfamiliar devise and my layers of clothing. I thought I had everything in place to successfully pee, but when I started the act, something felt wrong. After checking once and everything appearing to be in order I continued. Nope! Something definitely felt wrong. I took out the she-wee and found I had missed my underwear layer and wet it. Adrenaline and cortisol flowed through my body and my instant reaction was to run back to my tent and get changed out of my survival clothing. A time consuming act. I could have managed not changing, but instead, I sprinted across the ice, which would have been more of a causal jog with the clothing layers and mukluks I was wearing. As I ran, I watched more and more people gather for the briefing.
Inside a polar tent
Once I got to the tent I found my tent buddy's legs sticking out of the shoot. I told her I needed to get in the tent, which started a small debate and quickly ended when I said I had wet myself.
Climbing back up the 'birth cannel', a joke to describe our tents, with my tent buddy's legs sticking out, I got inside and immediately started stripping. I changed and chucked some things in a bag (not knowing what) and climbed out the shoot and ran to the briefing.
Being extremely late and realising I wasn't wearing any gloves raised the attention of the Antarctic Field Trainer who thought to make an example of me in front of the group. "Go and get your gloves!" I turned around, but my boot-laces were not properly laced up and it meant a lace got tangled in my other boot's hook. I face planted on the ice. I got up to the sound of group sniggers. I agree, it would have looked hilarious from their point of view. I told everyone I was okay and then continued running, fighting back the hot tears and red face.  I heard the same AFT say 'Watch her fall over the guy rope, too." Instead, I cleared it and got the rest of my belongings.
Mt Erebus, Ross Island, Antarctica
I, vividly, remember looking at Mt Erebus while running back to my tent and questioning what this experience was trying to teach me, knowing I had to endure another 10 days of potential embarrassment.
We headed off in the Hugglands to a strip of safe ice to practice self arresting. For most of the time I was lost in my thoughts as I completed the manoeuvres. I had, initially, applied to do a Post Graduate Certificate in Antarctic Studies because I was passionate about Education for Sustainability. I wanted to get a better understanding of our planet and what was happening to it to be more effective in my job. However, this goal changed while on the ice and, like Shackleton but not so extreme, it became about survival and getting back to New Zealand with my hauora in tact. Over the next 10 days of camping on the Ross Ice Shelf I learned vital skills around the importance of trusting team-mates (with my life), time management, leading and following and focusing on the 'here and now'. An extreme version of the Outward Bound experience.
The most important aspect I learned on the ice was 'learning includes failure and to embrace it'. This is what I incorporated into my pedagogy and share with my students regularly.

I recently watched a TEDTalk by Diana Laufenberg who sparked this thinking for me again. Laufenberg talks about the importance of experiential and authentic learning, and how failure should be built into the learning process for students.

I support this thinking by adding when things do not come easily to us and we go through hardship we develop a strong value around what it is that challenged us. When we think of our achievements, it is never the time when everything ran smoothly that we remember fondly, but the time when things didn't go according to plan which we define our success by - case in point. This thinking is even stronger when groups of people come together in support of each other and a sense of camaraderie is built. We remember the camaraderie, not the work. Just imagine if we focused and developed classroom environments like this? Imagine what our students could achieve?

Me, standing over a crack in the ice
The growth which came from my experience in Antarctica and doing PCAS were beyond anything I could imagine. It keeps on giving back in so many facets of my work, that I will be forever grateful to those who provided me with a defining moment of failure, which I have built so much of my teaching around.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Culture Club

I had decided the three day international educators job fair was far too intense and not the place to be making sudden life-altering decisions, like accepting jobs overseas. Even though I had made this decision, I found myself in a hotel room during my second interview with an international school. I listened to my interviewers speak about the school and how I could be of benefit and it filled me with a sense of excitement and purpose. They allowed me time to think over their proposal, but I had already changed my mind. I was moving to China.

In the months to come before the big move, I had many conversations. The key question which kept coming up was ‘what made you choose the school and China?’ I didn’t have an answer back then, all I could say was it was a gut feeling and felt right.

Now I know better.

During the interview and conversation, my interviewers and I made mutual connections and links with our WHY. A combination of values, beliefs and world-views, combining to create a kaupapa (essence/ philosophy), which is hard to articulate because it is associated with part of the brain responsible for all our feelings. Therefore, rationalising our decisions into words can only be described as 'a gut feeling'.

Culture Club
Last week I began my induction into the school and the same feelings were confirmed through listening and discussion with members of the school.
The Business Director spoke to me about the success the school has had with its co-leadership model. The School Directors reaffirmed the holistic mission statements of the school in a variety of ways ensuring we all knew which way the ship was heading. Returning teachers spoke about the school being a family and how they were there to help in any way, embodying the guiding principles. The new teachers (including myself) spoke about how we have felt safe and supported through the transition, and valued by being acknowledged for the attributes we bring.

This was summed up when the Elementary Director invited us to become members of the Culture Club. A club focusing on attitude, treating others the way we would like to feel and ensuring our actions are developing a caring, safe environment.

For a while, I had been feeling a restlessness around the idea of leadership. What I was seeing and experiencing created unease, and like the gut feeling which connected me to people’s WHY. I was, also, feeling a disconnection to other’s WHY. I didn’t understand, and even though it’s completely acceptable to have these feelings, I wasn’t letting go of them. Until I stumbled across a talk by Bob Chapman who spoke about Truly Human Leadership. I understand that this is what I want to model to my students and those around me, and by discovering this, I was able to let go of previous feelings regarding leadership. Fortunately, I have found a place which encompasses the same values and I hope to grow and develop in this Culture Club and that my presence benefits the club, too.

Through this discovery about leadership and culture, I've started making goals for myself. However, it's important to acknowledge what got me to this point. A calculated risk, based on gut feeling, and how the importance of this decision-making resonates with a deeply entrenched personal kaupapa. Something which we should all trust as we never know where it will lead us...
Path to my apartment in China

Monday, June 30, 2014

Play along if you feel like NoS is your truth
As a reliever, I invade another teacher's space, take over their role and mess with the dynamics of the team/class. I need to be mindful that some students are not going to be impressed with the sudden change and I have an array of positive behaviour strategies to use in each situation.
One of my strategies is singing and dancing and I began one day, with a Year 6 class, by singing Pharrell Williams song 'Happy'. I mentioned to the students how this song has become a symbol of finding the happy moments in, possibly, unhappy times. And here, in New Zealand we are fortunate to have the freedom to think, question and learn. Today would be a great opportunity to do that as scientists.
Hoping everyone was in a good mood I began an investigation on air resistance. A lesson I observed from Te Toi Tupu science facilitators and lessons like this can be found on the Virtual Learning Network.
Learning Intentions
Students hypotheses
After the students set up their books with the input/output model and learning intentions (see previous posts), I started the lesson like the beginning of a magic trick. "I have two pieces of A4 paper. Are they exactly the same? Why do you agree/disagree?" The students concluded it was because they were the same length, width, weight, and came from the same ream of paper.
I got one of the pieces of paper and screwed it up (something which goes against my grain as a teacher of EfS) I asked what direction the paper would mostly likely fall from at a certain height and got the students to record their predictions.
Students hypotheses
A volunteer then conducted the experiment from on top of a chair. Some of the students, who were working hard to be disengaged, started taking notice, but still stayed down the back of the classroom. After repeating this part of the experiment a few times, the students at the front of the class established the trend of the screwed up ball of paper to be a drop with a few bounces followed by a roll.
Next, we got the flat (unharmed) piece of paper and repeated the experiment. I introduced the importance of fair testing, but only as a conversation. I didn't want to detract from the experience and lose momentum. The students recorded their predictions/hypotheses after a 'think, pair, share' session and we got the same volunteer to repeat the experiment again.

Some of the students who were paying attention at the back of the classroom decided to move to the front, where the action was.
Students work on Twitter
I commented on their work and asked if it was okay to take a photo of their recording to tweet out and inspire other students, teachers and scientists. The students were proud to have their work tweeted about and it became a huge buzz when someone on Twitter responded to it, making the class more focused on the task. Social Media is a powerful tool.
The students stated the trend of the flat piece of paper began with a slow movement down which then went from side to side.
This is when I started questioning students perceptions.
"Why does the ball of paper drop straight down and the piece of flat paper glide?"
I got students to 'think, pair, share' their answers to consolidate their reasoning, before discussing as a class. Some students were stuck on the concept of weight, even though we continued to go back to the original two pieces of paper (this is a common misconception and I recommend having measuring scales to help overcome it), some students discussed gravity and others played with the idea of air resistance. Through my question-probing students were able to figure out the cause of the two trends and I was able to observe processes related to the Science Capabilities and Nature of Science taking place.
Blimp-making instructions
After this part of the lesson I'd, normally, move onto making spinning blimps and play with concepts of air resistance through modifying the blimp design. However, I still had a couple of students at the back of the classroom who were not engaging and I knew they were not going to if I were to remain the authority of the lesson. Instead, I decided to hand ownership of the lesson to the students. I explained to them that they needed to go through a process of design thinking to create an object which used air resistance to move and the accountability lay in recording their process. I showed them how to make blimps as a beginning concept and how to research on the Science Learning Hub. At certain stages I stopped the students to see how they were getting on, record their ideas to share with each other and offer inspiration through YouTube clips.
Students air resistance creations
The students loved it and the whole class were onboard. I observed ideas based on students prior knowledge being swapped freely and research was being conducted in collaboration with one another, just like scientists.
At the end of the day we had a presentation where students shared the process they went through. During this time, some of the students identified their failures and if they had more time how they would improve their designs.
At the time I handed over the lesson to the students I questioned whether the science concepts were going to be taught well, or if I should continue the lesson like I intended, with the potential for conflict.
While reflecting on this, a friend shared a TEDTalk with me on Science is for everyone, kids included and it was great consolidation around my thoughts on the importance of play. Beau Lotto mentioned that for us to learn anything new we have to ask the 'why' and in doing so we step into uncertainty, but the best way to learn about the uncertainty is through play. Lotto explained play as:

  • celebrating uncertainty
  • adapting to change
  • being open to possibility
  • cooperating
  • being intrinsically motivated
Comparing the points of play to those of the Nature of Science and the Science Capabilities, they are consistent with each other and tell us that science and play are intwined and, really, are just a way of being.
Upon this discovery of thought, I've realised I need to action more 'freedom to think, question and learn' with students and offer them more ownership and leadership of the lessons to develop aspects of innovation and creativity, so we can all be happy!