Planet Earth and Beyond – some reflections

For people who don’t know me too well, I am a bit passionate in a very amateur way about astronomy and geology. Currently, I am teaching ESS to my y10s (Earth Science), my y11s (Life on Mars course) and my y12s (looking into the technology to keep astronauts alive in space).

The y10s get to research an Earth Science event in NZ, not too difficult with approximately 20,000 earthquakes in NZ in the average year, plus quite a few interesting volcanoes which have occasionally caused some harm.

The 11s have been investigating Mars (sadly, no field trip…) and looking into the missions to get us to the red planet. We are just completing an investigation using Mars simulant soil (called regolith and about $350 USD including postage). The girls got to choose whether they used a specific mix of Martian regolith soil (actually basalt from the Mojave Desert) and compost with different seeds or they could try different ratios of compost to regolith with the same seed type. The results are not fully in yet, but it will give us an insight (slight pun intended for Mars geeks) into the types of food crops that could be grown on Mars.

This unit is a semester long course and is the first time I’ve run it, since we scrapped NCEA for y11/Level 1. It has been fun trying to work out what we are doing in the class, the options are quite vast, and we are going to finish the term looking at as many aspects of travel to Mars as we can with lots of random investigations thrown in as I think of them. It has been a fun experience, and I had a brainwave this afternoon: mission patches or stickers (probably cheaper…) to give the girls once they complete the class, just like the NASA mission badges.

This is going to be a work in progress, and I’ll come back and write more about it once I have got my A into G and found someone to make these for me (I need to design them first).

I’ve enjoyed teaching something I am passionate about, without the need for credit chasing. Last year with NCEA Level 1 I had girls crying when they got Not Achieved grades. When did our education system make this sort of thing OK? At least with this course we are learning for the fun of it (I’m learning heaps, too), and the stress levels are not there. My girls are learning for the sake of finding out cool stuff and this has made my life so much easier too. Learning (and teaching) is so much more fun when it is relevant or interesting; I have to say I am grateful to the school for giving us the opportunity to scrap L1 and follow our hearts instead!


Feeling Energised!

On 4th May 2019, I attended the Google Certified Innovator Energiser at Google’s offices in Sydney (photos below…) I reconnected with a lot of people who are important to me and made some new connections too. I look forward to seeing what this cohort do from here; there are some very driven graduands and I wish them well!
I have been a GCI since 2013 (SYD), and this was the first Energiser I had attended.
I have come away feeling re-Energised with the commitment to start getting my stuff out there more (coming as a result of hearing the latest projects from the graduating cohort of 2019). Part of this is making a commitment to actually really get going with my blog, PROPERLY, not just every now and then. I am going to aim for one post per month to start with, and am looking at relocating my website content into this platform instead, so I am not using a static platform for my work . I am also working on creating a How-To website for the students, teachers and whānau of my school that has a heap of hints and tips for doing things digitally – trying to upskill the school community.

I have been swapping between Blogger and WordPress, but now feel that this is the place I need to be because of future-proofing, and also because of the connections to social media channels. This has been a hard shift being a Google geek, but I am finding it no longer fully meets my needs.

Come on baby, light my (Bunsen burner) fire

In 2019, I got assigned a year 9 Science class, something I specifically did not want. Mainly because I have focused mostly on developing the year 10 stuff and I haven’t really got much in the way of resources or lessons for the year 9s. This means I am now busy planning what I need to work on to make sure I keep our classes fun.

One of the units we do is Introduction to Science, and part of that is learning how to safely and correctly use a Bunsen burner. In a previous school, I used to just give the instructions about lighting the burner, then got the students to do it. Later, this developed to using an online animation from Pearson Education (with no real risk of explosions…) and then lighting the real thing. Now, I think I may have well and truly overplanned this, and spent ages working on another way to do this.

We are still going to use the online animation, with a slide deck for additional information. The girls (I work in a girls’ school) can work in small groups, decide the order of safely lighting the Bunsen burner. Once they have digitally completed this, they can again work in groups to light the REAL Bunsen burner while checking one another for the correct method. At this stage, I am going to be quietly observing making sure everything is OK, but actual teaching – not a lot needed, this is akō at work!

“So what?” you are thinking, “that’s nothing special”. Well, here comes the fun bit. Normally, we sign off the girls on a list to say they are proficient. Very boring. Now, once the girls feel they are ready to be checked, they complete a Google Form in quiz mode which has several sections, each with a list of possible stages for lighting the Bunsen burner. If they get this in the wrong order, they have to start the Form again, until they get all five steps correct which allows them to submit the Form. And of course, there is this great theme on Forms – very Sciencey…

So far, so good. The answers the girls give feeds into the usual Google Sheet, as per normal. I am using Autocrat as an add-on within Sheets, and I have set it up to create a certificate for the student from a Google Doc template, using the student’s name as a tag for the script which inserts their name onto the certificate. This is then automatically emailed to the student so she has a certificate to prove her ability to safely light and use a Bunsen burner. The end certificate looks like this:

It wasn’t complicated, but it took me a little bit of setting up in terms of time. I hope it is as much fun for the girls once they complete this activity… (Update to follow).

Living in the past

Image result for old classroom


Oh yeah, back in with the song titles!

My thoughts have been taken up a lot lately with the state of our education system (yes, there are reforms being discussed) and how it really is a relic of the colonial past. Are we really doing the best by our students any longer? Are we really preparing them for real life? When did we let them get so obsessed with chasing credits?

And it isn’t just the students. We are suffering a critical teacher shortage, with rising complaints of work-induced stress, and a general admission that it is an underpaid and undervalued career. Who can blame people for looking at teaching and thinking “yeah, nah”. We are leaching teachers massively, without being able to hire more.

Sadly, it has crossed my mind to leave the profession as well. There are so many different pressures we have to endure, and the job does not stop when the bell rings or the holidays start – even on the flight back from seeing my family in the UK in July, I was thinking about my classes and what I needed to be doing with them.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my job and really love my students. But the education system needs a massive shake up, to make it a better experience for all concerned. Thankfully, my school has moved away from assessment in Level 1 (15-16 year olds) as the stress was getting to them and us. No kid should be in tears because they got a poor grade. In real life, you try something, fail, LEARN, iterate and keep trying. Where is the value in giving the feedback after the event? How does that help a kid learn? And it’s not just that; the universities stipulate the need for credits – we get the rush for as many credits as possible and all that entails is the need for very content-driven assessment.

I don’t have the answers, I wish I did. I would be better paid for one thing. I do know we need to focus on getting students to work on collaboration, incorporate lots of STEAM learning, teaching critical thinking so they don’t get sucked in by scams, and even things such as first aid skills. Interestingly, the idea of student strikes (for better climate control or gun control) are gaining traction across the globe – students know they want better! Learning about living within New Zealand and within te Tiriti o Waitangi is something we could improve. Students feel it is a historical document, not a living, current description of a relationship.

Things are not going to get better any time soon. We are going to see more teacher strikes this year across most of the sectors (making teachers the bad guys again, always asking for better pay and conditions…) and of course we are just entering the next round of “compare student a with b, or cohort a with the national results”. What about the focus on the individuals? Why are the results so important to us? They are different students, with different backgrounds, abilities, interests, needs and family life – how can we compare them?

This has become a little of a rant, because it’s broken, and I can’t fix it. I also can’t blame the droves of teachers finding they can have their time back and leaving the profession. Something needs to happen, and if someone high up in the education policymaking division wants to hire me to help, feel free to leave a comment!

Culturally Responsive and Relational Pedagogy in practice


** I am posting this here, it is a bit late (originally posted on 12.6.18 via my Blogger) but I have played with both platforms a bit and have now decided that with the imminent death of Google+, there is no advantage to Blogger and WordPress looks nicer, so back to this one again! **

The research is out there; Māori learners are not performing as well as European / pākehā, leading to headlines like these, all relatively recent:

As a teacher in New Zealand, this hurts my heart. How has it got so bad? Why are these students falling by the wayside? How can we change things and make our classrooms more inclusive so this stops being a problem?

We have been discussing Culturally Responsive and Relational Pedagogy (CRRP) as a school for a few years in differing formats, and have constructed cross-curricular groups to carry out appraisal and internal PLD (the process has been given the title Kokiri). 

I am a Kokiri leader, responsible for checking in with my group of five colleagues and ensuring they are working on an inquiry, and that they are recording evidence for the Code and Standards for the teaching profession, as well as signing off their final annual appraisal. Part of the process is classroom observations. Having come from a #Manaiakalani school, I was happy to have happen (we used to get every visitor passed through our classrooms on a regular basis; it makes you a lot less nervous about casual drop-ins!). We have also been through the Rongohia te Hau observations, so are partially used to the process. 

I will put my hand up here, and state that I have felt somewhat confused (maybe nervous?) about carrying out observations and conversations with peers – what gives me the right to critique colleagues abilities to teach? How can I make judgments about whether they are meeting the standards as a practicing professional? 

In 2018, we have been working with Robbie Lamont from Poutama Pounamu, and have been trialing an observation tool that moves from making a judgment to being a mirror of practice for our colleagues. This has required a level of “unlearning” to happen – it has always felt like observations in the classroom are looking at how well the teacher works with the class, often with hours of (panicked…) preparation from the observed teacher to ensure the lesson runs smoothly and shows how brilliant at their craft they actually are. The refreshing difference here, is that we are actually acting as a mirror, being held up so the observed teacher gets a snapshot view of what was happening over a 20 minute slice of the lesson. This is difficult for the amateur observer, but provides the opportunity for the teacher to reflect upon what was happening in their class, and what they and their students were doing.

The tool (found here) has been gifted to the Kokiri leaders, and we have been trying it out on one another. It takes a bit of getting used to. It is done over 20 minutes, and is a hand-killer! As I mentioned previously, the intention is to move away from the observer / observee (is that even a word?) relationship towards a culture of reflective practice where we constantly evaluate whether we are doing the best for ALL of our learners, and think of ways to be more inclusive; where everyone is part of the learning process. I fully understand that by focusing on our Māori learners, no one is disadvantaged, and everyone benefits, and by going through this kind of observation, we can see the gaps that exist in our practice.

This process has already got me thinking about my classroom practice and my interactions with my ākonga. I have already moved towards more co-construction of the learning with my students, getting their voice as a valuable part of my planning and course development. Observing others has made me consider aspects of my own practices, and having others observe me in a non-judgmental way, just mirroring, has really got me thinking. Robbie told us that one of the hard parts was unlearning, and I feel I am trying to do this, but there is always room for improvement.

I welcome the idea of being observed; how can I be a better teacher if I don’t reflect and revise? I look forward to continuing this journey, and feel I know where we are heading as a school and some of the confusion I alluded to earlier has started clearing. I feel that we ARE on a journey to make learning more inclusive for ALL of our learners, and that we are doing something positive (as are many other schools / kura around NZ) to lessen the cultural divide. 

Today was a bit of a light-bulb moment for me, so I sat and wrote this immediately as I was reflecting on what I have learned (and unlearned!). I hope to write additional posts on this process as we move forward on this journey.

Ka kite anō au i a koutou.


I wanna rock!!


**This post was originally made in WordPress on March 13th 2018**

Back to the song titles for posts, with thanks to Twisted Sister for this one!
Now to explain the relevance of the post title. This year I have started an Earth and Space Course at Level 2 (Year 12). This is something of a passion that I have had the privilege to indulge this year. The course includes a geological study of the rocks of a locality in NZ, and we are spoiled for choice in Northland, an investigation into an aspect of ESS that most interests the students, a socio-scientific report, topic yet to be decided, the formation of stars and planets and an extreme Earth event in NZ, of which there are plenty to choose from. Throughout the year I hope to come back into this and leave some more reflections.
One of the learning experiences I have managed to organise for our students is a seismometer, which has been connected to the NZ Ru Network (after Rūaumoko – the Māori god of volcanoes, earthquakes and seasons) and is situated in the library at the school. The unit itself is a spring connected to magnets in a coil and a piece of copper piping (Lens’ law for the physics fans out there!), fed through to an Arduino device which talks to a Raspberry Pi.
Within 24 hours of connecting, we picked up the rolling ground waves of a 6+ aftershock from the Papua New Guinea earthquake, which rolled on for nearly an hour. This was confirmed by other seismometers in the network, including the ‘home’ device in the University of Auckland. This picture shows the two traces one above the other. The top is ours, the lower is the UoA trace, and the highlighted yellow sections are the corresponding records of the shake.
Our first quake!.png
The live images from the network can all be seen on this website.
We have also taken a couple of field trips, one to the Kawiti Glow-worm caves and Waro reserve to see karst limestone formations (incidentally,  the limestone that makes up these formations is part of the Te Kuiti group and are a long way from where they were layed down as sediments (25-30 million years ago). This photo shows the entrance to the caves, sadly no pics inside as it is firstly tapū (sacred) and secondly because it upsets the glow-worm (Arachnocampa luminosa in case you were wondering).



The limestone has been eroded into these fantastic shapes by acidified water gradually eroding the rock.
We were also welcomed onto the marae (Māori meeting grounds) as one of our students was related to the kaitiaki (guardians) of the caves. This was a welcome break from the rain, and a wonderful cultural experience.
The Waro Reserve also has good examples of fluted limestone / karst formations, as well as being an ex-marble mine (now flooded) and aboe the coal seams that run through into Kamo (Waro is coal in te Reo). Some of the karst is horizontal with erosion caused by water dripping from the branches of trees over time.

The second field trip was out along the Whangarei Heads Rd, and will be covered in the next post. This topic has certainly fired my imagination, and hopefully my students also have an appreciation of the forces at work to change these ancient landscapes that are so beautiful and striking. They certainly appreciate my passion for this fascinating topic!

Student blogging

This is a new thing for me; my year 13 Environmental Biology class are carrying out an action plan this year, around the local environment. As a change from keeping a paper logbook and submitting this at the end of the unit, they are recording their work in a blog.

We are using Blogger as the platform, mainly as we are now a Google school; it makes sense for the girls to use the single sign on afforded by having G Suite. I feel that this is an authentic way to collect information and also reflect upon what they are doing – all part of the action plan. They may even inspire me to update MY blog more regularly… Certainly as they are going to get an hour per week to update their work, I should maybe use the time for the same purpose.

Today we have set the blogs up, and now there are conversations around me about themes and plug-ins etc, so they are actually quite keen on getting started, and a letter has already been sent to the principal about one of the issues! Progress and authentic learning.

I need to find out a way of keeping an eye on each of the blogs, preferably without being too invasive, so I can ensure that there is work getting done. Currently, I am thinking of following each of the blogs so I get to read their updates. Any ideas from the rest of the world are greatly appreciated!