Bright Ideas


Yesterday Marsden hosted its very first Maker Party, thanks to Mozilla, Wellington Makerspace and the wonderful Jess Weichler. We advertised the opportunity to our Y6-Y8 girls, and it was almost a full house! Not being at all au fait with Maker Education, it was amazing to see an expert like Jess in action.

The session started with a mini-lesson on electronics. I really enjoyed the way Jess interacted with the girls, speaking in language that they (and me – Science dud!) could understand. Did you know that electricity is lazy and if you give it a shortcut, it will take it? Having said that, Jess also didn’t shy away from using ‘real’ terms like ‘polarity’, which I also liked.

Everything was relevant to the task ahead: making an LED light bracelet. I think the photos below speak for themselves as to how the girls enjoyed it:


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I think one of the things I found most interesting was towards the end of the party when Jess was bravely asking the girls for their feedback and what they thought she could do better next time. A number of the girls commented that it was hard to attach the LED light to their wire bracelet and that Jess should have told them an easier way. However, I completely disagree. I thought it was valuable for the girls to have to persevere with the task. The light didn’t work – try another way. The pipe cleaner is interfering with the circuit – insulate the wire frame. The battery is scratchy – cover it. To me, in addition to learning by making and creating, the real power in this kind of activity is in the tinkering. Having to figure out ways to make it work. After all, life doesn’t come with an instruction manual.

Thanks again to Jess – a wonderfully enthusiastic and passionate educator – and to one of our Primary staff members for coming along and supervising with me – and to the Marsden Library: great to see an innovative use for this welcoming space. Here’s to more Maker Parties to come!

Just Ordinary

Okay, so, um, this happened:

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And I share this because I’m nothing special. Okay yes, I’m ultra-stoked and super-proud to have Rachel Bolstad of NZCER fame share my work (squee!), but I’m just an ordinary teacher.

I’m by no means the most innovative teacher there is – far from it. Despite the Twitter handle of @AKeenReader, I’m not the most well-read education researchy teacher there is – far from it. I think my blog is rambly and a bit unstructured at times, but I enjoy doing it. I like looking back at the learning I’ve experienced. I like having the odd (literally and figuratively) suggestion I can sometimes pass onto other teachers who ask a question or express an interest in something I’ve had a play with. It doesn’t strike me as terribly ‘brave’ to share my classroom practice or my iterative learning attempts.

What the above tweets really mean to me is that if I can do it, as an ordinary teacher just trying to make her classroom match what I understand to be best practice, you can do it too.

(PS, I think the blogpost Rachel referred to in her webinar that prompted the above tweets was this one.)

Pick Me!

This post is my application for a 2015 CORE eFellowship.

#edchatNZ steering committee. L-R: Heather Eccles, Sonya van Schaijik, me, Matt Nicoll, Alyx Gillett, Danielle Myburgh, Mel Moore
#edchatNZ steering committee. L-R: Heather Eccles, Sonya van Schaijik, me, Matt Nicoll, Alyx Gillett, Danielle Myburgh, Mel Moore

My application presentation can be found here.

My Twitter profile
My Twitter profile
The kind words of Steve Mouldey
The kind words of Steve Mouldey

Marsden Matters

Our publication: Marsden Matters 

This year for my ‘traditional’ Year 8 newspaper unit, I decided to give the students a more authentic twist. I assigned each group one of the four ‘Marsden Pillars‘ – the values that underpin our school. The groups ‘pitched’ for which of the four pillars: creativity, resilience, giving and excellence, they wanted to showcase in their newspaper. Based on the suggestions they made for content, I matched one pillar with each group. Each newspaper had to include a masthead, three articles, and a solus advertisement.

An unexpected win was that the girls took their articles very seriously. Not content with just relying on what they knew of events and successes around the school, they undertook interviews and conducted research. If I had realised the girls would move in this direction, I would have taught more around questioning techniques. And also, the girls knew I was going to use Youblisher to publish their work. Just like when we completed our King of Shadows website in Term 1, having this wider, authentic audience, does encourage them to lift their work and not to be satisfied with a ‘one and done’ drafting process.

It struck me during the course of this unit how hard it is for students to write formally, in a newspaper-style. They struggled to recognise the difference between key facts and added detail. They struggled not to editorialise or not to put themselves into their article. They didn’t know conventions like avoiding brackets and using people’s surnames rather than their Christian names. If I use this unit again, I will make sure I teach some of these concepts more directly. However, when I realised we were struggling with some of these basics, I wrote a little lesson starter to highlight these points, and I think this helped.

Nevertheless, the four newspapers were well-written, and I am proud of their finished products. The reflections the students completed at the end of the unit attest to the fact that the girls enjoyed the work. Their suggestions of having more articles to write, and less time in class to produce their newspapers meshed with thoughts I had had during the unit itself – always gratifying to know that your thought are on par with the students’!

Being in the process of reading Key Competencies for the Future, Rachel Bolstad et al, 2014, I can see real possibilities to expand this unit into a focus on the relationship between the media and society, and I would love to explore some of the rich ‘meaty’ problems this would reveal.

Any thoughts or suggestions gratefully received – comment below!


Marsden Professional Learning Session 11

Today’s professional learning session was awesome! We were exploring creativity in practice. Teachers presented examples of how they develop creativity in their students. It was fantastic to see the outcomes students have produced – some really amazing stuff – but, more importantly, to hear about the means by which creativity has been encouraged.

One of the primary school staff spoke very thoughtfully about why creativity is so important. She touched on ideas about it being a higher order thinking skill as it aims for synthesis, building on prior knowledge and understandings. She used Albert Einstein’s quote, “creativity is intelligence having fun,” to talk about a culture of thinking flexibly and failing forward – things that don’t always come easily to our students. The emphasis was clearly on developing creativity no matter what the subject matter or context – that creativity doesn’t just mean art.

A senior manager also spoke to us about how her students have developed their creativity skills in her subject area. My favourite idea was that of constraints: that by putting tight barriers in place lateral, ‘outside the box’ thinking can be fostered.

it was also interesting that both speakers noted the benefits of BYOD – that by students having their own devices, the flexibility of learning and capturing learning was possible.

The only downside to the showcase was running out of time to have the workshops usually on offer. However, to hear concrete examples of pedagogy in practice was worth it.

Here is a copy of the wrap-around presentation I spoke to as a starter to this afternoon’s learning: