Scratching for the Stars

I sometimes forget how truly amazing the student’s brain is and today I was reminded Scratchand still can not stop smiling. Now this was not just a single child, but did start from a single question, and it involved 2 classes of 7 year old students.

We are working on Scratch games. Racing games. There is a track, there is a sprite and there is a finish line. If you go off the track you go back to the start and if you get to the end you might celebrate with a ‘Boyakasha’ then change the colour by 25 or pixelate and then go around again.

The games were pretty amazing and all the students had designed their own race car sprites and tracks. At the start of the second lesson  we were looking at completing the finer details, debugging a few errors and filling out the Project Page information – yuo know, tying up the loose ends of a unit before Christmas Holidays interrupt.

A hand was raised… “How do you add the score?”

I hesitated. These are 7 year olds. I do not teach creating variables to 7 year olds…

…but I showed him and we created a Data Variable for score. Before I knew it they were changing code scripts to Change score by 1 when you crossed the finish line. Someone called out -1 score if you go off the track and the score was going up and down. Like most children they wanted to get the highest score and then when one child had a score of 9999 questions were raised….

“You’re Cheating!!!”
“Wow, you are good.”
“That’s Hacking!!!”
“What’s Hacking?!?”
“How did you do that?”

The skills developed at an alarming rate and the questions kept on flying around the class. Soon students realised that a score that could go on forever was pointless and not rewarding in any way. The student who raised the initial question put together a block of code stating ‘If SCORE=5 then Finish all” and a friend added “If Score=-5 then Finish All“.

By the end of the lessson the script was quite long and we had added you win and lose screens. I had no idea at the start of the lesson that it would end up going so far, but I am so glad it did. It would have been easy to gloss over the question, but I learned so much from following through with it, the students went through the Pit of Learning and came out the other side with a smile and a sense of achievement…. I know that I will sleep well tonight.


Making your own Learning – The 4 stages

This is something that I am sure that a lot of people are already know or are coming to the realisation of… as learners we need to take control of our own learning and not just wait for it come and find us. I would be a rich teacher if I had a dollar for every time I heard a teacher complain or state ‘That was irrelevant for me’ about school provided PD, and sometimes they are right, but if you ask them ‘Do you take time to learn things that are important to you and your teaching?’ they often look at you as if you are mad.

I have split personalising your learning into four categories based on my experiences and what I have observed (not very scientific, but hey does it matter 🙂 )

This is that thing we all do, often mid discussion when nobody remembers that name of the drummer of an 80s band or who was the director of ##### or any other obscure question that we need to know instantly… Google it. Although, most of my questions at work are more technical, such as what is the font that is used in Scratch, but there are FAQ and message forums to answer these questions.Google-It-crop.0.0

Needs based
You have to do something and you not quite sure how. Now this is when we call on YouTube and we watch tutorials or we delve through Blogs of those that have gone before us. It is very rare that we want to do something that has never been done before so why reinvent the wheel when someone has made a video that shows you how to make one in a thousand different ways.

Medium Term
This is where the learning transfers from that instant need to know to when you want to make yourself a better educator and need some help. It takes a bit more thinking and planning. Online Courses or MOOCS (Massive Open Online Courses) cover a mass of topics – not all are good, but some are amazing. You have the choice to pay for the certificate at the end for a minimal fee, but are able to partake at no cost (if you don’t want the PDF). Just recently I completed an EdX course that was run by MIT on MIT - Launching Innovation ini SchoolsLaunching Innovation in Schools, which challenged me throughout and made me think deeply about my practice and vision for Education. Microsoft Education offers countless courses for free (and you get a pretty badge at the end) – the Mindstorms Robotics courses that have 6 hours of course time are incredibly comprehensive and will help any teacher trying to get their head around using the EV3. Lastly there is my favourite of the online courses that I have completed in the past year – Google Teacher Certification. I found the Google Educator course to be the most robust. The exam at the end was challenging and if you fail you must wait a set time period before resitting (Luckily I passed level 1, but I’m yet to face the challenge of level 2).

Now this is the one that I have yet to attempt and not sure if I ever will. This is the one that bumps you up the pay scale, prepares you for leadership, gives you a few extra letters after your name and can suck the life from you for years (so I’ve been told). I have known many to go back to school/university and partake in a Masters Degree or even higher to a Doctorate. This is for the most dedicated. The ones who love the challenge of late night forum entries and essay deadlines. It is not for me, but is for many.

So, after all these ramblings I only challenge to take learning into your own hands. Do not wait for it to come to you. Think about where you want to learn more or what you think you might want to learn and dedicate some time and brain power. Only you can make yourself a better educator, so now is a good time to start.


Learning like a Child

When was the last time that you tried to learn something by yourself. I know that when I want to find out something new the first thing I do is google it. I look for a youtube clip or a tutorial or a weblink or anything that is there that has already done the learning that I want and I use it as a starting point.

You see, last week I brought home the Lego WeDo kits and wanted to see how to really Lego Gearsuse it. I have made things with them before and had my students do the same, but we had followed a set of instructions and made what someone else had created. We had made, not created, we had followed a set of instructions, not designed and to me creation and design is the essence of Lego. The instructions are a starting point, but they need to lead to somewhere else to really unlock the joy of Lego. If you give me bricks I will design and build, wheels I will create a car or mini figures and I will animate, but a set of gears, motors and axles and I am at a loss – I have not learned how to use them with independence.

So the kits sat there for a week and I did not interact with them. But, early this morning, IMG_9530while the rest of the house was asleep, I awoke and crept into the lounge. I took the kits to the rug in the middle of the floor and like a child with a new toy I began to explore. Beginning with a motor, axle and a gear I began to build. I became lost within the experience. What I experienced was what I want my students to experience and it took me back to similar experiences as a child.

Slowly my creation began to take form. There was no purpose to my creation other than learning how the gears and wheels and axles fitted together and my only goal was that once I added the motor many different parts would move at different speeds and in different ways and directions. I experienced frustration after frustration then success followed by a failure. The design was built up only to be taken down and modified. When the family surfaced at half seven I realised that I had just been immersed in learning for 2 straight hours of bliss – yes I awoke at 5:15 to play Legos – and when they saw the joy on my face the did not even laugh or tease me.

It took me back to a seminar with Simon Breakspear about design thinking in education. Naturally when a child plays with a toy such asdesign-thinking-fo-educators Lego it is the design model that they are using – the discovery, interpretation, creation, experimentation and evolution. I went through all these steps and although there was not a product in mind there were constant evolutions as I tried to add new components or found a different way of doing things.

How will this change my teaching and use of WeDo and Mindstorms in the class? First let them follow a plan – build something that someone else has designed, let the students come to terms with the way the components fit together and how to code them, but the second exposure will be without any instructions or preconception of what someone else has created. They will test, try, fail, fail, succeed and fail and maybe they will create something new, but they will develop an understanding of what it takes to create. They will be able to take the ideas from the imagination and have the opportunity to express themselves and their thoughts.

What is my next step? Well, I am going to Google. Now that I have my own experiences I am going to look to the ideas of others. I need to research to improve my skill set and understanding just like any good designer would.

What has it taught me? Play. Approach new learning like I did when I was a child. Try new ideas and just try and work out how things work. Keep being inquisitive and take the time to do so. It may not be the easiest way in our world of knowledge at your fingertips, but it is so much more rewarding.

The video is of my creation. It does nothing except for what I set out for it to do – move and allow me to learn about how gears fit together.

Education’s best kept secret – teaching at International schools. 

I assume that all who read this blog are teachers or somehow involved in the education game. What might make me different to you is that I no longer teach in my home country, but choose the life of a teacher in the international school world. This stint has been for 2 years and I can’t see it ending any time soon as it is providing a life far richer in experience for my family and I than could ever happen back in New Zealand. Yes there are things that we miss and the distance from family and friends is difficult, but I would not change it for the world.  


You see, as I write this post I am sitting at a quiet restaurant next to my hotel in the quiet Vietnamese town of Hoi An – a place I had never heard of, let alone thought I would ever visit. Christmas holidays were spent in Rome, Florence and London and last year we traveled to Singapore, Taiwan and many places throughout our home base of China. While we are travelling around the world and exposing our daughters to different cultures, cuisines and ways of life we are still paying the mortgage back home and saving some money for a rainy day. 

My daughters are receiving an world class education that is on a par with unaffordable private schools back home. Working hard and focusing on your learning is the norm and expected by both students and teachers. They are learning to speak Chinese in an environment where they get to speak the language every day. Their school trips so far have been to Cambodia, Fujian, Vietnam and Brazil – not quite a hike through the beech forests of New Zealand, but unforgettable life experiences. 

As an educator there are draw backs; professional development can be hard to find and you may have to learn a new education system, but when learning and students are the focus it is easy to find a work around any problem. A few friends and I are in the process of planning Nanjings first EdCamp, so I guess PD is what you make it and blogs and Twitter are always there to inspire and challenge you. 

So I guess the point of this is to say, if you are stuck in the grind of teaching back home, feel like a new experience and challenge send me a message and I will be happy to answer any of your questions. It’s not the right choice for all, but it might be the choice for you. 

Be not afraid of growing slowly; be afraid only of standing still.

This ancient Chinese proverb expresses how I feel my learning has been progressing the past 6 months, not stagnant, but moving forward slowly and as the end of the year approaches, and the first anniversary of this blog also approaches, I can say I am not standing still, but may need to walk a bit faster.

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This Webpage is Not Available – a very common occurrence behind the GFW.

This is my first blog I write since August where I have not needed to turn on my trusty VPN as I am in Singapore on holiday – it is liberating. Living and working behind the Great Firewall has been an adventure, but the internet restrictions of the GFW have stolen half the tools within my 21st Century Teacher Toolbox…

-Google Docs and Apps for Education
-Edublogs (Unless we subscribe as a school for over $1000)

…all unreachable within my classroom environment. Blogging platforms and Google  gone from a modern classroom seems unthinkable and I have spent the past half year rethinking and reworking my philosophy to ed tech as it relates to my present situation.

Stolen from

The Classroom

All of the restrictions aside there is still much that I can do as a professional for my own learning and there are still ways that I can create a connected classroom…

-I am creating a class Wiki.  Wikis are not my preferred  tool with a year 2 class, but it will suffice in the absence of a blog. Additionally, it will allow me to embed YouKu videos (China’s version of YouTube) and gives us a platform to share work as well as host relevant clips for flipped learning at home. With many of my parents not being native English speakers it may also break down the barriers between school and home.

-Skype: I can access skype through my personal VPN, so connecting with other classes through Skype is achievable.

-Email: Letters never seem to arrive, but connecting to other classes through email is a definite.

The Teacher

Now for me as a learner and a connected teacher I just need to keep looking at the glass being half full. I am researching into some online study, but reconnecting with my PLN is a must, as through the GFW and timezone differences I have been inactive on Twitter and Google+ and not dedicated the time to blog reading and hashtag following that I normally would. Edcamp Home is a mere 14 days away and I can not think of a better way to inspire a new year and prepare a teacher for the second term.

I have discovered that learning to code is like a Soduku  or Crossword and is giving me a better understanding of how a computer and the internet works. I am halfway through a html course on Code Academy and trying to create Apps for my Android phone with MIT AppInventor (You have to give it a go if you have an Android, and get your class to give it a go too!).

I got my class involved with Decembers Hour of Code initiative for Computer Science week  – seeing 6 year olds programming Angry Birds was inspiring and let me know that Scratch, another product of MIT,  will be part of my class program next term.

Lastly I need to remember about this blog – writing a blog post like this is the best way for me to clear my head and order my thoughts, make a plan and direct my thinking, let me reflect and redirect, as that was the purpose of this blog when I created it, but if I do not use it with regularity is is a waste.

BYOD Traveling

The Travellers Device
When previously I have travelled it was the guide book, the phrase book, the fantastic Lonely Planet tomb and maybe a travel journal that weighed down my bags, but now the game has changed, as the smart phone now rolls all of these into one and adds features that previously were unfathomable.


Google Translate is your own C3P0
Ok, you need Wifi or cellular, but you can pre set a whole lot of useful phrases and they will be available off line. Type your sentence, choose your to and from language and bada-bing you have the translation.
Additionally click one button and you have an audio file that bypasses tricky pronunciations and click another button and the translation goes full screen and is an easily read flash card.


Airline Apps – Mine is AirNZ mPass
It gives me up to date access to all my details, air-points, flight schedules, seating plan and even gives me a screen sized QR Code for quick check ins. Too Easy, cloud based and sign in protected.

Contact with the rest of the world
It was the postcard, then the collect call, next came the smoke filled cyber cafe and in my last experience it was the laptop at Starbucks. Now the options for connectivity make conversing globally only limited by time zone and Wifi; Skype, FaceTime, Snap Chat, Viber, WhatsApp and more. Then there is the travel blog that replaces the journal and is shareable with all you choose. If you don’t want to blog in words, just share the experience in a tweet, Facebook post or flick the image out to friends and family with Instagram.


Where to go and what to see
I got off the plane in Wellington this past summer, downloaded the bus timetable app using the airport’s wifi and then using my phones GPS and map app I was able to make it to my hotel without the need to ask for directions at a fraction of the price of the Airport Bus.
Ok, this was my home country, but it is the same in all cities in the world and might just take a bit more planning and patience in a place where English is not the mother tongue.
The where to go is so simple with your phones map and if you start walking the wrong way you will see it quickly on the map due to the GPS and when you want to get somewhere it will give you several options as well as time estimates.


Lonely Planet… Maybe not.
My Lonely Planet China is the most read and annotated book that I own, but although I will pack it when we move to China again it will be used as a trip planner, not as the travel bible that is was always at the top of my bag. Through reading travel blogs and using Apps like TripAdvisor I am able to find the travel tips and best places to visit at the click of a button. Additionally, they are updated daily, so recommendations tend to be more up to date than a 12 year old guide book – that restaurant it recommends could have changed hands 20 times since publication.


Keeping up with the news.
My last stint overseas was in a place where English was not spoken and there was not an English Newspaper to be found. Now I can keep up with the news at the click of an app.

Need a book to read?
I prefer the feel of an actual book in my hands, love the tatty travel paperback and there are expat book exchanges that spring up around the world. But it is handy that I have a score of books stored on my phone, many more in the cloud and I can buy and download any book I desire with a quick contact to amazon or the iBook store.


I could go on with more examples of how a well planned device pre trip will benefit you and my opinion after a good pair of shoes and a sturdy bag the smart phone is now the travellers most important item. I guess the only two things to remember is to pack your charger and turn of data roaming unless you want a surprise when you return home.

Am I an inquiry teacher or a teacher who does inquiry?

It has been two weeks since my workshop with Kath Murdoch, but it has been some thing at the forefront of my mind as it left me thinking that I am Screen Shot 2013-07-20 at 2.57.53 PMon the right track, but at the same time missing some simple, but very important parts of the equation.

As soon as she began her presentation everything seemed to make sense and I was making connections left, right and center.

First self-discovery

There was no Wi-Fi & I was at a loss. I am now a person who needs to Google all that I don’t know instantly, as by searching the Googalable I identify the real learning faster.

Then Kath posed 4 questions that made many shift in their seats when they thought of the answers and If there was just one aspect to take away it would be the reflections and discussions with colleagues over the past fortnight relating to the four questions below.

Am I an inquiry teacher or a teacher who does inquiry?

Is this an inquiry classroom?

Are my students inquirers all through the day?

Am I an inquirer?

I am happy to say that I know I am an inquirer, but as to the other three questions I would have to say that this is where my next learning focus lies. At times I would answer yes to the first three questions but not constantly.

I incorporate elements of inquiry into my literacy program, but after looking at the blog of Bruce Ferrington, using inquiry in Maths, I know that there is huge scope for development of my numeracy and that this approach would be so much more meaningful as we learn through investigation rather than being told the answer.

Quick Lego reflection identifying that I may have jumped a few steps in the process... hence need to jump back to the start sometimes.
Quick Lego reflection identifying that I may have jumped a few steps in the process… hence need to jump back to the start sometimes.

Is my classroom an inquiry classroom – Yes, most definitely, but there is a lot that can be tweaked and developed. The physical environment and the tools are there. The openness to question, reflect and create meaning and understanding, but the language of the process is one area I am planning on really looking closely at as I feel that my students need to be able to articulate their learning as well as they can articulate their writing or strategy using  mathematics.  Guy Claxton’s Split Screen Lesson is one way that I feel that I will be able to remove the mystery behind the learning and identify the skills and contexts behind the content.  I know that when I plan a lesson all of these components are taken into account, but it is imperative that I make them clear for the students.

Do I ‘Do’ inquiry? No, but I know that I need to cut the strings and allow more times for independent inquiry.  This has been a goal of mine for a long time and I have looked a lot into the Genius Hour (do not like that title) or 20% time and the other models that have sprung up, Kath calls it ‘I Time’ as you have Inquiry, Investigative, Interest, Innovative and all the other I words that seem to fit within the independent inquiry.

So two days and my head was full and buzzing.  I had a list of things to do and things to change and things to keep on doing like I am doing at the moment. I want to make time for meaningful ‘Independent Inquiries’, but I need to make sure that the scaffolding is there to support the process. I need to make the learning context and skills more transparent, but that comes down to the language that I choose to use in the class – Choice Words needs a re-read over the holidays. I need to keep on being a passionate teacher, but that is not going to change. I need to be an Inquirer, not just model the process, but I feel that I am an inquirer, so I just need to again make that more visible to my students. I need to ensure that my class is an ‘Inquiry’ class always, not just on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, but always.

Finally, a bit off track, but I have tried to get staff onto Twitter, to try it, to test their toes in the water with only one taker. Kath walks into the room talks Tweets, mentions that we had communicated through twitter the day before and now it seems that Twitter is the new thing.

Second Self discovery
You can lead a horse to water, but only Kath Murdoch can make them Tweet.

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Think that I need to add this tweet to my CV. Kath Murdoch’s Roadie would look good under job history.