Monday 24 October 2016

This is the end, my only friend, the end...

Well, I haven't used a song title for a blog post for ages, so good to get back on form... A gentle nod to The Doors in case you were wondering.

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It has now been nearly 32 weeks since I signed up for the MindLab Post Grad Certificate, and in all honesty, I have really not enjoyed it. The assessments have been a bit like being caught in a huge wave, you just about get back on your feet and then the next one hits you and knocks you over again. Despite this, I have learned, grown as an educator and constantly challenged my practice while doing the course. I'm still looking forward to hitting submit for the last time, though, to know that I can get something of my life back. Friends are beginning to wonder where I have got to (my wife has once or twice said, "who are you?" when I emerge from the study...)

One thing is certain, I have been very reflective in this course, and have learned to challenge my assumptions once again. I have also looked at fresh new ideas to change the way I teach and learn, and this has tied in with actions that I have been involved in within the school as well. My goal, which ties in with the PTC (Ministry of Education, n.d.) has been to look at ways of changing assessment practice within Level 1 Science this year, and some of the tools and strategies I have learned over the past 32 weeks have helped to inform and drive some of the changes.
I have learned from the ideas of Lean Management; these techniques helping me with my managerial style. I have discovered, and in some cases, rediscovered some very cool tools that exist to make the classroom workload a bit easier to manage. Additionally, I have questioned and reflected more on my practice, something the MoE describe as important in the 21st Century educator. My reflection has raised as many questions as it has answered and this feeds back into my inquiry, allowing me to come up with ideas for the next phase of inquiry; something that was identified in research by Osterman and Kottkamp (1993), where they described how an inquiring learner can move between different phases of action research as a part of the whole process.

Two changes to my Teaching Practice that can be reflected in the PTCs.
I'm not sure I can really credit the MindLab course for these changes, as I suspect these would have occurred anyway, due to the changes in practice already being implemented at school. Nonetheless, Criterion 4, "Demonstrate commitment to ongoing professional learning and development of professional personal practice" has definitely happened. 32 weeks is definitely a commitment, for the issues it has caused along the way...
Secondly, Criterion 11 "Analyse and appropriately use assessment and information, which has been gathered formally and informally" has been covered more than I might ordinarily do. I have sought student voice about assessment practice, and looked long and hard at what we consider acceptable assessment. I have made some smaller changes as a response to the gathered information, and more changes are coming.
Along the way, I think I have dipped into the majority of the criteria, but it has been a mission to log this information and to make sure the recording has been done. There has not been the time, because of commitments at work, and because of my commitment to this course (wavering at times...). Well, now THIS commitment is over. Now I might have time to backtrack and find all the evidence of my meeting the PTCs - at least we are not expected to cover all of them in one year.


Osterman, K. & Kottkamp, R.(1993). Reflective Practice for Educators.California.Cornwin Press, Inc. Retrieved on 7th May, 2015 from

Ministry of Education (nd). Practising teacher Criteria and e-learning . Retrieved from

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Sunday 16 October 2016

Interdisciplinary teaching and learning - fabulous or fantasy?

This is going to be the blog post that causes me the most difficulty, in terms of trying to find a positive, when really I want to throw my hands up and run away. I love the idea of interdisciplinary teaching, and the benefits that accompany this pedagogy, BUT I am also a realist. In senior Science subjects, it is uncommon even for collaboration between Biology, Physics and Chemistry on assessments, so crossing departmental boundaries presents even more of a problem. It seems we are a cliquey bunch...

This map shows connections I can see potentially happening. I've kept it limited to the other departments within the school; there are plenty of places connections can be made outside of the school, and as I described in a previous post, I have connections with all sorts of teachers, all over the world.

One area for potential development that I can see is with Social Sciences. In Science and especially Biology, there are several Socio-Scientific issues that are tackled. (EfS also falls under Science and has lots of crossover potential as well). Mathison and Freeman (1997) describe the Science, Technology, Society model of collaboration as a prime example of what can be achieved. Issues such as Global Warming and energy use could fall across several subjects - it is not uncommon to hear "we learned that in Social Science" in class. There are also several topics that are Science but also have ethical implications. Animal testing, cloning, stem cells, GE food, Xenotransplantation and even some of the Medical Science ideas cross over easily into Social Sciences.

Clearly, this is not going to be a quick and easy "we'll do this, you do that" kind of collaboration. In fact, while the advantages to cross - collaboration are many, there are equally many roadblocks that will prevent a project taking off. In fact, as Macleod - Mulligan and Kubon (2015) state "it can be difficult to begin or sustain such a partnership". An additional issue they note (and one which will really put paid to interdisciplinary learning) is the connection that the collaborating departments have to work through - time. They describe having one-hour meetings every week to discuss and track the collaboration, which would have teachers running for the hills. Who has an hour to spare each week? Squabbles about budgeting could shut this idea down quickly as well... Jones (2009) identifies time and curriculum integration as problematic as well. It seems this is going to take some thinking through.

The Junior Science scheme lends itself best to being used to set up some sort of collaborative venture, using something like Problem - Based Learning (PBL). It would have to be carefully planned and carried out, though, to ensure one department was not dominating proceedings, and so that equal importance was placed on each section of the learning. Budget holders will need to be placated to ensure equality of costings for materials used. The biggest issue of inter - disciplinary collaboration is the students themselves. Our students are in core classes in Year 9 making collaboration easier, but after that, not all students are taking the same subjects, or at the same time, meaning this will need a great deal of careful planning.


Jones, C.(2009). Interdisciplinary approach - Advantages, disadvantages, and the future benefits of interdisciplinary studies. ESSAI7 (26), 76-81. Retrieved from

Mathison, S., & Freeman, M. (1997). The logic of interdisciplinary studies. In Journal of Development Studies. Chicago.

MacLeod-Mulligan, L., & Kuban, A. . (2015, May). A Conceptual Model for Interdisciplinary Collaboration.

Wednesday 12 October 2016

All of a Twitter - the impact of social media in my PLD

Image result for no man is an island quoteJohn Donne once wrote, "no man is an island, entire of itself" (from Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, published in 1624) and this is true now as then, especially in the world of the 21st Century educator. In the current climate of budget cuts, teachers have to look beyond their own schools for their PLD needs and are turning more and more to social media to extend their learning.

There are three main platforms I use, Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Each has its relative merits and issues, and each allows me to connect with different online communities, although there is always an amount of crossover.

I really only use Facebook to communicate with New Zealand Science teachers in one group and NZ Biology teachers in another, although I do also use the NZQA forum, specifically for updates and moderator's comments. Facebook tends to usually be my more private social medium. These are really useful, closed communities which allow discussion topics and issues, sharing ideas (and assessment tasks) and posting interesting articles.

Google+ has been a steady place for growing my networks for several years now. Mostly, I connect with communities about Google products and education, but it has never caught on as quickly as some of the other platforms. There are a lot of Google product forums, as well as the MindLab communities, which I do use relatively frequently (OK, I use the MindLab one mostly, currently, and I have neglected some of my other communities while doing this Post Grad).

For speedy, bite-sized chunks of information, Twitter has all manner of useful conversations, often with their own hashtag making them easy to follow if one is using a social media management tool (I use Hootsuite) as the hashtag can be saved as a separate stream, thus filtering out the waffle (there are no, or very few posts on Trump in the education streams...)

What Twitter lacks in amount of characters available (140 characters) it makes up for in the types of connections that a busy teacher can make, allowing access to educators around the globe who share  my interests. It is a great place to get an answer to a question or to find something new that someone else is trying, to connect with like-minded people discussing an educational topic, or even to follow what is happening at a conference such as uLearn when you don't attend in person, as discussed by Melhuish (2013).

Where else can you get all of this (free) PD? Yes, it takes some practice to find and interact with the right people, but it is time well spent. There are hashtag conversations on #edchatnz and #scichatnz, places where the conversations are people you run into face to face at conferences and summits (although in some cases it almost amounts to meeting a 'hero' when you meet them for real, I have heard "I follow you on Twitter" more than once!)

The really big deal for me is the generosity and collaborative nature of the networks I have joined. I can get advice from secondary and primary teachers, scientists, people who can help me transform my practice, despite the sometimes overwhelming amount of information out there.

In modern education, we should make sure we are not working alone. The days of clusters where only three people attend, and two of them are there for whatever resources you can provide them with, are nearing an end. I actually can't remember the last time I even went to one of these clusters. Now, when I want to know how to do something neat or learn how to use a tool like OneNote Class Notebook, I turn to my Tweeting colleagues for advice (with thanks to @ibpossum for this last one!)

No teacher should be working alone anymore, even if your colleagues are in a different country and teach a different subject to you, get out and get social.

Melhuish, K.(2013). Online social networking and its impact on New Zealand educators’ professional learning. Master Thesis. The University of Waikato. Retrived on 05 May, 2015 from

Sunday 2 October 2016

Post 5 - Legal and ethical contexts in my digital practice

I started at my current school just over a year ago. Upon arrival in one of my classes, I was told by the teacher temporarily looking after what was to be my classes until my arrival that my students had already checked me out on social media, and had a basic idea who I was. My first thought was "where and how did they find me?" quickly followed by "what did they find?" In answer to the first question, anything from Twitter (the actual culprit), Google+, Blogger, Instagram, Pinterest or Facebook? I knew that personal stuff was all locked down in Facebook (nothing more than a few rants and a couple of swear words in all honesty...) and that my digital footprint was relatively clean. So they found out I have a campervan, am a Science teacher, a Google geek, cat mad and a vegan. Nothing I don't tell my classes in that getting to know you phase at the start of the year. Phew.
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It could have been so different. Had I been a party animal (I'm not!) or done some things that were a tad dubious, posting them online could have been quite problematic. 

Using Social Media with students raises even more ethicla issues. There has been extensive coverage in the New Zealand Herald recently about an inappropriate online and real - life relationship between a teacher and 13 year old female student that ended very badly. Much of this relationship was maintained on social media. This digital communication has been used extensively in court as evidence in this case, clearly breaching the Education Council Code of Ethics for Certificated Teachers (n.d.) across all sections. 
We strive to make our students 21st Century leanrners, connected and collaborating, communicating globally, sharing their learning far and wide. This means the use of Social Media platforms, where potentially a teacher's personal and work lives can become entangled. However, these tools really lend themselves to moder education, and the advantages are often far outweighing any negative aspects.
Some of the issues that are caused through this use of Social Media include 'friending' students on Facebook etc. This means students then have access to everything the teacher does, and vice versa. As students really don't want teachers to know what they have been up to (particularly in the secondary level) it is not appropriate for students to know what teachers are up to either. Teachers (and students) should be very aware of locking down profiles that are personal to the nth degree. A good starting place for information on this would be the Education Council website 'Teachers and Social Media'. 
Hall (2001) discusses how to approach ethical issues to find an answer that is ethically acceptable, and also raises the issue of professionalism - "What would happen if everyone did that?" Does what a person is doing look bad to the students, whanāu, community or profession or cause doubt about the professional competency of the teacher? It is always best to stop and think about it a minute, before becoming yet another headline in the Herald about teacher misconduct. We need to ensure professional distance in our communications with students at all times. The boundaries are increasingly blurred with digital technologies, and it is prudent for a school to consider creating a policy document to guide staff in these matters (Henderson, Auld &Johnson, 2014; Ministry of Education, 2015). This is something we are in the process of considering as more teachers make sue of social media to communicate with students, gratifying that need for immediacy that is a feature of our learners' lives. 
It is good practice for teachers to think about what they share online, especially if it is accessible by students (believe me they WILL find it, if public), but also to ensure privacy settings are set as high as they can for personal accounts. Be aware your audience may include students, whanāu, the wider community, or yoour potential future employer! Remember the internet has a persistence that remains long after the hangover has worn off...
Code of Ethics for Certificated Teachers | Education Council. (n.d.). Retrieved October 2, 2016, from
Hall, A. (2001). What ought I to do, all things considered? An approach to the exploration of ethical problems by teachers. IIPE Conference for Ethics, Law, Justice and …. Retrieved from 2001.pdf
Henderson, M., Auld, G., & Johnson, N. F. (2014). Ethics of teaching with social media. In Australian Computers in Education Conference 2014, Adelaide, SA. Retrieved from
Ministry of Education. (2015). Digital technology - Safe and responsible use in schools. Retrieved from

MindLab 4 - Indigenous knowedge and cultural responsiveness

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The school I work at has a large percentage of Māori students, although Europeans / Pākehā make up the majority of the students. (Stats taken from the ERO website, last inspection May 2016).
In a video about Culturally Responsive Pedagogy, Professor Russell Bishop discusses 6 factors that agentic teachers, those who reject the deficit theory (defining Māori students by their weaknesses rather than their strengths) use regularly in their classrooms. For brevity, these are not going to be specifically discussed here, but are mentioned in the video. However, I can honestly say that these have pointed out areas for my personal improvement in my interactions with Māori students, especially around the co-construction of the learning and use of Māori concepts in teaching and learning. Sometimews we all get so bogged down in the stuff we have to teach (yes, even to the extent of making sure students pass the test...) that we forget to make the real connections that have the best outcomes. One thing I have learned personally, is that the relationship with the students is THE most important thing to achieve. I use humour, eye contact and am non-judgemental about ability based on race, but still could be doing more for my Māori ākonga. Something to focus on in 2017 more.
Vision, mission and core values
Our mission is about creating outstanding young women, who will leave the school well prepared for the next step of their lives as positive contributors to the NZ society. Our motto is "Whakamana ngā wāhine o apōpō - Empowering Tomorrow's Women".
We have vowed to embrace the unique position of our Māori culture, value NZ's cultural diversity, and focus on realising the potential of Māori and other priority learners.
Our values are put together in the Fideliter Code: Mahi tahi (working together), Kia kaha, kia toa (giving our best), Tika me te pono (having integrity) and Manaakitangata (showing respect).
From my perspective as a teacher who has only recently arrived at the school, we appear to be doing quite well at these aspects and this is echoed by the favourable ERO report in 2016. The school is on a path of becoming more culturally repsonsive, working with the Māori leaders to undersatand our biculturality better. Our learners asked us to do this, as they saw their peers leaving school early and dropping by the wayside. The shift towards inclusivity and a Cuturally Reflective Pedagogy has 'snowballed' this year, with initiatives being instigated to really connect with our Māori ākonga and encourage their development, so they feel included and valued.
One of our goals as a school is about changing outcomes for our Māori ākonga, including improving retention of Māori students across all levels, improving their achievement at all levels and making stronger relationships with whānau to support the achievement of individual students and identified groups.
As with all goals, this is a work in progress, but we are making progress. That said, there is never room for complacency, so this goal continues into next year and beyond. There is a move to strengthen the relationships between school and whānau, and support is growing for us in working with the ākonga. Personally, as mentioned above, I need to use more of the experiential learning that comes with each student and feel that this may be the case among some of my peers. Also, specifically within the Science department (I cannot speak for others) there is only latterly a move towards more cultural inclusion in the senior Science areas. The junior curriculum has some aspects of Māori culture (Mataraiki, for example), but this does not extend as well into the senior school. Clearly to help retain our Māori students, we need to be addressing the shortfall in this area. The school goals filter down to department level, and we acknowledge things could be better, but change is happening, and for the right reasons - Empowering Tomorrow's Women.

MindLab post 3

He hono tangata e kore e motu; ka pā he taura waka e motu (Material bonds can be broken; but human bonds endure)

My next post is an issue facing everyone, not just education - sustainability, as identified by CORE as one of their ten trends for 2016. It was also identified in the NZ Curriculum document (MoE, 2007) as a value that we expect a typical New Zealand student to have once they complete their education.

Sustainability has been a keystone of my life, having been involved in many environmental projects. I was first introduced to environmentalist thinking and action by a lecturer at tertiary college who showed me what it means to be an activist for the planet, something I embraced and continue to embrace.
I am a Science educator, but I also have a strong interest in protecting the environment and encouraging students to consider the consequences of their actions on the planet. One of my (minor) actions was creating the Google+ community for NZ EfS teachers.  I believe sustainability to be an interest that crosses all curricular boundaries and can be incorporated into most areas of learning. Nonetheless, Education for Sustainability (EfS) is now a Science subject.

One of the main issues discussed in relation to sustainability is the effect of climate change on the planet (or more specifically anthropogenic climate change), particularly within the Pacific region where Kiribati and Tuvalu are approaching the point of disappearing under the waves due to rising sea levels (Morton, 2016).

Other issues that are also equally important are the uses of resources closer to home, such as depletion of fish stocks and pollution of our waterways by industry and agriculture. These are issues that can be discussed with classes of students. CORE recommend that students are also shown how to take action over issues; something I have long promoted and continue to promote, both in the classroom and outside of it. 

This diagram shows what the goals of EfS are, and show the inter - connectedness of society as well as education in sustainability. 
CORE have also identified that as a result of the access to technology that students now have, they are better able to connect with other students around the world or source information about issues. Part of the role of the teacher, therefore, could be to help students navigate this huge wealth of sometimes not too truthful information. The New Zealand government and various powerfully rich mining companies would have us believe that fracking is not likely to cause any issues around our shores. As Tui beer would say, Yeah, Right.
As educators, we can encourage students to become more active for the planet. More schools should be encouraging students to focus on the small stuff and  see how this feeds into the big stuff. 

Currently, EfS is not as prominent in the NZC as many educators would like, and is not even a compulsory strand, rather a recommendation (Eames, Cowie and Bolstad, 2008). There is a wealth of information available to all teachers, to assist in the implementation of sustainability education, especially in New Zealand where we have resources and guidelines available through TKI. The day will come when all educators play a part in educating students about the environment and sustainability, but for the moment I am happy to be part of the vanguard!


Eames, C., Cowie, B., & Bolstad, R. (2008). An evaluation of characteristics of environmental education practice in New Zealand schools. Environmental Education Research, 14(1), 

Ministry of Education. (2007). The New Zealand Curriculum for English-medium teaching and learning in years 1–13. Wellington: Learning Media.

Morton, J. (2016). Pacific nations desperate for climate action - Climate Change - NZ Herald News. Retrieved October 2, 2016, from