Thursday 17 December 2020

Planning - a nightmare...

I used to have the ubiquitous black planner when I started teaching and this was carted around to each of my lessons (I'm not sure why...) Since I decided that this was not a good idea, I have played with various digital solutions instead, as this is more accessible (and portable) and also has in-built flexibility.

My problem is, I can't decide what system to use, and spend more time than I should trying, creating and scrubbing digital planners, many of which start with the basics of the black planbook and build on that.

I started with Planbook which has a myriad of features, but costs money I don't want (or need) to be
spending. Also, there were issues in terms of timings for me. Our school has a six day timetable with Tuesdays and Thursdays having different timings to the other days. I had to create an 'alternate schedule' for Tuesday week 1, Thursday week 1 and so on, meaning a LOT of additional messing about. 

The next stop was a free programme, similar but with not as many features (still very good though) called Planboard. Visually appealing, and easier for the changeable schedule as I can just adjust the individual day as needed. It irks me that I cannot see the whole day in one go as the boxes are a bit large. Just a small niggle, but one that pushes me away sometimes.

Both of these have grading features and class attendance recording, but both are geared towards the US system for grading - the grade for each piece of work counts towards an overall final grade, not something I want for New Zealand style assessment. Also, both of these features are completed by my SMS (Kamar), so why duplicate?

A NZ-based planner is iUgo. It is designed for our schools and curriculum but is so stupidly expensive (over $100 per year per person!) that I am going to say no more about it. I tried the trial version, and it is not as intuitive or nice to work with as the price would suggest it should be. Absolute fail on most counts (especially the cost, do they think teachers are paid well??)

Another option I have tried multiple variants of is using one or other Google Apps. Docs - created a list of lessons, have done lesson plans through a form that automatically generates a lesson plan etc (like I put that much thought and effort into planning...) Sheets - one week per tab, one sheet per term, have to use Ctrl+Enter to write on a new line, keep fiddling about with the format etc. Slides - I've created my own fabulous planner and tried some of the available ones (Slidesmania has some good templates, but not quite what I am looking for). The other issue is then having to add things like date, day, times, school cycle day etc. Then when you factor in all of the stuff that takes students from the classroom (photos, sports, swimming, relationship talks etc), sometimes things need a whole rejig and a lot of copying and pasting of events from one place to the next. #SIGH#

I'm starting to run out of options.

I tend to fall back on Google Calendar, colour code each class and add links to Drive items etc as necessary. It's not visually the best system (can't tell at a glance what I have planned or whether I need resources such as science gear etc), but I tend to just use emojis to denote specific things to jog my memory, like in the image below, and I can download it straight from Kamar to make it easier to load all of the timetable for the year in.

I don't suppose the perfect system exists for me, but I know I'll keep playing and trying (and getting frustrated and getting rid of) different planner systems. I never seem to be completely at a loss in the lesson, even if not planned to the nth degree (actually, these are often my better lesson...)

I would love to know how everyone else copes with planning. I view it as a necessary evil and will continue as I am for now!

Wednesday 18 November 2020

 I really wanted to use this to record what I am up to in my classroom, and yet here I am again not having done my reflections for quite some time. There never seems to be enough hours in the week to keep on top of everything, and Arinui has fallen by the wayside too. Added to which, this has been the year of COVID and things have been wayward to say the least.

I have spent a lot more time than I might ordinarily trying to ensure all of my work is able to move to an online model if the worst happens and we return to lockdown. I have been invested heavily in the digital education world for quite a few years and most of my work has been hosted through Classroom for the past five years, but it still made me rethink my workflow.

Since we got back into school, I have tried to focus on the courses I have and the students I am teaching and I've had a lot of fun with the Life On Mars course again, and have really just ticked along with the 9s and 10s. My combined 12/13 ESS class has been a bit of an issue. There have been several students who lost the plot and never found it again. It has been difficult to run full courses for both, so it has been done a lot as a flipped model and several of the students have really responded well to this model, although the assessments come in at random times making marking a chore.

One real success came with a field trip I managed to get organised, to the large radio telescope at Warkworth (AUT own and operate this) followed by a trip to the Rocket Lab factory for a look around. This was on the day of a successful launch and the feeling was tangible in the factory. No photos sadly, as we were not allowed cameras or phones inside, but it was AWESOME.

Students found both fascinating, and I have students interested in going to work for both places which is a real win. I'll do what I can to promote the space industry to the girls I work with!

One of my roles this year has been part of the Kahui Ako In School teacher positions with a focus on STEAM. Some good that has come of this has been the creation of a 21st Century class for our y9s which each core class will go through 2 lessons per cycle for the whole year, where we can deliver digital citizenship and learning skills. All of the STEAM teachers also went to the STEAM conference in Auckland (the only conference I have got to this year). There was very little that was of direct benefit to our school (especially at the price we paid for the tickets) but it confirmed we are on the right track.

Now the seniors are gone, the y11s are out from Monday, both 12 and 13 ESS papers are done with, and there are very few lessons with my y10s left, so I am looking forward to 2021 and a change of classes. I am going to have a separate 13ESS and 12ESS class (oh yes!), 2 of the aforementioned 21st C skills classes and I am also going to be involved in the Switch programme, our integrated learning class for y9 and 10s. I have never been involved before, and am looking forward to this. I will also be doing the digital learning stuff, as well as being a Kokiri leader and part of the STEAM kahui ako staff. It's amazing how much time can be spent on all of these other projects!

I'm looking forward to posting my reflections, but I know it's not going to be regular enough... We'll see how I go with this!

Thursday 23 April 2020

Isolation reflections

I have been fortunate with this lockdown in that I already have a suite of tools to use in remote learning and my courses lend themselves to students working on their own and just checking in when they need help.

It has still been trying (motivation has been lacking, and I help the staff at our school get going with online/ digital learning which has been demanding). The other thing that I have found most trying is actually not being in the room with my kids; the banter is still there online but it's not the same. I miss them. A lot. I might even tell them that...

It looks like we are on track to lower our alert levels a little in a week's time. Our new normal is going to get a little weirder because we will be able to access the school and can have a limited number of essential students (only y9 and 10) in with a 1m gap between everyone at all stages.

They will be in a specific classroom, with specific teachers, but the majority of learners are being told to stay home and we have to continue with our online learning stuff while also being in school. The learners that come in will be working on the same stuff as those at home. I still won't be with the majority of my students and will continue teaching them asynchronously. More time at my little desk ahead, but it is comfortable and has everything I need!

One thing I have observed from all of this is that teachers are soooo much more versatile, flexible and resilient than people often give us credit for. We were given very little time to prepare to completely change the way we did everything, and we did it. We set up our home offices, sometimes with whiteboards and other props, sometimes just the computer and books. New tools have been learned rapidly, and the tech toolbox of so many people has been increased.

I am so proud of my colleagues, at my school and even globally for embracing change in the face of adversity with the minimum of fuss. I salute you all for the work you have put in for the learners and am proud to be a part of such a cool profession.

Kia kaha, Aotearoa!

Tuesday 17 March 2020

Interesting times...

Today, the stats on the COVID19 pandemic are 182,834 infected, 7174 dead and 79.885 recovered (from working out to about 8% mortality rate on average (despite the fact that most of these deaths are in China, Iran and Italy. It is worrying a lot of people, causing panic among others (toilet paper panic buying - I mean, why??)

Image result for coronavirusOne of the positive things that has come out of this from an educational point of view is that many of the big educational apps are giving their best tools away for free or reduced rates to schools and students where closures had been put in place or are threatened. It has also been positive seeing the way educators are stepping up and offering to help others that have less experience in distance learning. The overarching message is that we are all in this together, which is more than can be said for the idiots that are stocking up on everything in the supermarkets leaving nothing for those that really need them.

I am busy compiling a list of tools for local schools in case we have to go into the distance learning mode. We are all crossing fingers hoping it doesn't happen, but NZ has had quite a rise in cases in the last few days (50% increase) and our first school student (not at my school!) is now in a self-isolation situation due to their father testing positive for COVID-19.

All big sports, music and cultural events are cancelled or postponed, and we are all waiting for the day the Ministry of Health tells us we have to consider shutting down. In the meantime, we have posters around about social distancing and hand washing and are operating on a day-to-day basis.

Trying to keep a lid on misinformation and reducing concern are also becoming daily issues; easier for me as a former virologist (I used to work with all sorts of viruses including coronaviruses). Students and staff are understandably uneasy, especially as we have international students who are concerned about their families back home (as well as not knowing if they are going to be sent home early, or even able to fly at all).

There could be some opportunities arising from all of this. It may open up more options in terms of making learning more flexible, allowing teachers to create different learning experiences, not necessarily confined to the classroom. We, as educators have to rethink the way we are teaching in the face of this pandemic. It has all happened rather quickly so we haven't had a lot of time to get ready for online learning, but as the saying goes, necessity can be the mother of invention and it may be the time to innovate like crazy to meet the challenges of continuing working in this situation.

These are interesting times we are living in, and mildly scary. Keep safe everyone, wash those hands, keep social distancing, no physical contact and we'll get through this. Be kind to one another and stop hoarding toilet roll!

Tuesday 3 March 2020

2020 beginnings

We are already into week 6 of term 1 and I haven't got near this up to this point, so I feel I need to do some catch ups.

It has been a crazy manic start, but when isn't it? I had six field trips to get sorted, which seems to get more complicated annually. I understand this is for the students' safety, but it can detract from the fun of getting out and doing science in the wild as it were...

This year has seen me picking up half a year 9 class (not that I wanted them, but they are actually really cute!), a year 10 science class, an 11 Forensics and Marine science class (I've never taught this particular course before, but am finding it fun), and a combined Level 2 & 3 Earth and Space Science class. This is proving tricky to run both courses at the same time, as the content doesn't totally cross over. The rest of my time is divided between upskilling students and staff in digital learning and teaching (my Google time) and working as a COL in-school facilitator looking at pushing STEAM across the school, and continuing as a Kokiri leader (see earlier posts for more about this).

Image result for steamThe COL job has been a bit of a slow starter as we don't really know where to start or what we are actually supposed to be doing. We are starting to get some traction now, but it is quite vague. Part of where we need to be looking is at the integration of the Digital Curriculum which became compulsory in years 1 - 10 in all NZ schools in January. Most of our staff have no idea what this means - a lot of work for us, I feel, in some cases.
And those field trips? Paperwork all done, one snorkeling trip to Reotahi marine reserve done, one y12 ESS trip to Kawiti Caves done, one more y12 trip tomorrow, snorkeling at Goat Island next week and two y13 ESS trips the week after. Who says teaching is boring?

Pic of students working hard on their marine survey.