Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Just a diary entry I suppose

Had a couple of issues today - first year teacher moments I suppose. Learned a lot.

In the Learning Area taster I ran today, I was not expecting so many students to turn up. That's not an excuse, that's my first mistake. The taster I was running was supposed to show off science. I thought it would be a cool idea to do a physics/engineering thing, where students use some materials to build a catapult or something which could otherwise move a bouncy ball as far from a line as possible. I deliberately didn't suggest a catapult, knowing full well that with rubber bands available the majority of such devices would be slingshots. There were, however, some excellent ideas using balloons and string, along with some rocketish devices. They didn't work of course (how could they after just an hour) but I was very impressed. Now that I write this I don't know what I was so worried about, they actually did some cool stuff. I think I just need to loosen up.

What wasn't cool was the way they left Foxtrot, after I deliberately left what I thought would be an ample 7 minutes for clean up. Many simply made more mess by popping balloons, and I think one of them skewered his hand. I was left with but a few valiant souls helping tidy up. A lot of stuff I expected to be returned, wasn't.

Next time I do this on Friday, I will prepare some packets for individual groups with limited resources to prevent wastage, and confine ourselves in a smaller area to keep an eye on them. I also think I will structure the time more carefully, to emphasise the plan-build-trial-improve cycle, get some proper learning out of them.

Anyway, this is too short but I'm going to bed. I promise more effort tomorrow after a much anticipated all day community meeting.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Communication and creativity

Left this a bit late today, I hope that I can get adequate fodder for these posts once modules get underway. I do have a couple of things to talk about though.

Resisting the urge to coin 'gin and tonic Tuesday'.

Today at HPSS we handed out our module selection booklets. It was an interesting experience to watch my hub students look over the booklet with excitement, in the case of the year 10's, and confusion, in the case of the year 9's. We have a complicated system, and I didn't really realise how complicated it was until I tried to explain it in detail. It required a very long email to all their parents today.

Attached to said email - a picture which captures us all perfectly.
My worry here is that parents will read my email and immediately freak out about it. I realised that I had been expecting complete acceptance of the way we do things from parents, which is obviously not something I should take for granted. Good thing I thought about it today as I was establishing our lines of communication. One set of parents is already on my side. I'm hoping I can get or keep most of them on board. Hopefully this won't be something to worry about.

Going on a tangent now. The #scichatnz today was about creativity in science and its importance. I got there a bit late, so I will write about it here instead. I think creativity is central to the NoS strand Investigating in Science, in that before one can design and carry out an investigation, one must have a question to answer. Coming up with the question requires creativity and curiosity. Coming up with the investigation requires creativity and science knowledge and skills. Using the results of the investigation to inform further questions requires creativity yet again, and shows SOLO extended abstract thinking. Where is the room for this creativity in traditional classrooms, where content trumps skill, and practicals trump open inquiry? For real scientists, doing real science, creativity is central to new developments and discoveries. When can science students experience such a thing? I'm glad that 'creative' is one of our Hobsonville habits, it has a real place in the sciences.

Monday, 9 February 2015


Happy Merlot Monday everyone! We can just make up holidays, right?
Happy Merlot to me
Anyway, today I thought I would write about teamwork. Today I experienced teamwork at least three times, and I guess I'm still riding on the coattails of Thursday's theme of partnerships.

The biggest teamworky thing that happened today was a meeting with the parents of one of my hub students. I won't go into details of what the meeting was about or why we were meeting, in the interest of privacy, but I really felt like we were part of a team working together for the best interests of this student. The parents were really keen to establish some processes for communication, but to begin with it felt like they were looking to me for all the answers. I think they expected that I would have everything all worked out and ready for them to just accept or deal with as best they could. When I asked for their opinions and their thoughts, mainly because I don't really know what I'm doing (but they don't know that!), they seemed quite surprised. I was surprised at their surprise! After all, they are the parents, and they know much more about their child than I will ever know. It really felt like a spirit of collaboration in the room, where the student, the parents and I were all suggesting and judging ideas. Together we came up with some good stuff that everyone happily agreed upon. I think we really are a team now, together more able to help the student deal with their challenges. It felt good, and it felt right for the school. I hope I can entice other parents to come along to school with the promise of coffee and biscuits.

The second teamworkly thing from today was Liz and I sorting out what we will do on our first day of our module. A minor enough thing perhaps, but this will be my first 'real' class at HPSS, and planning it out feels like quite the milestone. I love what we came up with, and I think it will be an absolutely fantastic introductory lesson. Biology is not my forte, despite my medical school history, so starting with a biology themed term is a challenge for me (on top of all the other challenges!) but I am confident in our ideas, excited by the possibilities for project based learning in science, and enthused by the ideas that Liz and I have come up with. It's a good thing I am writing this blog, because I think I will need to tap into this wellspring of enthusiasm and energy when the semester is half done! I know that it probably won't all go according to plan, but I just hope it all goes right. 

Finally, the last teamworkish thing that happened was delicious. Amber makes the cupcakes, and I clean up after her!
Shame there isn't enough for all of you. I guess the only fair thing to do is eat them all myself.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Maori learning in Physics: Part 2

Hopefully this post will conclude the Maori learning themed weekend. It is an area of great interest to me, but honestly I have no idea what I am talking about, and neither experience nor theory upon which to draw to inform my opinions. But anyway.

I was thinking about culture in Physics. Acknowledging that there is a culture in Physics to get used to is, I think, an important first step. It is important to do this because we run the risk of excluding those students who do not feel included in what's going on. Students should feel like they are in the midst of Science, part of the process. even if they are struggling, rather than outsiders looking in. How might we include students so that they feel part of the process of Physics, rather than a passive audience?

I think that emphasising the skills of Physics is important. By practising skills rather than trying to grasp concepts. students can learn what it is like to do science as well as understand it. A common complaint from the few schools I have been in is that it simply takes too much time to do experiments, time required to go over the important concepts in class. But this just means replacing skills with concepts again, an approach which alienates those who can't immediately grasp the important ideas. A shift in thinking is required, from lecture based (or near enough) concept transmission to open inquiry and skills.

A lot of good thinking has gone into Maori achievement in Science, but not a lot into Physics in particular. I think this is because Physics is simply not very popular with Maori students, who elect not to take the subject (tried looking for proper statistics but now I only have 3 minutes left - I'll edit in later). This is seen by those I have talked to as a reason not to worry about Maori success at all. I see it as part of the problem. Rather than being pleased enough with not needing to worry about targeted learners, Physics teachers need to think about how to make their subject more appealing to a broader profile of learners. This is not only an ethical concern - we should be making our subject accessible to everyone as a matter of course - but we should also be ready to accept other views and cultures which can enrich our subject. My hope is that the cross-curricular learning at HPSS will help with this, and one day provide me with further insight which can enrich my own practise.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Maori learning in Physics: Part 1ish

Today I'm going to try to follow on from yesterday's post. I've been trying to find resources to help me out with today's post, but this has proved to be difficult. I'm not sure how to improve Maori outcomes in Physics, and I'm not sure anyone is. There are some good ideas about improving Science in general, but I think Physics specifically hasn't received a lot of attention in this area. As far as I know. After about 3 hours of searching the internet. Look, I know I'm not an expert, but this interests me and I have to write about something.

From what I can tell, Physics as a subject suffers from several problems when it comes to Maori learners. First, it is content heavy. Second, it is culturally blind. Third, physics classrooms frequently have very few Maori learners at all anyway.

The problem with being content heavy is that the pedagogy leaves very little room for student voice. There have been strides made in looking at open inquiry and better pedagogy, and here I feel I should mention my favourite handy little book Five Easy Lessons (a play on the title of the famous Feynman lecture collection Five Easy Pieces). These approaches, however, typically remain teacher-focussed with some room for experiments where students can hopefully explore, but more likely confirm, the theory. There is no room for students to own their learning, because the pedagogy remains heavily assessment focussed. Students can choose to learn what they like, as long as it is examined content. At the Physics teacher's day last year I attended a workshop to learn how to assess Modern Physics in a project format rather than a test, and the discussion during the workshop convinced even the person taking it that a test is a better format, mainly because it is easier to mark. Obviously, this is a problem which affects all students, not just Maori learners. While other students can feel included in the learning community, however, Maori students are often on the outside looking in. Which brings me to my next point.

Physics teachers do not realise that physics is a culture as well as a lump of content. It is a culture that stems from European empiricism, and remains very European in its outlook. It comes in part from belief in the scientific method, in that the only things which can be said to be true are those backed up by experimental data and can be described in mathematics. At the same time, there is a semi-mystical element to physics culture, which comes across in a great deal of popular science. Often we talk about 'beauty' in mathematics and physics, 'wonder' at the universe. Now, all this isn't to say that I think this culture is a bad thing. I consider myself part of it, and have often found beauty in symmetry and wonder in cosmology. The difficulty comes where there is a tacit denial that this is a culture which students must become part of, or at least be aware of, if they are to really 'get' physics. Physics teachers get it, and have a reputation for being zany (or boring, but I think the boring ones don't 'get' it either). Without it physics is a series of tasks, mastering looking up formulae on a sheet. So we hope that some students will just 'get' it eventually, and they will be the successful ones, the ones who really enjoy the subject and will be eager for more. The thing is, this is much easier for someone who has already grown up in a culture which is compatible with physics. In order to really engage physics students, I think we need to acknowledge the culture of physics and explore it. We need to make it accessible to Maori culture, by perhaps incorporating some elements from it, but at least by acknowledging this difficulties Maori students face.

My time is up; looks like this weekend is going to be Maori themed. I like it.

Friday, 6 February 2015

HPSS part 3: Waitangi day

I should have planned this out a bit more carefully, because now I've all but caught up to now. I'll have to start posting insights to teaching and learning or something rather than treating this like a glorified diary. I'm sure I'll think of something.

Today is Waitangi Day, the glorious anniversary of the signing of the founding document of our country. As long as you ignore the earlier Declaration of Independence, which by and large we are happy to do. I think the sky tower is lit up in celebratory black and white, but it's hard to tell.

Black and white and... pink? Do we even have national colours?
Yesterday we had a celebration of Waitangi Day under the theme of 'partnership'. I thought the day was great fun, and from all appearances it was a marvellous success. I'm quite sunburnt, but such is the price for enjoying the outside.

As a New Zealander, I am very proud of our partnership with the Maori people. We colonial oppressors haven't done right by them in the past, not by a long shot, but considering the treatment other native populations faced at the hands of the Spanish in Central and South America, the Belgians in the Congo, and the British literally everywhere else, we have done pretty well. As teachers, we have a special obligation to focus on improving the learning of Maori students. In physics, this is a big challenge. Though a lot of good work has been done on facilitating improved achievement of Maori students in science, I have never seen those principles put into action, and I feel that this is an area in which I personally have a lot of room to grow.

One of the ways in which we can make learning more accessible to Maori students is by using culturally appropriate contexts. This presents a concern in Science, which prides itself (if I may anthropomorphize an entire learning area) on being content focussed. Recently, I have come to see the content not as such, but instead as context for the real learning. The hope for students who have studied physics is not that they remember how to calculate the orbital distance of a satellite or the resonant frequency of a series RCL circuit, but that they can look at a situation analytically, break down a problem into components, and communicate scientifically with clarity. Is there a way we can teach those skills in physics in a more appropriate context? I don't know - I need to think about it some more and my time is nearly up. 

I'll continue on the subject tomorrow I think. Hopefully I will have something more interesting to say.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

HPSS part 2: Hub time

Wow, what a day. Had a lovely time during our Waitangi Whanau day, celebrating Waitangi and how cool it is to be a New Zealander. Whilst many childlings were unimpressed at the significance, I think many were very engaged by the day. I'm exhausted, but I have told myself that my reward for this post tonight is gin and a watching of Emperor's New Groove. Although I would live to write more about it now, I said I would write about my experiences with my hub, and that is what I shall do.

Though I had been briefed during the induction on what I would be doing with my hub as a learning coach, to be honest I was more focussed on what I would be doing during the small learning modules and SPIN classes. I'm glad that I have these two weeks of intensive hub-focussed time to get to know the students in my hub, because they feel like the most important kids. They feel like my favourites, and I think that's the way it's meant to be. That's not to say that they have no issues - I suspect already that I will be keeping a close eye on some, waiting for something to go wrong, whilst for others I will be constantly pushing, just gently, reminding them of what they need to be doing. I am going to make sure these kids do their best, dammit, and get the most out of school life. It feels quite cool to be this fired up.

So: specifics. The first day with our hubs we were assigned a challenge: to shoot and edit a film about one of our Hobsonville Habits. We were out at the playground (and what a neat playground it is, too - fits nicely with the imaginative architecture around the area) and things were going to pot. I felt my inadequacies keenly. Here I was, finally responsible on my own for a bunch of kids, and I wasn't pulling them together, enthusing them in the activity, getting any good work out of them. I tried my best, I think, loathe to suggest ideas but quick to suggest ways to get ideas, loathe to take the lead (trying to prod one of the year 10's to step up - eventually a year 9 did!) but not willing to let them do nothing. After trying to prod some action out of them, I think I did the right thing and took a back seat, letting them figure their own ideas out, and shoot their own video.

It made for some terrible footage, but that's not the point.

Later, once we got back to the school, they really started to pull together. Kids who had stayed quiet seat earlier were coming up with ideas and putting them into action. Kids who had mucked around were keen to try things to add to the video. We had music, we had footage, and we did what we can.

My biggest regret is that I took the movie home to finish off, to edit and polish. I had fun doing it, and I learned a lot about iMovie and what makes some truly terrible footage (maybe I am my father's son after all). My regret is that one of the kids didn't have that experience that I had. No one in the hub was proficient with editing software, you see. I wasn't either, but I could figure it out. I'm still not sure what I would do if I hadn't taken the film to finish off, though. Only one person could edit, since splicing together clips from several different people into a coherent whole is difficult enough. It still doesn't seem fair to ask that one of them figure it out and finish of the film in one evening. Maybe if I had a week.

So the film ended up being more my vision than theirs, and that's not something I am proud of starting out at this school. It's certainly something worth reflecting on - I need to make sure that I have student voice in the vision and drive of my classes, otherwise it ends up being more about me than about them. I'm pretty sure that my ideas for the upcoming modules and SPIN classes will provide that choice and flexibility, but I need to make sure that I ask for advice and help when I am unsure.

After the film festival yesterday, I got my hub to do a short reflection on the film. I asked them the share with me what they were most proud of and what they would do differently next time. Their responses were great, albeit brief. I was most proud of the way that my hub kids became more confident through the day to suggest and test their ideas. Next time, I would get the kids to lead the activity, assigning roles to the quiet ones if need be, so that everyone has a focus and they are in control. I hope I can always find a way to do that.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Notes concerning open enquiry from the Physics Teacher's Day 2014

Physics teacher day
These are rough notes taken during the presentations and workshops. Hopefully I will be able to clean them up later

Keynote presentation - Dr Manju Sharma
Part 1 - Veritasium
Specialized pedagogy - physics is special

Veritasium video - explicit addressing of misconceptions important otherwise students think they are being told what they already 'know'

Ian's contribution - concept cartoons good for misconceptions

Videos also good for POE model


Part 2 - Simon Crook

In 2009 in Australia, half students got laptops and half did not. Check results of both groups

After multiple regression, effect size (Hattie) of 0.38 is large

Physics teacher a using more simulations, spreadsheets and 'science software'

Part 3

Handy model for evaluating the 'level of inquiry' based on some criteria

Fenella Colyer's presentation

Workshop with Manju Sharma

Urgency to move towards inquiry - making the certain tentative (?)

Example of inquiry

Notes from the disappointing 2.5/3.5 workshop during the Physics Teacher's Day

2.5/3.5 project based assessment

Marking time

Why do we do the test approach?
Very little available for resources - how do we know that the research task is to the requirements of the standard?
Marking language is difficult and tedious.
Favorable feedback from moderators.
Possible to do research with a test at the end of it.
ESOL students find research very difficult.

Does a test give the best possible opportunity to be fairly assessed?
 -test marks on par with national stats
 -easy to mark merit vs excellence
 -NZIP moderated, ready to go

How can we go about a research assessment?
 -marking schedule directly from TKI
 -use google docs to provide feedback during research, make sure students are doing the right things, instant private and personalized feedback, improves authenticity

From the mouth of Dave Thrasher
 -2.5 in yr 11, 3.5 in yr 12 (level 1 physics class)
 -still defaulting to the test

How do we find time to do 2.5/3.5?
 -take out 2.1/3.1
 -drop waves
 -after school tutorials

Consensus seems to be test is better

HPSS part 1: The induction

This will be my first proper post, which I am finally attempting under the auspices of the '28 day challenge'. What follows is 28 minute's worth of unedited writing. Take it at face value I suppose.

This is not the reason I decided I would begin blogging. It was, however, my intention to document my experience as a beginning teacher at HPSS, thereby tracking my growth and giving me something nice to look back on when I need some encouragement further down the line. Of course, the prospect of using these posts as evidence for my PTC's is no hurt either.

Still don't know how to tag things properly, but one thing at a time.

To begin, I think, a quick retrospective on the first few days at my new school. It has now been just a week since I started, but so much has happened in that time that I am worried that already important things have slipped from my memory. Damn. Oh well.

Walking through the doors of my new school last Tuesday, I ran straight into the thick of a conversation already in progress. Ensnared in the midst of a social interaction in which my nearly entirely uncaffinated self was ill-equipped to participate (I believe I managed to maintain an outward fa├žade of attention), I was relieved when there was discovered coffee in the staff room. An ignoble beginning, and maybe not the best attitude, but there it is.

The next few days were a barrage of information. All important things, of course - restorative practise, being a learning coach, how modules work, assessment, big projects, blended learning. As is always the case when presented with a great deal of information in a short time, the experience was exhausting. I feel like I kept on top of the information, and time will tell if I have truly absorbed it all, but so far there have been no calamities. It's a shame my desk is made of glass, but it's a good thing I am not superstitious. The experience did mean that my brain shut down rather suddenly every night once I arrived home, but the sleep was all the more blissful for the effort.

I really do believe in what we are doing at HPSS. Everything which was mentioned during the induction makes sense. Why the school does what it does makes sense. I think there is a perception, certainly amongst those to whom I have failed to sufficiently explain the system, that what we do is far to experimental. A nice idea, but it will inevitably fail. You and I know that such an assertion is untrue; to me, it feels right. It feels reasonable. It feels inevitable.

I think that's where the buzz that I get from the school comes from. That feeling of excitement that transmutes the everyday. Obviously it is still early days, but already I feel like I am getting to plan exactly the sorts of things that I want to do. Now, it's not about me. But just for the first few days, I am happy to self-indulge: I am part of the future, and I love it.

28 minutes are up. Next time, my experiences with my hub. Hopefully if I have a plan for next time it will force me to continue with this.