Learning is....
Planting a seed in our brain... learning to
water, nurture and grow it.... so we ca
n live on the fruit of our learning
and plant more seeds.

Monday, 10 October 2016

ULearn16: Breakout Three - Research and inquiry Symposium: Play and creativity

My theme for choosing my breakouts for ULearn16 was something I am interested in but do not necessarily know enough about.

I am not known as a junior teacher.  I dabble as a reliever in New Entrant and junior classes and the like, but I consider it is a specialist learning and teaching area, an area where you need special and talented teachers.  I, so far, have neither been that special or that talented at this level.  My personal philosophy has always been I preferred teaching kids who can tie their own shoe laces, pack their bag and cover their mouth before coughing and sneezing.

Play-based learning is defined by Wikipedia as:

Learning through play is a term used in education and psychology to describe how a child can learn to make sense of the world around them. Through play children can develop social and cognitive skills, mature emotionally, and gain the self-confidence required to engage in new experiences and environments.

I strongly believe in the benefits of play-based learning in the early years of school, especially for oral language and the soft skills of problem solving, working with others, creativity and so on.  My thoughts have their roots in how I learnt as a child, starting school in late 1978, with the influences of Beeby, Tovey and Richardson still ringing in the ears of my teachers in my primary school years.

I was a bit of a free-range pre-schooler, as my brother and I never went to kindy, and my mother didn't like the way the other children behaved at playgroup, so we were socialised with coffee groups, tennis afternoons, potluck dinners, a truckload of cousins and country freedom.  Our mother read us lots of books and sang songs and did nursery rhymes with us when we were not digging in our sandpit (which was huge as it extended into the carpark for our house), tunnelling through the long grass on our tennis court/calf paddock, charging around on our tricycles, or going for rides in a truck or on a combine or tractor with either Dad or one of the workers.  I was also investigating worms and bees in my spare time.  We had a variety of animals, went to the beach and went on day trips and holidays to visit relatives in far away towns.  We had lots of experiences and talked about them around the table at breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Today children often spend much of their pre-school years in an early childhood learning centre.  Most of these are teacher led, supported by untrained "teachers" who should not be referred to as such without training or registration.  Kindergartens have had to adapt from their original purpose of a play-based learning philosophy to a semi-daycare purpose to stay alive.  Parent led services like Playcentre and play groups struggle to stay afloat with the push and necessity of mothers going back into the workforce.  Kohanga Reo nests have faced their own challenges.

The government has a goal to get 95% of children into early childhood education settings, but I am concerned that quantity is overtaking the quality.  There are a number of indicators that not all children are getting the best start in life when they are turning up at school with poor oral language skills, questionable gross and fine motor skills and other questions over their readiness for school.

Several weeks ago the New Zealand Herald published an article exposing the high numbers of five year olds starting school unable to form a coherent sentence.

Some children are starting school without the ability to speak in sentences, sparking a government investigation.
Education Minister Hekia Parata has asked officials to look into what is behind the apparent trend and what can be done to address it.
One school principal has told the Herald that New Zealand-born children at his school spoke with American accents because they'd learned to speak watching the Disney Channel.  (NZ Herald, 15/9/16)

I recall having a student at the school I was at in 2011 starting school with an American accent despite having Kiwi parents and never having gone overseas.  And I have come across an ever increasing amount of children who struggle to speak a proper sentence, lack vocabulary or do not enounce words correctly.  And we all know, as teachers, that without solid oral language skills that children will struggle to learn to read, write and spell, and then there is a flow on to all other learning areas.

These are all reasons why I believe the early years of primary school should be play-based to get the best start in their primary school journey and onwards.  This is why I choose to attend this breakout led by three ULearn16 eFellows.

This is the abstract of the breakout on the ULearn16 website:

PART A: Promoting storytelling through the arts in an early childhood setting - Christine Alford
PART B: Play as learning in junior classrooms - Keryn Davis
PART C: Play is the way - Caroline Bush

PART A: Promoting storytelling through the arts in an early childhood setting - Christine Alford
In this presentation I will share the findings of my CORE Education eFellowship research investigating the use of storytelling for oral language development. My interest in this began when I studied the literature of Ann Pelo and attended the Opal School in Oregon, where their curriculum is firmly founded on the practice of storytelling.

The overall aim of this action research project was to increase oral language skills for children in my early childhood setting. More specifically I wanted to explore using the arts as a medium for storytelling. I began by looking at what children’s perceptions of storytelling were, asking them: Where do stories live? This began my journey of surprises, leading me to rethink the many assumptions I held about how children viewed and perceived stories. Using a qualitative approach I collected data by recording the stories of children and their whānau, through observations, conversations and written reflections.
The findings of this project - which are in progress - will show that children’s understanding of storytelling is very different to what the adults within our setting predicted; how unpacking these understandings took time, yet were the necessary first steps in the process of supporting children to freely share their stories through the arts.
Those attending this session will be challenged to rethink and unpack their own understandings of what stories are. They will gain strategies for developing a storytelling culture which supports all children to share their stories in a manner which fosters and enhances oral language skills.
PART B: Play as learning in junior classrooms - Keryn Davis
his presentation shares the findings of a research project undertaken by a team of new entrant teachers and a researcher as they re-designed the experience of school for new-entrant and Y1 children at Mairehau Primary School in Christchurch. The teachers were interested in how they might provide greater continuity for children transitioning from ECE to school by making changes to the physical environment, the pedagogy, and what learning is valued (and how this learning happens) for children in their first years of school.

The project builds on research undertaken in ECE and school settings in New Zealand on children’s working theories, learning dispositions and key competencies, and transitions from ECE to school. The project also draws on connections to research and literature from similar projects in other parts of the world such as Northern Ireland and Scotland.
The research was framed around the following questions:
  • How might teachers design curriculum (and environments) that support learning outcomes described in the New Zealand Curriculum that also: Supports children’s transitions from ECE to school?
  • Responds to young children’s interests and motivations?
  • What teaching pedagogies encourage children’s thinking, creativity and inquiry in new-entrant classrooms?
By building on from the children’s previous ECE experiences the teachers transformed their pedagogy and in re-making the curriculum found ways to embrace play as learning. The discussion around the findings includes how this new approach fostered agency, engagement and belonging, and creative child-led inquiry and projects, in surprising ways.
PART C: Play is the way - Caroline Bush
My ongoing eFellowship project is exploring ways to better understand the oral language of migrant New Entrant learners. I am investigating play based learning ideas which are inclusive and supportive to our learners whose first language is Chinese. This is to see if making some changes in practice would help the learners to improve their spoken English.
For this research I am interviewing and carrying out conversations and observations with: Parents, Teachers, the Senior Leadership Team and the learners. I am exploring teacher beliefs and their effects on practice and student achievement.
The emerging findings are showing a 2 year + improvement in acquisition of Oral Language, an increased level of concentration and engagement from the learners and a deeper understanding on the part of the teachers as to what constitutes learning.

Below is my Storify of the tweets and photos I, and others, did during this presentation.

Some big take-aways for me from this breakout were:
  • how play-based learning strengthened relationships between the teachers and the students.  It enabled the students to develop trust in their teachers.
  • the teachers became better listeners.
  • how play-based learning enabled students to lead the learning and the direction the learning went in, making it truly meaningful and authentic for the children themselves.  It keeps the spark of learning alive in them, when school often extinguishes it due to rigidity.
  • issues from the local environment, such as ants in the class, became a focus for meaningful inquiry and gave authenticity too.
  • because of strengthened relationships and trust between the students and teachers, students were able to express themselves, often disclosing some very private stories (such as the little girl talking about her baby brother dying).  Children used their storytelling to make sense of the world around them and their experiences.
  • children had permission to leave if the learning did not interest them, they were not engaged in the activity.  Caro found that they often came back when they were ready to do that learning and it stuck better.  Children learn when they are engaged.
  • oral language skills increased 18 months on average.  Despite the school age children being below the standard for reading, writing and maths, they progressed faster in later year groups due to improved oral language mastery.
  • children had a lot of stories to tell and were very imaginative in their play and curious about the world around them.
  • they ditched topic and inquiry learning for play... the inquiry reinvented itself organically from the play.
  • the day started with play, and more formal activities for literacy and numeracy (still play-based) did not happen until after morning tea.  Stories were still written, just not in the traditional sense.
  • they cherry picked the best from the traditional class that would fit in with play-based learning.
  • Caro found she had to shut up and let the children lead, not force the literacy and numeracy into the play and learning.
  • Caro changed her mindset and starting asking the children what they were learning and how they were learning it.
  • Caro learned they were more interested in getting the blocks out at reading time than reading... but they soon drifted over to read a book that interested them, even if it was above their reading ability.
  • Caro said they did report on the National Standards, their children were all below, but the parents were more engaged with the learning narratives that gave more information about their children's learning.  This was part of the development of the culture of their school.  They were not worried that the Ministry may take action in their school as a result as they had data from their students showing the effectiveness in student outcomes of their approach and a majority of their students were ESOL.  They had the data to show improved oral language outcomes.
  • Keryn said the school she worked in expected a drop in outcomes for the National Standards, but were surprised to find, for the first time, everyone was at or above the Standard.
  • students learn a lot of soft skills such as team work, communication, problem solving and taking the initiative that they may not learn doing bookwork or solo projects.

Let's just say that at the end of this breakout, I had my thoughts on play-based learning validated.

Some further reading that you may want to consider includes:

Friday, 7 October 2016

ULearn16: Breakout Five - Hands on science workshop with NanoGirl and OMGTech!

When I went through the breakouts menu and this option came up I was pretty excited.  NanoGirl, aka Michelle Dickinson, is the science poster girl for New Zealand.  She has given science a prominence few others have in the media and she is raising the profile and coolness of science among the student population.

I personally have a mixed relationship to science.  At primary school it wasn't something I actually thought about specifically.  At my primary school I remember us doing bush studies, stream studies, rocky shore studies and going over to the principal's house to look at flowers.  At high school it was a mixed bag.  I really liked chemistry (I love reactions), but biology was a bit so-so (especially trying to understand eye colour and familiar relations!) and physics may as well have been Greek to me.

As a teacher I have tended to favour topics such as kitchen science (chemistry), space, animals, water, testing material, eggs.... the most memorable foray into physics was a push and pull topic.

So I choose this breakout partly to fangirl a bit, but also to see what Michelle had to offer us teachers in inspiration for teaching science.  This is the blurb that was put up on the ULearn breakout page:

This workshop is designed to give hands on experience with different science experiments for primary school level education. Science is traditionally perceived as a difficult subject requiring expensive equipment and specialist knowledge.
In this fast paced 60 minute workshop, different experiments will be carried out while following a teacher’s guide pack to show how simple science experiments can be and how curiosity led learning can tie in to curriculum based topics. With over a decade of academic teaching experience and a passion for getting students more interested in science and technology, Dr Michelle Dickinson will be able to answer any of your science questions while you try each of the experiments yourself.

Below is my Storify of my tweets and pictures.

When I walked into the room I grabbed one of these brochures off the table.  OMGTech has been set up to give every primary & intermediate school in NZ the opportunity to take part in its award winning workshops over the next three years.  It appears they use volunteers to provide these experiences.  They are also providing teachers with inspiration and ready to go plans to take back to the classroom.

When I sad down at the table, these items were on the table... and every other table.  This was my first clue that we would be having an interactive session.

 At the beginning of the session, we got some sad news... no NanoGirl today.  Sadly she had a clashing engagement.  However, they had sorted out an able replacement, Paula Hay (aka @heymrshay) from Network for Learning and a science teacher, to step in.  Paula did a fabulous job.

We were asked to get a balloon and a skewer first.  The challenge was to make a balloon kebab, with the skewer going from one end to the other.  This was scary for me as I really hate it when balloons pop in my hands or near me.

Balloons started pop, pop, popping all over the room.

I figured that going in the blowing up end of the balloon was probably the best thing to do.  And apparently it is the way to go because the polymers at that part of the balloon are not so stretched and degraded.  So I got the skewer in, paused for the photo and then proceeded to piece the other side.  As you can see, I was successful and did not pop my balloon.

However, you can see that over the rest of the session it continued to deflate slowly.

Our next activity was an old favourite, vinegar and baking soda.  So I poured the vinegar into our small as lemonade bottle, while the teachers on the other side of the table tipped baking soda into the balloon.  Tip: use the funnel to help you get the baking soda into the balloon before using it to get the vinegar into the funnel.

Then she twisted the balloon so that the baking soda was contained and secured the end of the balloon over the bottle opening.  She then untwisted the balloon and let the reaction begin.

 The reaction happened and this is how much our balloon inflated.  So we decided to do it again.

So we used more vinegar, more baking soda, and being responsible teachers, we used the bucket in case of disaster.

 I'd say we got a bigger inflation this time.

We did find that some of the liquid ended up inside the balloon and then the balloon flopped down.  So you could get kids to experiment with what the optimum amounts of vinegar and baking soda may be for optimum inflation and erection.

 Next we were asked to grab a bowl and tip enough milk into it to cover the bottom.  There were four food dye colours available for us to use.

We also put some dishwashing liquid into another bowl and we needed to have a cotton bud each.

We put food colouring around the edge of the milk, then dipped our cotton bud into the dishwashing liquid.

Then you dip your cotton bud into the milk and watch the magic happen.

 I decided to try this again from scratch.

Cool as aye!
Now I asked on Twitter what I would be doing with this lot in the photo.  One cheeky tweeter tweeted back that I was making fondue.  Sadly, no.
I was actually making a catapult.  Here is my step by steps:

And here are my videos of failure... well my first attempt at using my catapult was the best... if only I had longer to problem solve it out more....

This was one of the best breakouts I have ever attended.  It was reminiscent of what the old Advisory Service used to be like, practical and hands on, before former Education Minister Anne Tolley killed them off in 2009.

If you get the opportunity to work with OMGTech at any point, do so.  I am now wondering what their coding and robotics breakouts are like.....

By the way, OMGTech is in The Pond.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

ULearn16: Breakout One - Mike Scaddan: Learning to Learn

Mike Scaddan is a person who I find inspiring.  The first time I saw Mike speak was when I was a wee baby teacher in the 90s.  Mike was invited to speak by the Matamata Principal's Association and the principals brought their staff along.  At the time Mike was the principal of Te Puna School near Tauranga.  In 2004 Mike left Te Puna School and set up his own business, Brain Stems, where: Mike can tailor make programmes to meet your individual and group needs offering advice about brain compatible learning based upon neuro, cognitive and behavioural science.

I've been to one of Mike's breakouts every year since 2011, except for last year because he was not there.  I like Mike's positivity.  I like how Mike peppers his presentation with personal experience.  I like how Mike opens up my understanding of how the brain works.  I like how Mike inspires change.

Below is my Storify of the tweets I tweeted during this session.  I have added some notes between some of the tweets to give context or further explanation.  Even though I didn't think the photos would come out any good, I ended up taking photos.  They are not flash however.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Art inspired by writing inspired by picture books....

The other week I spent two days relieving in the same class I did the Rio Olympic Cartoons with earlier in the term.  This class is a Year 4/5 class and pretty boy heavy.  My task was to do some writing with the students and then some follow up art to go with it.  I had two picture books for motivation.  Below are photos of the front and back covers, including the blurbs, for the two books, The Great Snortle Hunt and The Beast Beneath the Bed:

I purchased these books from the Warehouse.  I picked them up in their "two books for $10" deal.  You can actually get some quite gorgeous inexpensive picture books from the Warehouse to put in your relief teacher kit that can be use at a variety of levels as a launching point for writing and art.

After I read the books we talked about what I wanted to see in the writing.  I wanted their writing to be about something that may be under the bed or in the cupboard.  We discussed this concept.  Some of the children had noted that the books I read to them rhymed.  So we discussed other authors we knew who used rhyme to tell stories.  With the students, I wrote the criteria of what I wanted from their writing on the board.  If I am not teaching a particular structure or genre, I like to give the students room to express their creativity in their writing.

And I certainly got a variety of writing (a credit to their wonderful teacher Sherane) which was creative and expressive.  I have included photos of the writing here that particularly stood out to me, and some of these students were chosen to visit the principal to share their work with him.

I loved how this young lady made her story rhyme.  It was an idea she had been kicking around in her head for a while, and the task I set allowed her to get it down on paper.  Great use of vocabulary.

This young man had the idea of a monster in his fridge, and used the language feature of repetition to write a poem.  During the editing phase, he and I discussed how to use editing shorthand to show how a sentence should start on a new line.

I love the use of rich language in this story to create a picture in my mind as I read.

A long story, but well constructed and full of great action, description and dialogue.

I love the use of expressive language and how this young man activated verbs and nouns with descriptive words.

In the afternoon we got onto the drawing.  I gave the students about 10-20 minutes to draft up an idea of their monster from their writing on scrap paper.  One thing I found interesting was the number of children who trusted their descriptions in their writing to draw from their imagination... and then there were a considerable group of boys who felt the need to go to the internet for inspiration.

While I think the internet is a great resource, and it has fabulous places where you can learn to draw just about anything, it does concern me that some children are not trusting their own imagination.

After the children had drawn their drafts, I asked them if they wanted black or white paper to do their pictures on.  We were using pastels as our medium, so explained to them before they drafted up that they shouldn't draw anything too fiddly as they would be drawing using chalk on the paper so that the pastel could easily cover it up.

So you won't be surprised to find out how many students did some fiddly bits in their pictures then.

Below I am grouping together pictures to show the process of these children creating their art.

I did talk to the students before they started colouring to do the big areas first and leave the fiddly inner bits until last.  We talked about why we needed to use newspaper under our art (protect our desks and to have a place to clean pastels that had multiple colours coating them).  We talked about the need to not leave pastels dropped on the floor so they carpet didn't have pastels ground into it.

We talked about how using different shades of the same colour can create interest and texture, about how hard we press the pastel can make a difference and about scraping some excess pastel off can cause a contrast.

This picture is a good example of how pops of colour can lift the picture.  One of my preconditions before starting was to use the bulk of the area of the paper.  I tell the children I do not want to have to wear binoculars to see the picture.  Most of this class followed this precondition well.

One of the reasons I wanted the students to use chalk was so they could rub it out when they weren't happy.  This student restarted their work and I think the chalk enabled them to do so.  If I had more time, I would have taught the students about the importance of cleaning their hands frequently to prevent finger smudges of the pastel.

This student initially wanted to do her picture on white paper.  However, the effect was not to her satisfaction, so she soon changed to black paper.  I think this is a good example of an artist making choices that satisfy their own creativity and what pleases their own eye.

Apparently Minions are terrifying.

Two examples of boys getting inspiration from the Internet.

A really good example of using a variety of shades of similar colours to create the look, texture and hairiness of a monster.  It is rather reminiscent of the Beast Beneath the Bed.


These two pictures were so simple, but having a white character created some artistic challenges.  It required a heavy hand with the white and black pastels in the top trio.  In the bottom set of pictures, after a discussion, the artist decided they needed some ground in their picture to give the impression of their monster hovering mid air.

Below are a few of the random ones who spent so long on their draft I didn't get a series of photos of their progress.

I look forward to going back to the class next term and seeing how these finished up.  I really enjoy working with this class and I learned a few really cool things from the students when they explained some of their learning to me that they had completed since my last visit to the school.