Digital teaching tips & tricks, ideas, examples, and general thoughts and reflections. Follow my Inquiry.

Monday, 25 May 2020

Distance Learning - Engagement

We talk about perspective taking a lot in school, "put yourself in their shoes" etc. Usually this to help teach empathy and other key comps, as well certain critical literacy skills. However I found myself really needing to think about this for distance learning.

Without having the students seated in front of me, how could I entice them to 'come to school'?
> Certainly a percentage of my learners had whanau who engaged with the online learning, and 'assisted the engagement' (in fact this was really cool to see our whanau making these connections to school, and is a great conversation starter for what we could do to keep this going).
> But there was a whole other percentage who managed themselves. They got themselves up in the morning, got out their chromebooks and engaged with the learning and online meets that I provided.

I found that my learners were unintentionally brutally honest about the learning I provided. If they didn't like it, they simply didn't do it.
I had to put myself in their shoes.  I am competing for their attention with Fortnite and Tik tok.
Once I had this realisation, I started trying to make my learning more interesting, and more engaging. The type of learning that kept bring the students back to the site each day to find out "whats next".

We found that chunking learning into mini inquiry topics that spread over a week worked really well for us. The first day of the week set the topic or theme, then the subsequent days explored ideas within that theme. The students wanted to learn 'the next thing' each day.

90's example
Our 90's week was fun (or as the students referred to it "the olden days"). We started looking at technology, then toys, then music, and cartoons. The kids wanted to find out what the next thing we were going to study was, and each day added to their overall understanding of the "olden days" haha.

Meet Marcus
Another week we did "Fashion design" which was a neat mask to place over a New Zealand celebrity study. Each day we looked at a different New Zealand celebrity, and designed an item of clothing for them.
The week was glued together by my fictional cousin 'Marcus'. Marcus happened to know all these celebrities personally, and was offloading the task of designing for them to the class.
The effort and enthusiasm that I demonstrated as 'Marcus' was appreciated by the students. Although they knew deep down, he wasn't real, they played along because it was 'fun'. We even saw students who missed days, going back and interacting with the content because they were missing jokes and felt left out.
While 'Marcus' was quite extreme, the concept of an immersion week is something we have discussed taking forward. It inspires the students to build on their knowledge, and seek further understanding on their own. Which is not something we have easily achieved in other instances.

Part 1 - Designing for Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
Part 2 - Designing for Jacinda Ardern
Part 3 - Designing for William Wairua
Part 4 - Designing for Julian Dennison

Monday, 18 May 2020

Distance Learning Programme

We didn't really have a clue what we were going to do when this whole thing started. Obviously we had the advantage that our regular programme has alway been framed by a 'break the 9-3 barrier' mentality. This meant that all of our regular learning and resources were already accessible and visible remotely. However this didn't mean that we didn't need a complete overhaul in our design thinking...

#Limit the links
This has always been an important concept, however even more so when the learners are 100% working independently from you.

We decided to redesign the way students accessed their learning from our class site. Traditionally we would organise our learning across multiple subject pages. This was logical, and has worked for us for a long time. However across distance learning we decided it would be best if all the learning was in the same place, and that it updated daily.
The thinking around this was that it would create a flow, and set work expectation for inside of that day. It also meant, that if you missed a day (or 3) you could jump straight in without any confusion.

Traditional class site layout


New class site layout 


We believed this 'daily learning' model suited our learners better, as they could manage their time to complete the learning for that day. Had we stuck with our original model, we believed more students would go with the procrastination model of having a big 'finishing day' on Friday (like we see in school time). This daily learning model, is something we are considering sticking with, once we go back to school.

A day was similar to this:

> Intro
Date and day
A short intro video of the teacher giving a brief intro to the learning for the day.
A list of scheduled Google Meet times.

> Reading
Text to read + Extension Reading
Questions for the text
Relevant Youtube Video

> Writing
Some form of writing activity

> Maths 
A problem solving maths task
Links to online maths activities (maths whizz etc)

> Chapter Book reading
A recorded video of the teacher reading the class chapter book

> Design or Inquiry task
Some other learning task that was usually interest based



Each task has a link to a Google form that students could 'submit' their work through after posting on their blog. This Google form would email the teacher whenever it was submitted. This helped with feedback and Teacher support.

One thing we noticed was how much work was being completed, as we got further into lockdown, our daily learning tasks became larger, and the amount of work being completed became more and more.


Friday, 8 May 2020

How was lock down?

What a crazy crazy time!

Things happened so fast didn't it? One minute we were figuring out if we would still be able to have sports tournaments or our School Fiafia, and then in a blink of an eye we were in all in full level 4 lock down.

I never ever imagined myself designing a distance learning programme (at least beyond a Holiday blogging challenge or something alike). However before we knew it we were right in the thick of it.

Bringing the holidays forward was a blessing. It gave us time to get ready, reflect and plan ahead of time what our content might look like. However, we actually managed to squeeze in 3 days of "live distance teaching" with our kids in that first week of lock down. This was quite crucial in hindsight because it allowed us to connect with our kids (and for them to connect with us on the site) before they too settled in to this new Lock down environment. It also gave us a dummy run for what distance teaching was going to be like.



During that "holiday break" we provided a Blogging challenge for our learners. These challenges were not designed to be a full day of learning, more a like a fun activity for bored and eager kids. The idea was to also keep them practiced at coming to the site, and using their blogs. If we made the challenges interesting and less "school like" we figured we could keep them coming back, and coming back they did.

Imagine my guilt when I received this email:



However, once we entered "Term 2" it was all on. 

  • 4 Live Google Meets a day 9am, 10.30, 12pm & 2pm
  • A full days worth of learning content*
  • Remote assistance through the Google Apps and email 
*Wow. Were we in for a surprise with how much work they wanted to do. These kids were smashing what we would often give them in a week in just one day.

My Lock down "Classroom" 

We figured a few things out and I have to say, I have really been enjoying being able to focus on planning and content over this lock down period. I have been more creative and engaged in my planning than I have been for years. It's been awfully fun! My team has been killing it too, really cool stuff going on in their planning. Kids-wise we've got a good core of about 50-60% of our kids who are fully active every day, then another 20-30% who phase in and out of our Meets, and chop and choose which work they do. Only a small percentage of the team has been mostly inactive which is amazing. I didn't expect such a good turn out to be honest.

I've noticed quite a bit of traffic on our site too through Google Analytics, we are hitting a weekly average of 250+ unique users, and have had almost 700 unique users in the past 28 days. Which is pretty crazy! Have had a few nice emails from teachers around the place - mostly Manaiakalani connected.

I've planned to show some of our learning and content design next. But thought this was worth sharing.


Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Anecdotal Evidence

I love anecdotal evidence. It's the 'feel good' stuff in an inquiry.

As my Year 6's are beginning to undertake their last round of testing for the year, I thought it would be nice to reflect on the other evidence I have collected surrounding their shift in reading, before I look at the "real data".

At the beginning of the year my class:
  • picked a book based on the cover.
  • did not care for or respect the books they were given to read.
  • found it difficult to sit and read for extended periods of time.
  • did not know the author of the book they were reading.
  • spent the majority of "silent reading time" trying to catch each others eyes or whisper to one another.
  • did not ever finish a book from cover to cover.
  • did not care if the book was too easy, or conversely too hard.
Image result for reading sucks meme
Now in Term 4 my class:
  • picks books based on the author or on someone else's recommendation, or at the very least by whether the blurb sounds interesting to them.
  • place a great detail of care over their books and the class library.
  • enjoy reading for extended periods of time, and a large number have admitted to reading at home at night and in the weekend.
  • always look at who the author is, and want to know what else they have written. Many of my students exclusively read books my our "class favourite" authors.
  • only spend a small amount of "silent reading time" trying to catch each others eyes or whisper to one another. ;)
  • almost always finish a book from cover to cover. Although, we allow a 3 chapter test if we are unsure after the blurb.
  • use the 5 finger reading test honestly to check the level of the text. Some students still reach too high, but do so knowing they will need to read slow, and possibly re-read parts or pages.
I do look forward to seeing their academic progress against their formal tests, but I am more than chuffed with their growth and maturity in regards to a love of reading.

Image result for love reading