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

Friday, 27 July 2018

The Crank it out term

Our principal in staff meeting this week reminded us that this is the 'crank-it-out' term.

No Testing. No Reports. All Learning.
He challenged us to make the most of our timetables.

To make sure we are seeing all our groups
2-3 times per week 
Image result for Clock fast

I thought to myself well of course I am,
but then reflected actually am I?
Truth is I'm probably not.
Actually, I know I'm not - at least not ALL my groups.
The question is why?

I crunched the numbers and realised that I am probably not always making the most of my time in the classroom. Time is tight, and it is way too easy to run out of it.

Lets look at Reading as a subject.

1 group @ 20~minutes per guided reading session 
2-3 times p/w = 40-60 minutes p/w
Therefore 4 groups @ 20~minutes 
= 160-240 minutes p/w
5 groups
= 200-300 minutes p/w

That's a lot of minutes! For my team here at school, that usually all has to come out of our morning block. Even if you take out a fairly low amount of time for writing each week, assembly on Fridays, and our daily news. You find that the time remaining is already quite tight...

Total Minutes

45 Mins

Total Remaining
...and this is before any other interruption, transition, chat on the mat, pack-up, or roam.

In fact, this remaining '315 minutes' is on the assumption that Friday after assembly time can be used for guided reading sessions instead of "Finishing time" as well.

I've realised I need to be way smarter with my time, and smarter with my planning. Even just to see the right amount of groups for the right amount of time. This will also require me to become more precise with some my interactions with the learners, particularly around management and instructions.

Feeling cautiously optimistic
Challenge accepted.

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Oral Language boost from DMIC?

Keeping up the basics

Throughout learning the DMIC process there has been a temptation to forget all that I have learnt in the past... I need to keep myself in check with this as some of things that I learnt last year in my inquiry are really important. They did work. They did make a difference.

One of those things has been basic facts. I understand that within the DMIC style lessons there isn't too much room for old school basic facts learning. However, learning everything that I did last year I don't want to throw away these lessons completely. 

I'm going to experiment with trying to fit them into other times of the day such as:
  • warm-ups
  • pack-ups
  • in-between times
  • end of day
The lessons I am referring to can be read here in my blog post almost exactly 1 year ago.

Sunday, 8 July 2018

ISTE Reflection


Last year I applied for the Manaiakalani Professional Learning Fellowship to attend the ISTE conference in Chicago, USA, and amazingly I was lucky enough to win it.

Last week we boarded the plane and off we went. It was an absolutely amazing experience, and I'm still buzzing from it. I have never been to the States before, and although I have attended Education conferences in New Zealand, I have never experienced anything that resembled the sheer size and the crowds that ISTE provided.

The ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference is an Education conference based out of the United States. It happens every year, and attracts educators from all over the world. The Chicago conference had more than 1000 sessions of all different types that you could attend, and had over 16,000 attendees.

With that in mind I had a lot of trouble picking my Conference class list. There was literally hundreds of different lectures or classes that I could attend each day, and usually at least 3-4 on that I wanted to attend at the same time. On the first day of the conference I attended what was called the CS Firehose. Essentially it was pre-conference whole-day session where we had an intro or play-session with different aspects of Computer Science that were going to be represented at the conference. After this, I quickly re-adjusted my entire timetable to fit in way more of these sessions.

Image result for Scratch 3.0I realised that without focussing more of my ISTE classes around a particular subject or theme I wasn't going to make the most of it as a learning opportunity. WIDE and DEEP just like our learners I suppose haha.

Sticking with CS theme, while throwing other interesting things into the mix I had an absolute blast of a conference. Some interesting things that stood out to me most can be read in other blog posts here:
- CS Firehose
- Scratch 3.0
- Micro:Bit and Make code

The biggest take home for me has been the CS/ Digital Curriculum integration (or STEAM integration). I have become extremely excited to give some of what I saw ago, and put into action all the ideas that my head was spinning while at the conference. While a tonne of it was inspiration that needs a lot of further thought and reflection for how I could implement it here at Pt England. Some stuff I can run with it straight away, or adjust how I am using it in the classroom to be more reflective.

Incredibly grateful and humbled for the opportunity, hoping to be able to update with some exciting learning experiences soon.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Makecode and Microbit - ISTE 2018

As part of the CS Firehose I went to hear about MakeCode and Micro:bit.

Micro:bit is a pocket size computer, in a similar style vein to a Raspberry Pi, (though not as powerful I believe, more like a code-able Makey-Makey), and Makecode is visual based coding software that can be used to programme it.

I thought that MakeCode was a very similar to Scratch and wouldn't be an issue for students or teachers to switch between them. The logic was very similar, as was the interface, AND IT WORKS STRAIGHT OUT OF THE BROWSER! (and therefore is ready to go on the chromebooks!)

Image result for makecode

I also really liked the Micro-bit, and what it can do. There were some really cool and easy-to-get started ideas that are fun and engaging. 

Within 30 seconds of opening the software and plugging in the Micro:bit I was able to get my name to scroll across the LED lights on the device... Really cool, really simple.
Within 10 minutes I had a simple question across the screen, with 2 answer inputs and relevant responses for them.
Is this fun?
[Yes] ---> Awesome!
[No]  ---> Boooo!

This straight away told me that this product has a very accessible floor, where pretty much anyone can plug it in and run with. Yet in the presentation I also got to see examples of some really cool robotic projects, where the ceiling was far far higher. 


Another really cool think about the MicroBit, is that is compatible with Scratch. Therefore there is this fantastic opportunity to extend the Scratch projects that the learners are creating using physical and tangible objects. At least thats the pitch I was sold, I din't get a chance to do this myself, but it's definitely an exciting concept that I'm interested to try out.

Overview (Copy pasted from site) 

  • 25 individually-programmable LEDs
  • 2 programmable buttons
  • Physical connection pins
  • Light and temperature sensors
  • Motion sensors (accelerometer and compass)
  • Wireless Communication, via Radio and Bluetooth
  • USB interface
  • Let's take a look at what these components do and discover how to code them!

Monday, 25 June 2018

Introducing Scratch 3.0 - ISTE 2018

After hearing Dr. Mitch Resnick introduce Scratch 3.0 in the Keynote for the CS Firehose I was really excited to hear him talk more about it in a later session.

Scratch 3.0 is currently still in development, and the Beta version won't be available till about August-ish. However there is a preview version of the software available to try. Which I did. See here.

There are some obvious Visual and interface differences that makes it seem more modern and user friendly. There is also upgrades coming for Sprites and backdrops, Paint Editor, Sound Editor, and Compatibility. Read more about the upgrades here

Current Version

Scratch 3.0

CS Firehose Keynote - ISTE 2018

ISTE Computer Science Network- CS Firehose 2018

Opening Session and Keynote

Dr. Mitch Resnick - Kids, Coding, and Creativity
Professor of Learning Research at the MIT Media Lab.

His Lifelong Kindergarten research group develops the Scratch programming software
and online community (, used by millions of young people around the
world. The group also collaborates with the LEGO Company on the development of new
educational ideas and products, including LEGO Mindstorms and WeDo robotics kits.
Resnick co-founded the Computer Clubhouse project, an international network of 100
after-school learning centers where youth from low-income communities learn to
express themselves creatively with new technologies.

Projects, Passion, Peers & Play

Stories about Kids on Scratch

Abhi - makes scratch animations very cartoon like to express himself - computationally
  • Scratch community provides him with feedback and encouragement.

Bubble103 - School projects. Water Cycle, and research projects
I love the idea of working with kids from round the world
Love Colour Divide RPG - Trailer (made by Bubble103)
Comfortable taking risks and making mistakes. -An opportunity to learn something new.

Charlottes Web - book review, some very good Maths problems here that would fit with DMiC
Storytelling through scratch
Perspective - Making the pig get smaller to show its further away. In the code she had multiplied the size by a fraction

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Balancing Strand and Number with the DMIC process

Before I started DMIC this year I always felt that the balance between teaching Strand and Number was difficult to get right. If you spent too long on Strand you felt like you didn't progress your students enough in Number Strategies.

With the DMIC process I spend the majoritysds of my teaching time in Strand, however there is a strong focus on Number through the Strand teaching. In fact often the Strand element of the problem is only to introduce the number.

For example when teaching a Measurement problem, the context may be converting Kilometers to Meters or vice versa (and that will be a crucial piece of strand knowledge to have/ obtain). However, the actual problem will require the use of number knowledge to solve.
When introducing the strand concept of conversion I would keep the number problem relatively simple, as the conversion is the focus. i.e. 5km plus 3000m or something.
However, as we become comfortable with the idea of converting measurement units then this simply becomes the context for tricky number problems. i.e.  3.05km - 1200m, 0.32m x 4 etc.
Students then decide for themselves whether or not the conversion aspect is necessary.

For this reason the Strand and Number balance has become really easy.
The basic principal is:
- If the Strand knowledge is the focus keep the number aspect simple.
- If the Strand knowledge isn't the focus then complicate the number aspect.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Learning new Vocab in a Geometry Unit

As mentioned in a previous blog post I have been attempting to build new maths vocabulary in a meaningful and authentic way. To do this I have been focussing on a particular strand in maths as a kind of "topic" to build on each lesson, for 4-5 weeks in the term.

This term I have focussed on Geometry on and Measurement. I realised from looking at their MathsWhizz results, as well as observations during our daily lessons that a large majority of my class had huge misconceptions around Geometry and Measurement. Particularly anything to do with 'shapes'. In fact when I quizzed few of my kids across all of the ability groups it was very clear that this was an area of confusion and uncertainty for our class.

Not really knowing where to start, I went straight to the curriculum expectations for Level 3.
This really threw me off if I'm being honest. It was too much, and I didn't know how to do it. 
I started with names of shapes thinking this was a logical place to start... it wasn't. In fact all I did when I reflected on my lessons was teach kids how to cram. "Lets learn a whole bunch of names and try to remember them".

I decided that this wasn't going to achieve my goal for "authentic learning". There was no real reason to learn these names other than 'the teacher told me to'. Instead I picked ONE bullet point.
  • Find areas of rectangles and volumes of cuboids by applying multiplication.
In fact I only intentionally planned to teach 3 "words":
  1. Perimeter
  2. Area
  3. Volume
Naturally*, as we battled with these three concepts using the DMIC process, there was a TONNE of vocab that we had to use and understand to be able to be successful in these problems.
*I say 'Naturally' but it wouldn't seem natural at all unless you are familiar with the DMIC process.

I didn't explicitly teach nor plan for these words, but just as you would expect new vocab to be learned in a topic surrounding 'flight' for example, we came across and had to use/ learn a whole bunch of words related to Geometry and Measurement during our problem solving questions.

~5 weeks later~

According to MathsWhizz since the beginning of Term 2, my class average has improved 11.5 weeks in "Shape and Space", 9.5 weeks in "Measures", and interestingly* 13 weeks improvement in "Multiplication Calculations".
*Actually on reflection this makes sense seen as most of the calculations over the past 5 weeks have been multiplicative.

However far more obvious in the classroom is the lift in confidence and use of vocab surrounding this topic when we work on anything related to it. There is technical and precise vocab being used by the learners to each other and in response to each other. 

Overall a really positive result and outlook for the success of this inquiry. Onto Fractions, Proportions and Ratios next :)

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Building Vocabulary through Context

Image result for Builders
Building Vocabulary

In a previous inquiry into reading I learned that new Vocab and understandings can be built up over time successfully, when the texts and learning content are themed around a similar context for consecutive number of weeks.

Therefore it is my hypothesis that this can also be applied to maths learning. My maths planning and teaching centres around a "topic" for 3-5 consecutive weeks. In most cases this will probably be a Strand focus and all the problem solving stories and questions will centre around that strand. The multiple part problem design of the DMIC questions, seems to work perfectly with Strand and Number combined problems i.e Unit Conversion and multiplication, or finding the area of shape then subtracting.

In doing this, I am hoping to build up a vocabulary knowledge base that will build over time and mean that they are capable of more complicated problems and stories. While also having a platform on which to build or gain more concrete understanding around unfamiliar maths vocabulary.

In Term One I felt like this worked really well in the two contexts that I chose. Instead of doing a whole week or 2-weeks on Measurement, we spent 5 weeks, but only focussed on specific measurement knowledge when it came up. Otherwise it was simply was just the context in which we solved our number problems.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

The launch

The Launch is an incredibly important part of the DMIC process.

The "Launch" refers to the launch of the problem solving question that the group is going to be attempting to solve. It should be done with a large group, rather than small groups to save time. I personally split my class of 34 into roughly half, however I pull other kids down or shift them around quite fluidly.

Unpacking and understanding the story of the problem takes up a huge chunk of time. It is important to allow the students the chance to figure it out, without giving it away. This was an issue I had in the beginning where I would rush the launch so that they could get started on the maths thinking. However understanding the story, is just as important for the DMIC process as unpacking the equation. I recently had my first observed session by a DMIC mentor. They told me that the launch involves just two questions; “What is the story about?/ What do we know from the story?”  and  “What are we trying to find out?”

Once you have introduced the problem and taken a few ideas from students about what the story is about, get the large group into smaller groups of 4. Together they will figure out what they think the story is about, and whether they can agree on a strategy they could use to solve it. It is important to make sure that none of the students have a maths book in their hands at this point, and that all the discussion is verbalised amongst the group. The teacher then goes around and assesses how the group discussions are going, but does not sit and work with any one group yet. When the group has agreed on a strategy, choose one student to be the 'recorder' and let them use that persons (at only that persons) maths book and pencil.

In these groups the learners will solve the problem together and then report back, and continue with the rest of the DMIC process. To read these notes we were given in full see the document here.

An example problem that I used during my observed lesson was this:


  • Teacher (T) to read problem in full.
  • T) Question group about the problem
    • Who knows who Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is?,
    • Who watches League?
    • Who knows what the Full back does?
    • What are running meters?
    • What do you think the phrase "clocked up" means?
  • T) ask students to think about what the "story" is
    • What is the story asking us to do
The idea is that all the learners will understand what this story is about, and that they are thinking about whether or not Roger Tuivasa-Sheck will be able to run enough meters each game to meet his goal. This is crucial that they understand the story, before they start thinking about the maths. Therefore when they start thinking about the maths strategy to use they will be able to eliminate some strategies that wound't fit the problem.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

More than a hunch

My hunch for this inquiry was that the DMIC approach could help to raise maths achievement and language acquisition with priority learners in the classroom. 

This hunch was based on previous years experience, where I had noticed that many of my learners working 'Below the National Average' would fail on questions not because of the maths itself, but their lack of understanding of what the maths was asking them to do.  Rather than wrangle with the problem, these learners would too often jump into what they thought (or guessed) the equation was and in doing so work it out incorrectly. Yet when given the equation directly they almost always had a far higher rate of success at answering the problem correctly. 

I believe that the launch aspect of the DMIC process will greatly help these learners. In particular their understanding for what each maths problem is asking them to solve, i.e. what is the story of the problem about, and what are you trying to do with it. Working in groups with learners at a higher level, and watching and listening to their strategies for unpacking the problem will hopefully help as well.

A secondary aspect to this inquiry that I wish to implement, is a stronger focus on language acquisition of technical maths language. The graphs below show that there is a larger gap for this group between the national average in Literacy than in their Maths* (*with the exception of a couple of outliers). My belief is that by increasing their arsenal of "Maths language" they will have greater success at comprehending the maths problems they are faced with. 

The Graphs

These graphs show my target group of 9 Year-Six learners working "Below" or close to "At" in maths at the End of last year. The red line shows the national average. I thought it would be interesting and revealing to show the Maths data alongside the Literacy data to see if there were any trends that I could spot. Not too surprisingly, the most obviously trend was that almost all of these 9 learners were falling behind in their literacy more than in their maths.

I think this helps to support my hypothesis that language acquisition in maths will ultimately help lift maths achievement levels, as it supports my own observations where success has been blocked due to comprehension of the problem.
* I thought it was worth noting that I don't usually consider a "Overall Gloss score" or "Global score" as it can provide quite a warped view on the individual learner if their scores aren't streamlined across the 3 fields. However for this graph it was the best way to show results.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Talk moves

crucial aspect of the DMIC approach is the successful dialogic discussion and argumentation involved in exploring the the different ways of looking at, or solving a maths problem. A useful resource for developing this culture amongst the class is through the use of Talk moves.

If you Google Talk Moves it will produce about 198,000,000 search results. The majority of the links on the first 3 search pages are useful, and will get you on the right track. However, here are 2 links that I found were really helpful for my own understanding.

First Link: What are talk moves?
A summary of the 5 Talk Moves outlined by Chapin, O'Connor, & Anderson (2003).
- Link to PDF

Mathematical Discourse
Five Talk Moves

The teacher tries to repeat what a
student has said, then asks the
student to respond and verify
whether or not the teacher’s
revoicing is correct.
“So you’re saying…”

Asking Students To Restate
Someone Else’s Reasoning
The teacher asks one student to
repeat or rephrase what another
student has said, then follows up
with the first student.
“Can you repeat what he just said
in your own words?”

Asking Students To Apply
Their Reasoning To
Someone Else’s Reasoning
Students make their own reasoning
explicit by applying thinking to
someone else’s contribution.
“Do you agree or disagree and

Prompting Students For
Further Participation
The teacher asks for further
“Would someone like to add on?”

Using Wait Time
The teacher waits at least ten
seconds for students to think before
calling on someone for an answer.
“Take your time… we’ll wait.”

Second Link: Useful cards for the classroom
Some print outs/ ideas to help develop the culture of using Talk moves and 'Talk move like' discussions by the Virtual Learning Network, Ministry of Education (2014). Copyright, Ministry of Education, NZ. 

Chapin, S. H., O'Connor, M. C., & Anderson, N. C. (2003). Classroom discussions: Using math talk to help students learn, grades 1-6. Sausalito, CA: Math Solutions Publications.
  • Miller, L. (2004). Talk Moves (Unpublished Resources), Virtual Learning Network: Ministry of Education, NZ.

Where do I start with half-class grouping??

As I already mentioned in a previous blog post, grouping my maths class into mixed ability groups was a difficult concept to get my head around. However the concept of also splitting my class into only 2 groups (i.e. half the class in each group), left me feeling pretty clueless about where to begin. This is what I did.

First go
I decided to start by finding out what it was like to teach half the class as one group. So, instead of worrying about how to group them, and who to group them with just yet, I simply asked to see the Girls and Boys as seperate groups. The learners absolutely loved it, but in hindsight (and what a beautiful thing it is) this may not have been the best decision... BUT, it did allow me to get a feel for what it would be like to have half the class down on the mat.

What I noticed:

  • We can fit - One of my main personal resistance's to this approach was the fact that I believed I would not fit a half-class group on the mat. Well we did, and it was easy. 
  • Some learners will shine - After the initial shyness wore off, there were some clear stand outs that loved being able to share their thinking, or their "way" of doing the maths. They loved having the attention of the whole group, and this was clearly their element.
  • Some learners will freeze - Even some kids who I know will happily share their thinking in a small group froze. I believe this must of come from a place of insecurity, i.e. knowing that they were in the same group as the "smart kids", and not want to get shamed for being wrong.
  • Confident kids will convince more capable kids they are wrong - Confidence is key! I had kids working at Early Stage 5 convincing other kids working at Late Six that they themselves were right with their "guesses", while and the mathematical reasoning and computational thinking was wrong. 
  • All of us were going to take some time to get used to this - I talk too much. Both myself and the kids are going to need more practice at this approach before we have any success.
  • It was fun - All of us left the lessons buzzing. 

Second go:
After a week and a bit of staying just the boys and the girls. I finally decided to regroup. Initially I asked each group of boys and girls to split into 2 groups and then combined them from there. I later read that social groupings does not necessarily (and in most cases does not) mean "friend groups". So I rejigged some of the kids around after that. After I had done this, I looked at their current achievement data, and found that the kids had organically done a pretty decent job at mixed ability grouping all on their own! The ability spread was pretty even across both groups, and I hadn't had to do any of the work, fantastic.

What I noticed:

  • It worked a lot better - Both the boys and girls worked together well, and took the lesson far more seriously now that the genders were mixed. However, I'm not sure if this was due to being mixed, or whether it felt more like an 'official' maths group, and therefore should be taken more seriously. Either way it was good news.
  • Confidence was improving - I started seeing less of the initial "hanging back" that I noticed, and more kids were piping up. I also noticed that my higher ability learners were now backing themselves a lot more. Instead of simply trusting the "loud" kids.
  • It was still fun - Aside from a small number of resistant and/ or very quiet kids these lessons are becoming a highlight of the day for everyone. 

I'm looking forward to learning more about the DMIC approach, and getting better at it. It's exciting, and the more I experiment with it, the more confident I feel. I just hope/ fear that I'm not wasting too much precious learning time figuring it all out too much..

Monday, 12 February 2018

A lesson Outline - Bobby Hunter

Here is a brief outline for a DMIC lesson that Bobby shared with us.

10 minutes : Warm up
- Do a problem from last term

5-10 minutes : Launch/ group norms
- Work as a family not a 'team' - this is not a competition, its more like a family working together
- Cooking a feed, where everyone pitches in. No one owns it, it's a shared product
Launch needs a good story

15 minutes : Small group activity
- in small groups tackling the problem

15 minutes : Large group discussion
- Sharing Solutions
- Exploring Thinking

10 minutes : Making connections to the big idea
- Connecting the learning to the big ideas
- Explicitly pointing out what was learnt

Teacher role: anticipate, monitor, select, sequence, connect

How to group

No maths groups! Wow.... this is different.

What am I talking about?
Working with Bobbie Hunter again as part of our Professional Development in maths. The idea behind mixed ability groupings is a tricky concept to take on board (at least after having levelled groups since my practicum days), but I'm giving it a go. The idea is that to be able to learn through discussion and argumentation, there must actually be a range of ideas to discuss and argue. Therefore by streaming the groups you limit the idea pool.

Spilt the class in half
This is totally different. Giant groups to launch the programme. Social groupings, i.e. groupings that will help produce talking, discussion, and argumentation. What this could mean, is that you see your giant groups on alternate days. At this point I can't manage the other half of my class well, without at least seeing them for 10-15 minutes, so I'm fitting them in at the end.
Once the problem has been launched the learners are given about 15 minutes in small groups (4) to solve the problem together, they have to talk, and they have to work together.


Friday, 26 January 2018

What is DMIC?

Today we were extremely blessed to have 'the' Bobby Hunter (Prof Roberta Hunter, Massey University) come to our staffroom to run some Professional Development with us.

In all honesty I felt a little bit nervous, when I found out she was coming in. Bobby Hunter had been heavily referenced throughout my Teacher Education, and her work made up a large chunk of literature review in my Honours Dissertation.

Often referred to as 'Bobby Maths', however correctly named DMIC (Developing Maths Inquiry Communities), Bobby introduced to an alternative maths learning approach.

Extract from: 
Massey University's booklet

In this ‘communities of mathematical inquiry’ approach
pupils work together to unravel a problem. Children are
encouraged to solve problems on their own, draw on
their cultural backgrounds and even speak in their home
language. And instead of defaulting to Westernised
examples when applying mathematical concepts, teachers
might refer to the weight of a taro, or dimensions of a tapa
cloth. This culturally-tailored feature is a major factor in
breaking down barriers that inhibit many from engaging and
achieving in maths, says Dr Bobbie Hunter of Massey’s
Institute of Education. 

I'm really looking forward to giving this approach a go, and am excited to get started.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

New Year and a New Class

Last year I had the interesting experience of teaching almost the exact same group of kids as I did the year before. This had for me, it's own set of unique and positive challenges/ experiences.

For example (particularly in maths), I became very aware of the holes I was leaving in my own teaching. Rather than discovering gaps or holes in the student's knowledge or understandings, I was discovering in fact where I had left holes and gaps in my teaching programme... therefore causing the gaps in the students knowledge. I couldn't blame the last years teacher, because that was me!!!

This year I have not changed year groups, and therefore I have a new bunch of learners coming up into my class. I am both excited, and a little nervous about this. Teaching the same class 2 years in a row, was a very useful experience, particularly when reflecting on the content I was covering. I hope my new group of learners will be the benefactors of that experience, and I will check my self throughout the year to make sure I am covering all the content I should be.