Failure equals Success

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Ok, so the School Holidays are over again for another Term. I always start the term bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, keen as to get into my classroom.
And then…

BAM

School hits me in the face.

Really??

Really??

We started with this great workshop and discussion at Staff Development Day on middle schooling pedagogy. Middle School is those awkward years from Year 6 to Year 9, when a lot is happening developmentally and socially, but learning and engagement is not first always first on their agenda?! We were discussing some effective strategies to support our students to achieve success and learn to love learning. Some great ideas were popping up: more community involvement, more acknowledgement of achievement, more PBL. I was excited to be having this discussion with my colleagues.

Great ideas happening

Great ideas happening

So, I then added to the discussion, and suggested that one problem is the pressure with assessments… Especially at this time of year. Reporting. Because when all a students teachers are writing reports, they need results. These results are collated from assessment tasks… So for Year 7, at the beginning of Term 2, they will probably have at least 10 assessment tasks due to align with all their subjects. This was clearly not a popular statement, and was told I should organise myself better and that reporting was our obligation as a teacher.
So wait…. I never said I didn’t want to report- I love giving kids feedback…. But the question I had was the why are we pressuring kids with so many assessments (often due at the same time) just for the sake of a mark on the report?


 

Then something wonderful happens in my own classroom…

I have my GATS students finishing a project where they were divided into 4 groups. They were randomly chosen groups and allocated 4 real world projects to achieve by the end of Term 1. Now, some groups finished…. and some didn’t. One group organised a very successful popcorn stall where they raised awareness and money for the Black Dog Institute. Throughout the project (especially at the beginning), I explained how hard it was to work collaboratively, and that you really need to identify your ‘leader’ at the beginning. I said you would always have a ‘slack ass’ that you would need to constantly tell what to do, and I also told them not everyone was equal and jobs needed to be allocated if you hoped to be successful. I saod you needed a goal and a plan as to what to achieve in every lesson. I gave students some great goal setting and project management sheets that I adapted from BIE.

As the project progressed, I watched as some groups fumbled and as the term ended, some had even lost their direction completely.

At the beginning of this project, I told them that many groups would failThis is the GATS class, so they looked at me horrified – these are high achieving kids who would rarely ‘fail’! As predicted, some groups just couldn’t get it together to finish the project.

I smiled at them.

This is what I wanted. I wanted them to learn from their mistakes.

At the end of this project, the only thing I really care about, is the self-reflection that the students submit to Edmodo. I asked a few questions of them and told them their group members weren’t reading it, so you should be honest.

These are the questions:

1. What was the criteria to achieve success? 
2. What have you learnt from this task? Describe the purpose of the organization/theme that your project was based upon.
3. Do you think that you have made other people aware of the ideas and issues that are explored by your organization/theme? Explain why/why not.
4. We always learn from mistakes and failures. Show how failure, mistakes and accidents have led to the discovery of worthwhile things. 
5. If you were to do it again, how would you do it differently? Evaluate solutions and answers in terms of their consequences and implications
6. Describe your role in the group. Were you a team player? Did you achieve the learning goals you set for yourself?

So how does this link to my frustration at the beginning of this post… and the title of FAILURE equal SUCCESS?

I think sometimes we are so consumed by a system that grades and assesses students for numerical outcomes that we forget that learning can be about making mistakes. It is not always about getting 100% everytime. I get frustrated that I can see the benefit of less grading and classifying and wonder why it can’t always be this way. But I also know realistically, that is how the school system works – that is what the HSC is after all. It is much easier to control this model of examination equalling success. So many people have become accustomed to associating a number with the amount of knowledge a student has about a subject. I don’t think 76/100 tells me anything about the students I teach. I love talking to my students about their successes and failures and asking what they enjoyed or hated about a unit of work.

So, I leave you with some of my students insightful self reflection statements. Because these made me smile, gave me goosebumps and a little tear in my eye… Cause I realised what I believe in does work, and it DOES make a difference. 

* I liked when everyone just got the job done and we worked as a team. When we did, we had great out comes. The task was definitely challenging, but I really learnt how to try and communicate with others and how important planning is to working as a team. I actually think that by not getting a complete finished product, we all learnt that teamwork is really important and makes a big change to how things turn out.Overall I thought this project was fun and interesting, but it certainly had its up and downs!

* Yes I did enjoy it. I found it challenging working in a group and I learnt a lot of group skills and a lot about filming. It was also good at the start of last term when I was new and we were all new, I got to know some of the other people in my class because it was grouped randomly.

* Not everyone was motivated the same amount. If each person in the group was motivated to the same level, we wouldn’t have been distracted as easily and we might have better achieved our goals. The different level of motivation of the group members contributed to what I considered as disappointing outcome.

* What did you learn? I learnt a lot trying to achieve a project as part of a group. I learned that planning in this situation is very important. I used to think that planning was not needed all the time, but now I think you should always plan, although sometimes you need more planning than others. The most important things I learn were:
1. Planning is one of the biggest building blocks of group work and you will fail without it. 
2. Everybody needs to be motivated so they don’t get distracted.
3. You have to listen to everybody and be prepared to compromise your ideas to make everybody happy and to get the best ideas.
4. Sometimes despite your best efforts you will be disappointed.
 
Was there a time that you have made a mistake or failed but learnt so much from it?

 


Let them eat Cake!

At this time of year, when all things at school are winding down, it is important to still keep our students engaged. I think sometimes this is a challenge – but I love it!

We have this great unit of work for Year 8, that we always want to spend more time on, but run out of room in the year to fit it in in-depth. I have a bank of resources and ideas that I really want to use and get the kids involved in, but time is always my enemy.

But what this does mean, is that I can teach it at the end of the year, with no worries about deadlines for assessments. I can just teach it for the enjoyment of the content. Which is great, because the topic is

Food Glorious Food

Starting with the Amazing videos of Heston Blumenthal to demonstrate the design process

Please explain you say?

Idea -> Proposal -> Research -> Experimentation -> Evaluation -> Re-design ->Presentation to User/Audience

This unit of work focuses on food as subject matter historically and in popular culture.

Another great resource is this series called Eating Art

When I tell the kids about this topic, they get really excited. And this year, I had a boy bring in a cake for the class to use as their source image.

Let them eat Cake!

Let them eat Cake!

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We then do a series of drawings, much like a stop frame animation…. of the cake disappearing. One bite at a time. All students have to draw the whole slice of cake first, and I tell them that if one person takes a bite before they have drawn it, then no-one gets the cake. They all have to put their hands up and tell me when their drawing is finished for me to approve them to have a bite and move onto the next drawing.

It is AMAZING how quiet the class was! They were silently drawing and LOVING IT! Their drawings we really good and some of the more challenging kids who don’t usually love art, were even into it.

I don’t often bribe my kids… but this was a great way to get them involved and keep them engaged!


Noob, Master or Wizard

Differentiation is a focus this year, not only at my school, but also in the region. This has meant that there is a massive push to make a range of strategies more explicit in our programs and units of work.

So, what is Differentiation?

It involves the use of teaching, learning and assessment strategies that are fair and flexible, provide an appropriate level of challenge, and engage students in learning in meaningful ways. Differentiated programming recognises an interrelationship between teaching, learning and assessment that informs future teaching and learning.

http://syllabus.bos.nsw.edu.au/support-materials/differentiated-programming/

Being unique and different isn't all that bad

Being unique and different isn’t all that bad


The concept began as a strategy to enable Gifted and Talented learners to be challenged in mainstream classrooms. The realisation is all students learn in different ways and when provided with a range of ways to problem solve, a choice of product outcomes and the opportunity to work at a pace that suits them, students will achieve better and more to their potential. No longer is the “one size fits all” solution adequate in the 21st Century classroom.

There are a few suggested strategies that can be used. These include:

  • Differentiating the process or activities
  • Differentiating the product outcome or assessment
  • Differentiating the content and materials
  • Differentiate the environment

All the above can be further explained when you examine the following models:

How does this translate in the classroom?

I feel confident from teaching the GATS class that I am able to accomplish these ideas when programming and implementing a unit of work. But when we sat down to discuss it as a faculty, there was a need to have it more explicit and each concept defined and used clearly by each teacher. (Now there is irony – teach in a differentiated way, but don’t program like it! HAHA!) There was also a push from above for each faculty to focus on one strategy to become experts at it – the Art department scored Extended Brainstorming. The more that I thought about it and read about differentiation, the more clear it was to me, that in Art we are really lucky. While we teach students a skill in using materials, the concept development and inevitable outcome, is always differentiated. Students are always working at their own pace and some extend their artmaking when they feel confident, while others are more complacent.

For me, reflecting upon my classes, I thought perhaps I had let my Visual Design class down. Because I teach in such an open-ended manner, I feared that maybe they weren’t developing good enough Graphic Design skills, and some were not all confident with using Photoshop. I don’t like to set down in stone HOW to use the software, I figure that as they problem solve and decide on a visual concept, they are going to have to learn how to use the software, to make it do what they want.

In saying this, I decided to PRE-TEST their skills. I gave them a task that was open-ended, but the end product was like a test of their developing skills.

Here are some of their products.

There is such a range. But it really challenged them and gave them the chance to really showcase what they could or couldn’t do.

So, are you a NOOB, MASTER or WIZARD?

Once complete, I assigned the students the next design brief. However, I based it upon these previous submissions. I was going to tell them what to do, but let them choose. I let them choose from 3 possible project – each increasing in difficulty.

The NOOB task is for students that are developing their Photoshop skills.

The MASTER task is for students that are able to use Photoshop, but not always confident.

The WIZARD task is for the super dooper students who want a challenge and know what they are doing.

The feedback discussions we had about where they were placed in their ability was great, and now the are all doing something that they are enjoying and with enough challenge to learn new and develop their skills.

What are some things you have tried to differentiate in your classroom?


To Teach is to Learn

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I am at an interesting point in my career….

I love what I do… but I want to do more! I feel like  have a lot to offer other teachers and sometimes my brain feels like it is going to explode with all the ideas that I have that I want to try. I have been so lucky with the experiences and opportunities that I have had in my school. I guess I am one of those keen beans who gets asked to participate in lots of different things. This has then led to the development of my own ideas, new approaches to the classroom and changes in my teaching values.

Last week I was inspired by two things. These things have made me further think about what I am going to do in the future.

ONE

I have often wondered why I thrive off being given new challenges. Many mornings I walk past my Deputy Principals office and she stops me… “Jess….. I have this idea…….”. For the past 8 years I have been at Mosman High School, I have accomplished a lot of things and am always busy.

It began with a literacy project, then the completion of my NSWIT accreditation and involvement in an Element 5 professional development project for this, then I did my Masters of Cross Disciplinary Art and Design for 3 years, had a studio residency and an art exhibition, have been involved with different technology roll outs, gone to and presented at MANY conferences, worked towards and received the Ministers Quality Teaching Award, done my maintenance of accreditation, have been teaching Year 12 HSC Visual Arts, done HSC marking, have been teaching the GATS class and have gotten engaged and married.

This is just a brief summary of my accomplishments – but I won’t bore you with more!

After watching this TED talk by Kelly McGonigal, I realised that I have embraced the stress around me – and I LOVE it! It opens my mind and it inspires me to do new and better things.

TWO

In a staff meeting last week, two colleagues presented on their learning at the GATE Conference. At first I was frustrated and annoyed… and then I was sort of happy.

Why?

Well, they were focussing on differentiation and some strategies they had heard about at the conference. Then one teacher was saying how she had learnt about ideas that focussed on a student- centered classroom. And that she was slowly trying to change her approach to how she teaches, getting students to ask the questions instead of her. This annoyed me at first, because I have been saying this for at least 2-3 years when I present to staff!!!! But then I was happy, because FINALLY, maybe, a shift was happening! The teacher commented that it takes 2 years for reflecting and change to happen…. and she claimed she was only at the beginning of her journey!

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*sigh*

Thinking about these things made me think of this graph:

A graph of Everett Rogers Technology Adoption Lifecycle model

A graph of Everett Rogers Technology Adoption Lifecycle model

I wonder where to from here?

Change is slow, despite the forces that push for it to happen. And it is frustrating for me, out here, by myself, seeing how this change can be good. (I am not really by myself – there are many people like me, and I am not discounting the role they play in my life – this is just a figure of speech!)

I believe that as I teach, I learn. I am inspired to try new things and this has led to some exciting lessons in my classroom.

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I like to take risks and challenge my students think creatively and problem solve. I have embraced technology and the potentials that this offers. Now I want to see a shift into more blended learning with cross KLA projects and collaboration across schools and across the world. I have researched differentiation, Project Based Learning, collaboration, Games Based Learning, gifted and talented strategies, an array of assessment strategies and creative thinking.

So, for the future, I see myself as a leader who wants to make change happen. But this is not as easy as it may seem. What type of leader should I be?? Where can I be most effective? Would I miss the classroom? Would I miss my school? Does the role that I think I want even exist? Would I be a good leader??? These are crashing through my brain right now. I think I can only do so much within my classroom context and see potential for more.

I think I am lucky to have a great PLN around me and great friends to keep me stimulated… but I will still keep looking for an answer to my conundrum…

To teach is to learn. 


How is BYOD going?

It has been a few weeks now and we still have the one class enjoying having their own devices in the classroom. We are looking at expanding this by the end of the Year to include all of Year 7 and 8.

However, this will have it’s set backs. There are still teachers who don’t really use technology in an integrated way in their classrooms, and the network at school may need a little oomph! But these are things can be worked through.

Sometimes I think that it would be better to have no choice of device, and support teachers better with one system that can then be managed and monitored and have professional development modelled around it. I don’t have a preference for a device I guess, but do like the workflow of iPads. This however, is not a device that would last the students through the whole of high school… as by the time they are in senior school, they would definitely need a laptop instead. And really, my philosophy of education is not about the technology, but about the teaching pedagogy.

As part of the implementation of BYOD, I had the GATS class do an assignment on what they thought it would look like in our school, and how lessons can be transformed with technology. They presented to a panel of myself, the principal, and two kind parents who are a part of the P&C technology committee.

Check out some examples:

Student ONE

Student TWO

Student THREE

My reflections

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While their presentations were great (albeit some had WAY too much text on their slides that they proceeded to read), I was saddened. Saddened that they still believe learning to look like the teacher is at the front of the room, and they have to take notes and do tests. It is so embedded in them to think this, that even when told they could make the changed lessons anything they wanted, they didn’t know what that could look like.

I watched Sir Ken Robinson’s talk on TED on the weekend again, and hope that I can at least change the landscape of education in my context.

How do you think you will bring the LEARNING REVOLUTION to your context?


And then… more BYOD!

It has been over a week now that the students in one Year 7 class have had their devices in the classroom.

So far…..

TALKING TO TEACHERS

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When I realised that there were so many different types of devices being used, I told the principal that there needed to be a meeting with the teachers to explain the different platforms and capabilities. I also felt that I should encourage them to experiment with new approaches to their lessons so that they were more student-centered and driven by the access to technology.

Questions raised were things like:

Q. What do you do when they are playing games?

A: Ask them to stop, sit with them ask what the game is. Ask them if they think it is relevant to the class. Sit with them until they die and lose the level!! (A teacher sitting next to the is a little off putting!! HEHE)

Q. How can I get the PDF of the textbook onto an iPad?

A: There are some apps that allow you to share files… or you can chunk the textbook and break the file up by chapter using Adobe Acrobat Pro. (Or maybe there is an alternative to using a textbook….??)

Q: I wanted to use a flash resource, but I am disappointed because students with iPads can’t use this resource

A: Sharing is caring… or ask students to find an alternative

Q: Are we here because the parents have said we are not using the laptops in class?

A: *pause* *shocked look on face* No, you are here so I can answer any of your questions

I gave them a sheet that simplified the tools on each device and summarised what the students had.

TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES

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The epic tech dude and my twitter PLN helped us to figure out why the PC’s weren’t connecting to the schools DER wireless network. Because we didn’t give any specs to kids about laptops, and perhaps we didn’t realise at the time…. but if students are to have a PC – they need their wireless card to run at 5GHz…!! Many PC’s seem to have 2.4GHz cards and these will NOT connect to the network. There is a way to get a USB adaptor that converts the 2.4 to a 5GHz – but of course this is not ideal.

THE STUDENTS

The kids are total keen beans and are loving the freedom having their own device has.

I was amused in class the other day, when I saw three boys huddled around some papers. I looked and saw that it was a 5 page worksheet stapled together. I asked what they were doing.

2 said, “We haven’t done our homework!”

ME: “And??? What are you doing now???”

BOYS: Copying his work

ME: See, this is why I think technology can make class more engaging. You guys are never going to remember this stuff if you are just filling in a cloze passage and a table. What if we googled what was on the sheet.

*insert google search here*

ME: Look at this, heaps of sites that can explain this content to you….

At this point I walked away, shaking my head. 3 minutes later, one of the boys came up to me and asked for my help.

He had found a tutorial online relating to the content on the worksheet. He was following the steps, and inputting data into Excel but needed help making it into a graph. I showed him how.

ALL 3 BOYS: WOW! That is so cool Miss!

*smile on my face*

ME: Yes it is… and how much more have you learnt now….!!!!


Introducing Bring Your Own Device aka BYOD

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After 4 years of the Digtial Education Revolution (DER), and the governments commitment to giving all Year 9 students a laptop to keep until Year 12, it is all coming to an end.

Now that pedagogy’s are shifting, there has been equal access to technology between rural and city schools and students are all excited to be given a new learning tool – the funding has stopped. We all knew that it would end, but we were enjoying the ride too much. Realistically, now that the revolution has started, it is up to schools and educators to maintain the momentum.

I know that many Department of Education and Community (DEC) Public schools are seeking solutions to the gap in technology that is imminent. Does each school fund the continued access to laptops and computers? Or do we rely on the school community and parents?

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At my school, we have decided to trial BYOD.

Bring your own Device.

One class in Year 7 (My gifted and talented class) are the experimental class. Parents are keen to support it, so we have jumped in the deep end. We have decided to let the students bring whatever device they like.

Uh oh!

Yup – On Tuesday when they first brought them in, I looked around and knew this was going to be interesting!!! While this gives them ownership over the device they have chosen – someone hasn’t thought about the impact this will have on the classroom management and teachers. While I am capable of dealing with different platforms, as I am experienced and confident with technology, others may not be. It was interesting to note the percentage of students with Mac devices vs PC. Only 3 of the 28 had PC and they have had trouble connecting to the DER wi-fi network at school. (If you have a solution to this, I would love to know!)

A few parents from the class have been calling me and asking for my advice on which device to get. I have given them my opinion and are letting them make their own choices.

Over the next few weeks I will evaluate how I think this has worked in our school….

Just little old me, being a teacher, but loving technology and learning!

Just little old me, being a teacher, but loving technology and learning!

And the Students?

To drive the students and get them ready to have BYOD in the classroom, I have given them a great project.

They have been researching and comparing devices and prices, learning about digital citizenship and figuring out the problems they may face.

I also want them to be pushing their teachers to use these devices (after all, their parents have invested in them to be used!) SO the students have to redesign a unit of work based upon something they have already done, and see how using technology would change it.

I want them to present to the key stakeholders: parents, principal and teachers on a panel. They are super excited and really keen to be using their new ‘toys’ in the classroom.

Let’s see how this goes…..


Teaching teachers

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And so ends my first ISTE conference!

I have had a blast in San Antonio. Not only have I hung out with 15999 other like minded teachers, but I have also hung out with my edugeeks friends from Sydney; Monique, Bianca and Ashleigh.
I have been thinking for a while about the value of teachers teaching teachers as professional development and how much I love it. Hearing about real experiences with real ideas makes it much more valuable.

I love sharing what I do with teachers!!!! Be it my successes or my failures….

I feel that I have so many great teaching ideas that are trapped lifeless inside my head. I believe that I have a creative mind and want to do so much more in my classroom. Ironically, I am restricted* by my subject area of Visual Arts. I am dying to do more cross-curricula projects, but many of my colleagues at school are unsure about this concept in their classrooms.
*restricted may be too harsh- I do what I want in my classroom, and achieve the Art outcomes at the same time…. I just get excited by English and Science and History and how they can become blended in my classroom.
This is why I like to teach teachers. I can share these many ideas and engage in a dialogue about how to make them happen. By talking about my success, other teachers reflect upon their classrooms practices and realise that perhaps other things are possible.
Presenting at ISTE as an international presenter was certainly a highlight for me. I did a mini-workshop that participants had to pay to come to. This meant they really valued what I had to say. They read my workshop description and believed in my ideas. (I sure hope that I delivered!) I presented on collaboration in the classroom and discussed ideas for how technology can make this run more smoothly. I also gave suggested rubrics and classroom management strategies to make it feasible.

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I have also recently done two weeks of tutorials at Sydney uni for the M.Teach course. This was exhausting but great. A room full of potential and keen pre-service teachers who want to learn about the art of teaching.

Over the last 14 weeks I have had a Prac Student under my supervision. While giving him feedback on his lesson plans and classroom management, this has also been a great tool for me to reflect upon myself. Some things that I was suggesting to him reminded me to keep doing these things too. I believe you have to practice what you preach! Watching as he built relationships with students and really blossomed as a teacher made me really proud. Don’t get me wrong- he already had an amazing body of knowledge and excellent ideas for the classroom, but as a teacher teaching a teacher, it was an invaluable experience. He was so good infact and I was so confident with the teacher he has become, that when he finished his prac, and I was heading overseas to ISTE, he then stepped in as my casual teacher and took my classes for a block!!!!

All of these experiences lately make me even more excited to make connections with teachers and share my ideas. I want to be inspired by teachers who are as passionate as me, and I want to help other teachers to build their own classroom practices so they can have as much fun as me in their classrooms!


It is all about the Label

label

 

SOLO

PBL

GBL

OMG

YOLO

DEAR

TEE

PEEL

FML

KWL

PIP

BOW

Yes…. That is  A LOT of acronyms!

Amongst these acronyms are some popular slang terms, some short hand terms used for HSC projects… and labels for different teaching pedagogies or strategies that are ‘trending’ at the moment.

I say ‘trending’, because there seems to be an increase in teachers using some or all of these strategies, just because they are the most talked about thing at the moment. While I think that it is great that teachers explore different ways to engage their students: Is using a concept once because you heard about how someone else used it, really make you an expert? And how do you measure success if you only dip your toe in it?

I am not saying that I am not a culprit of this.

I  have researched and read about many different pedagogies but I am not claiming to be experienced in any or all of them. When I think about my teaching over the last few years, and my conversations with my peers on Twitter, I think that I have taken elements of the things that I like from many different sources, and applied them to my own context.

Over the holidays, I was privileged to be a part of the Project Learning Swap Meet organised by Bianca and Lee Hewes and Peter Mahoney. Let me tell you… the passion that exudes from these people and the amount of excitement that was generated during the school holidays and on a Saturday, was incredible!

edugeeks

 

The reason why I mention this when talking about LABELLING the teaching that we do, is that I believe to be able to take that label on board, you have to have been taken over by that pedagogy, believe in it so much that you are living it and breathing it. Then, that label becomes yours. I have learnt so much from Bianca and her mind and the way she has used Project Based Learning in the classroom. ALL of her topics and syllabus outcomes are taught this way. From Year 7 – 12. All the assessments that her kids produce are real products. Not some made up classroom thing. She always seeks a real audience and real experts to guide her students learning. Bianca is not following a trend, she has created this trend! And because I talk to Bianca about her ideas all the time, I have become inspired by her teaching process and applied some of these ideas to my classroom.

But because I use them, should I label myself as a PBL teacher??

At the beginning of the Year, there was a lot of talk on Twitter about the SOLO taxonomy. I read these tweets, then looked through my research from last year. I was already doing it then…. Thank you to Pam Hook for your excellent info about using this to promote higher order thinking. Stemmed from this I used Tait Cole’s Punk Learning Hexagonal Think Link tool… which also led me to the Triptico App. These tools have been great in my classroom, and I will continue to use them…

But because I use them, should I label myself as a user of SOLO??

Over the last few years I have designed a few games as units of work to engage and inspire my students. I developed websites that allow the students to work from level to level to achieve different learning outcomes. As the level gets higher, so too does the expectations of the student. One was for my Gifted and Talented class, a topic about Conflict, where the students journeyed through Conflictus. The other, a Visual Design unit of work about concept art and game design, where students journey through an Unchartered Land.

But because I use them, should I label myself as a GBL teacher??

Let’s just think about these labels before we put our names to them…. If you want to take that label, be true to it. Otherwise, be like me, use what works for you… apply it to your context.

Don’t follow a trend for the sake of it….! Just love your teaching for what it is…. and keep up with your 21st Century Learners!!!


Hot Potato Hot Potato

potato

Q: Why do potatoes make good detectives?

A: Because they keep their eyes peeled. 

But what does a Potato have to do with Creative thinking?

We need to first understand what creative thinking is….

Thinking creatively is a state of mind that enables you to approach tasks, problems, and situations with openness to alternatives. REFERENCE 

In Year 7, we have a streamed class for our Gifted and Talented students (GATS). This class have sat the selective schools test and are seen as ‘bright students’. They have one less Maths, English and Science lesson and have 3 periods a week with me, where I don’t have a syllabus that I have to follow! It is a dream!

To introduce the course to them, I explain that I will not be giving them marks at all, but will be teaching them to love learning. Here is a letter that I wrote to them to explain this….

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Once they can see my vision, I pull out the potatoes.

I read about this once when researching creative thinking tasks, and have done it as my first lesson with the GATS class for the last 3 years. It never bores me… and I love seeing the look of confusion on these kids when I hand them each a potato.

All I tell them is:

Invent something with the potato.

They look at each other, down at the potato, then back at me.

Then collectively their hands all shoot up in the air.

No, I say, I am not answering any questions. No, I am not giving you any boundaries.

Just PLAY!

Oh, and they do! It never ceases to amaze me where they take this. Some literally use the potato for what it is. Some just use it as a material. Some break all the rules.

Here are some examples from the Year 7’s this year.

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Potato Porcupine

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Potato Rose

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Potato Battery

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Potato Plane

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Potato Boat

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Potato Necklace

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Potato House

As you can see… they are all varied and all take a different approach to the task. (Surprisingly, this year I had 3 potato batteries and 2 potato necklaces!)

The next part of the task is designed to get students to stretch their imagination even further.

After each student spoke about their design and the class wrote a PMI (Plus/Minus/Interesting) analysis for each, I handed them someone else’s potato to RE-INVENT!

I explain that it is 50 years later and technology has changed. You must develop this design considering there may be a change in materials or need over this period of time. Jaws drop and they look at me as if their ideas couldn’t get any better…..

This year I also found a great resource about innovation to inspire them and help them understand how to push beyond what is possible…

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I love to watch as their brains tick over new ideas. It was interesting to see how each student then approached the problem. I didn’t scaffold HOW I wanted them to do this, and they all worked in their own way. I do this on purpose so that they don’t fall into a conformed way to think. It requires them to draw their own conclusions. It also means there is not RIGHT way to do it. And really, I can’t know what the outcome is going to look like.

When I walk around the room, I was blown away by the different approaches to innovation.

Check it out!

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To apply this technique to a real life problem, I found a great challenge that I have shown the class and asked them to compete in. It is called the:

Design For Change Challenge

While we only have a week to complete the FOOD WASTE CHALLENGE, they were very keen to give it a go.

How do you develop your students creative thinking skills?

And if you don’t, here is something to think about…

In the Australian Curriculum, students develop capability in critical and creative thinking as they learn to generate and evaluate knowledge, clarify concepts and ideas, seek possibilities, consider alternatives and solve problems. Critical and creative thinking are integral to activities that require students to think broadly and deeply using skills, behaviours and dispositions such as reason, logic, resourcefulness, imagination and innovation in all learning areas at school and in their lives beyond school.


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