Wednesday, October 2, 2013

My Minecraft Story

Over the last couple of weeks I have been confronted with some really uneasy feelings about learning, and my own place in approach to learning,

A  couple of weekends ago I decided perhaps it was time for me to learn a  little of what minecraft was all about. If I was going to facilitate our students developing an inquiry plan around it how could I do that without having some grasp of what it is they are doing on there?

And the learning I did  was pretty confronting for myself. 

Being someone who has always considered themselves- and been considered by others- to be slightly visually and perceptional challenged- as witnessed by the fact I am apparently on the “don’t drive with her” staff list, how was I meant to move around this foreign world with oceans and skies that required me to operate on different levels  in order to survive the world. 

I spent most of the first hour falling into the ocean and having to climb my way back up form the ocean floor. I learnt to fly up above my building so that I could look at it from a different angle and figure out what was wrong with my building.

I learnt that  making a simple building was actually a complex task. I had to draw on my knowledge of area and perimeter and shapes and sizes. And I had to keep watching out because every time I dropped a brick I made a hole in the ice and was in danger of falling through. Finally, a friend who was also building on the same server kept coming over to my building intermittently and plugging up the holes i was making so I stopped falling through the water.

And really it was this collaboration that was the key to my being able to continue and persevere. Although my friend was really wanting to build their own thing and didn’t want to stop too much to help me, when I got really desperate, he was willing to either suggest something, come and help for a few moments or show me a way to control something on the control pad which helped. Knowing someone else was there if I really needed it and I had access to immediate help was a key to persevering for me. This was a revelation to me. I’ve always considered myself an independent and self managed learner- and indeed I am with words- because its what I am comfortable with learning. When I had to learn something that I was not comfortable with- either in content or context- I absolutely needed the power of collaboration- and it needed to be supportive collaboration. Someone who let me struggle for a while and get frustrated but stepped in before the levels of frustration became so high I gave up- and I honestly think I probably would have given up in under 10 minutes if i had been by myself.

What does this say about some of the situations I have put learners in in a classroom in the past? How many times have I said you just need to figure this out by yourself not with your mate. This was a key question I kept thinking to myself all afternoon.

When we ventured into the survival world and I got completely lost for over 30 minutes and couldn’t find my way back, in the end my friend had to come and look for me as I was hopelessly lost. Therefore he had to leave the mining he was doing to come and search for me. And he had to leave appropriate signals so that once he had found me we could find our way back to where the crafting table was. In the end he made a huge marking pole that I could see from all over the world so that the next time I got lost I could use this to find my way back. How many real-life lessons are there here?

And how do we facilitate the kids making connections to some of those real life situations? So they can articulate the learning they are doing.

I learnt that when I was doing something difficult I needed to talk out loud. 

I kind of knew this. I’d realised a few weeks ago when there was someone else in the room while I was re-timetabling on a database, how much I talked out loud constantly while doing it. I’m normally alone when I do stuff like that and hadn’t realised how much I did it out loud. 

But the entire time I was on minecraft I found myself telling myself out loud what I needed to know or where I was going wrong. And how many times have I said to students in a classroom- can you do your thinking inside your head as its distracting for other learners?

And when I was just starting to feel slightly proud of the piddly little very traditional building I had made I looked at what my friend had made in that time and felt very insubstantial. While I had built this little 4 by 4 brick house with a bed and a doorway he had built this amazing castle moat like fence right around my house. How did he even know how to do that? According to him he visualised it in is head before he started and then made the picture in his head in the game. So again i thought to myself well how do I even start because I just don’t see that picture in my head? And if I cant see that picture in my head but the kids can, then what pictures do I see in my head that I think the kids should see and that they simply can’t, just like I can’t picture that building before I start?

And when I thought that maybe it was about time to do something else because we must have been doing this for close to an hour, we checked the time and found out it was coming close to 3 hours we had been totally engrossed in this learning- it was enjoyable and challenging and fun- and yes, it was certainly learning.

And how many times have we said to kids in our classrooms right your 30 minutes for that learning is up now for the next learning- and how authentic is that to real learning engagement? 

So what were the main lessons for me
  • the power of  having a mentor who knew a little bit more than you but didn’t consider themselves an expert- someone who was discovering and exploring just a few steps ahead of yo
  • the power of collaboration- from someone who was prepared to make you work a little but was perceptive enough to jump in before you hit the total frustration wall
  • the power of talk-out loud- both with a learning partner and also self-talk
  • the importance of real time for learning

Now I know we deal with the realities of classroom learning on a daily basis. 

We have numerous achievement objectives we are meant to be meeting. We have students who have significant literacy and numeracy deficits. We have students in whom who we often lament the lack of curiosity and questioning. We never think we have enough hours in the day. 

Can letting these kids loose on minecraft a couple of times a week do something dramatic for their learning or not? 

What about the fact we are meant to be spending all our time on literacy and numeracy because our kids are mostly all “well below” national standards?

How do we facilitate it so they can acknowledge and articulate their learning in order to accelerate their learning across the curriculum? 

How do we harness this engagement into literacy and numeracy? 

How do we give them sustained times on something like minecraft to really get into it and balance this with all those other demands? 

How do we ensure we are not being completely dictated in the learning we support our students with by an arbitrary timetable? 

After a couple of weeks of playing I have more questions than answers. And just maybe that is the answer. If after 10 weeks of this the kids have a pile more questions than answers how bad a thing is that?

I recently read the book Why School? by Will Richardson- one of the best books on learning I have read in ages and as a bonus a real easy hour read. It was that good that I have bought a kindle copy for all teaching staff at TKAS and sent it to their ipads. I look forward to hearing their responses to the book. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Lessons Learnt From Our Plants

At the beginning of each year we hold our staff induction.

In our first year induction went for 2 1/2 weeks. We began for the first three days on the local Marae getting to know each other and the big picture vision around learning at TKAS.  The remaining two weeks were spent getting to know the area: the infamous Amazing Race around Waikohu; continuing to get to know one another: lots of team building; and planning an initial scheme of learning for the first term: concept to be highlighted- dealing with change.

The induction period culminated with a powerful powhiri led by staff and the establishment board to welcome all students and whanau onto an old site but a new school.

Following the hakari and entertainment, staff gathered back together for a closing of the induction period where I presented them each with a photo frame with images of the last fortnight surrounding  the well known words to The Power of Geese.

These words have proven true for us time after time through the last three years. In fact I closed our end of term staff reflections this term by referring to them yet again. It’s been a challenging term and there have been times people have had to step up and move to the head of the “V” formation and take their turns leading, and some of our staff have really risen to the occasion when needed.

In Year 2 our induction, on a different local Marae, focussed around developing a language of learning and a commitment to professional learning. In what was becoming time honored tradition the induction ended with a quote and song and a presentation- this time of a photo frame with some pertinent quotes for the year ahead.

This year we had committed ourselves to becoming an an Enviro school. We were on another local Marae but our approach to the start of the year was quite different. We spent time getting to know about the whanau hanging in frames on the walls of the wharenui. We went for a bit of a hi koi to some places of interest- the old Marae site, the Urupa and of course the Kokomo- the much revered local swimming hole. 

We spent most of our time digesting and exploring the charter for the year with the main task being use the new school iPads to create a visual representation of the charter to share with each other.

Music played a large role in this induction with the immersion activity being me playing excerpts from 10 songs and staff members in teams making suggestions about how those particular songs might link to our charter for the year. (And yes that was accompanied by much complaining about my taste in music.!)

Given the focus on the environment for the year the induction time was concluded with me presenting all staff with a  mini house plant and charging them with growing their plant for the year, as a metaphor for how we are charged with growing our students. 

I used the song In the Garden (Terry Kelly) to illustrate this concept:

Think of all the people in your life that have left impressions on you
The ones who never let you down and those who were there each time you lost you way
All through your lifetime do remember the ones who really cared
Coz they were always there in the garden, where the flowers grow in the garden
The future will unfold
Thank god for the rivers and mountains and the valleys down below
Thank god for the teachers of our children so the garden can grow

Without a firm and guiding hand a tender sprout is lost among the weeds
Until your roots were firm and strong in the garden
Where the precious flowers grow in the garden
Where a better future will unfold

Thank god for the rivers and mountains and the valleys down below
Thank god for the teachers of our children so the garden can grow

So.............. after three terms where are the plants at? 

Each end of term we gather for reflections of the term. It has become one of our rituals as a staff.

This year reflections have been heightened as they begin with people bringing in their plants and sharing the stories of their growth, demise or anything in between. 

Yesterday we had stories about plants being Whangai (adopted) to their grandparents for some extra TLC but being regularly visited,

We had plants that had grown beyond all recognition through nothing but being given space and water. 

We had a plant whose carer bemoaned national standards. She explained that she was feeling good about her plant- she felt it be about the right standard until she got to school and saw another plant that was very well grown and she felt inferior, but then spotted another plant which had not fared so well and then felt really superior.

We had a plant who's carer was quite blunt about not being able or willing to care for plants and told us she really ignored her plant for the first two terms. But this term, having discovered Carol Dwecks work around mindsets she has started watering her plant and is wokring on changing her mindset about being able to care for plants and it is starting to thrive.

We had a digital representation of a plant because it's carer felt it was too comfortable nestled in its home surrounded by family and friends to be uprooted at this stage.

We had a plant that had been doing fine but its carer got a bit pressured into thinking it could do better and put too much effort into shining its leaves and other well-intended but interesting caring concepts. The carer had finally realized that he just needed to give it some space and let it do its own thing and juts be there to support it.

We had  a plant that had been left to itself for a little while but had managed to find what it needed to survive within the light and water available to it in the room it was left in. A nice metaphor for some of those students who don’t always get what they need for their growth but somehow find enough from limited stores to carry on.

We had plants of staff members who have left us during the year being cared for by other staff, ensuring their legacy lives on.

We had three teaching staff members absent along with their plants. 

One was with his wife as they were welcoming a new addition to their family. 
Another two were with whanau giving support in times of need. 

And that reminds me that it’s important for us to realise that we need to support and nurture our own loved ones- whanau and friends- and ourselves, in order to be able to support and nurture our learners.

So what have we learnt from caring for our plants?

  • That they all grow at different rates and speeds- as do our learners
  • That they all need different things fed to them and to be cared for in different ways in order to grow- as do our learners
  • That we need to think about our mindsets- whether we are growing plants or people 
  • That we can utilise the power and magic of technology to help support our plants....and our learners 
  • That although it is sad when people move on and gaps are left, others will step in and up to provide the care and support needed for those left behind- whether its plants or groups of young people 
  • That is order to care for other things, we need to look after ourselves and our nearest and dearest first- we need to be healthy in body and mind to nurture and support others

As all my staff- current and previous are well aware- I am a bit of a Quotes Queen- normally managing to find and share quotes for every occasion possible. 

On Friday I came upon this beauty:

A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit.  D.Elton Trueblood

How apt is this both for:

The plants we are currently caring for- which need to be brought back in at the end of the year to take pride of place on the stage for our Celebration of Achievement (what other schools refer to as  prize giving) and thereafter will be housed within our new school environment- which we take ownership of in mid December.

The young people we are currently caring for and supporting and nurturing on their learning journey. We probably won’t see the end results of what we are nurturing and that is not the point. We are here to help them as much as we can through this point in their lifelong journey.  

Helping them to read and write and become engaged mathematicians is important. Even more important is the development of an inquiry mindset. And even more is the development of positive relationships.  

For us at TKAS helping our young people develop an understanding of their identity- past, present and future, the ability to be inclusive with all other people ( accept and have positive relationships with a range of people)  and doing things differently (being innovative) is the cornerstone to what we are doing (and are the three main points on our school logo). 

“Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”  Robert Louis Stevenson