How forceps relate to education.

Here’s the story of two brothers named Peter Chamberlen, who were both highly successful obstetricians. The eldest Peter is believed to be the inventor of forceps, a revolutionary invention at the time, which helped make giving birth a significantly safer process. Wonderful, except it was a secret. In fact, when the brothers “arrived at the home of a woman in labor, two people had to carry a massive box with gilded carvings into the house. The pregnant patient was blindfolded so as not to reveal the secret, all the others had to leave the room. Then the operator went to work. The people outside heard screams, bells, and other strange noises until the cry of the baby indicated another successful delivery”(source:Wikipedia). Apparently, this secret was kept in the family for another three generations. It makes you wonder, if you knew your invention saved lives, why not share it??


How does this relate to schools, you ask? – Highlighting the importance of sharing the good stuff we have going on.


I was reminded again of the importance of collaboration recently, when Cathy Wylie spoke at an NZEALS event. She spoke of the fragmentation of schools following the inception of Tomorrow’s Schools and how we are more likely to compete against one another now. Now, I can’t really pass judgement on this, since I was certainly not a teacher during these contentious times, when Tomorrow’s Schools was just coming in. However, what she said did ring true to me, in terms of the importance of creating or enhancing the connections we have between schools as well as between the teachers we have within our schools.


Sharing the good practice in our schools and classrooms is, of course, vital to this. I think it’s very easy to think, “I’m busy enough as it is, why would I blog,  tweet, share with team mates or speak at conferences?” I think we need to reframe this and think, “what would the positive impact on students beyond my direct influence be if I did share what was working for me?” After all, we are all in this together. We all have the similar goals for our students as they leave us and enter the ‘real world’. We all have the same responsibilities to our students and communities, as well as to society and the economy as a whole.


So let’s do what we can to break down the barriers to sharing. Be brave and put your ideas out there! Create an environment in schools where sharing is valued, not discouraged. Try to eliminate the competition that exists between schools and even within schools.



If you are looking for an opportunity to learn, share, collaborate and connect, come to EduCafe next term. See for more details.


How are the students feeling?

I wanted to gauge how students were feeling about the skills and competencies they had developed this year so far, as well as getting the kids to reflect on how far they had come and what their goals were for the remainder of the year. It was a really useful process for the student to go through as they could see the HUGE shifts they have made in 2 and a half terms. We were also able to construct a way forward, as a class, and students decided to use learning buddies again to assist them in this.

Here is the link to the results, showing how proficient students felt they were at some important skills they have been learning at the beginning of the year, compared to now – Survey Results August 2013

So what’s it like to turn your teaching on its head?

At Willow Park School, there are two fantastic teachers who have  done just this. They have, in their own words, ” jumped the deep end and scratched everything (they) knew about routines and classroom management to start fresh.” It’s been a hugely exciting time and, as a team, we have moved so far in our teaching practice. I’m incredibly lucky to have had the chance to work with two such motivated and reflective teachers who are so willing to try something new. 

Below are Kim and Nicole’s thoughts on their experiences of implementing My-learning this year. Thanks Kim and Nicole for allowing me to share this.


How things were before My Learning

Before we began teaching the My-Learning programme, we felt that there was a whole class approach to our teaching and learning environment.  There were separate writing, reading and maths times which led to there being little to no flexibility.  It was a very teacher controlled environment, where it was up to us to know everything (including each child’s level, where they were at and their next steps at every moment).Learning wasn’t really shared in depth with the children and it was definitely more stressful and we felt there was more pressure.


As far as using computers and E-learning went in the “traditional” classroom, computers were used as a substitution tool (e.g. instead of publishing à publish on a computer, worksheets à online worksheet / activity). Issues arose with children having the same problems at the same time (for example within group work); therefore we worried about getting the students up and running on the computer while others missed out on actual teaching time. Research skills weren’t a priority to be taught and there weren’t enough computers (working at the same time to be able to have groups practising things like research skills).


How we went in implementing My Learning

We like the saying that we had to “Turn our teaching on its head” quoted by Emma Winder. It really was a drastic change at first. So to begin with, we jumped the deep end and scratched everything we knew about routines and classroom management to start fresh.


We began our year with an inquiry unit about ‘Learning to be a learner’. This helped develop a classroom culture where ‘Learning’ was the real focus and in began to develop more learning focused relationships between their teachers and themselves children (so it wasn’t just friends working together). The unit helped the children build their foundation into what their year was going to be like.  It gave them relevance for learning and school. Through all of this, most behavioural issues were ironed out because “we were here to learn.”   Children were able to see they were responsible for their learning and not just the teacher (as it was pointed out to them that there is a ratio of 30:1 between students and teachers). Children were explicitly taught independence and problem solving skills (even those as simple as “the teacher is busy and I am stuck, I will go and ask ____ because I think he is better at maths than me” or “I can ask about this when the teacher is finished so in the meantime, I’ll carry on with _____ that I need to get done”).



Within the My Learning structure children were able to take control of their learning by personalising it to suit them.  Using the formative assessment data the children and teacher together set themselves individual maths, reading and writing goals in areas they needed work on.  From here the children could see where they were at, where their gaps were, and what they needed to work on to get to where they needed to be.

  • Maths goals online
    • Through Microsoft 365 we put all of the children’s maths goals online with activities attached at each level so they could go and practise the ones they needed to work on.
    • We have used mathletics in the same way where either the teacher can set tasks based on their goals or the children can choose to seek it out.


  • Writing goals
    • Each child has their own individual writing goals where they can write about what interests them with that goal in mind using a range of genre (poetry, narrative, recount, etc).  I have found – especially for boys – this a big motivator as if they want to, they can write about rugby 24-7 and they are still able to do this and achieve their goals.
    • Their goals are individually conferenced on where the children can self assess and know when they are ready to move on and have achieved their goals and show evidence of this to the teacher.


  • Research skills

There was time for these skills to be explicitly taught and children could see that they were of importance and so wanted to know and learn about them. We taught students about:

  • Authenticity of websites
  • How to use an encyclopaedia (online and book)
  • How to use a search engine correctly
  • What websites to use to find different information


  • Reflections
    • We created our own class blogs so the children could actively reflect on their learning and share it with others.  They could then comment on others learning, parents can view them, children can gain useful strategies from others and receive feedback that otherwise would have only been from the teacher (in their books).
    • It lead to talking about internet safety and how we behave on the internet as anyone can view our blogs and what we say and do online (Digital Citizenship)


  • E-Learning (BBC, youtube, google etc, boolify)
    • Reflection- Blogs (as previously talked about)


  • Each class created a Class Twitter account.  This became a place where students can view and follow others that relate to our UOI or their learning based interests. Digital Citizenship played a part in using Twitter. For example, Room 1 decided that instead of a picture of them showing their faces they wanted their picture of the back of their heads so their faces weren’t out on the internet.


  • Personalising My Learning:

Once they have a good understanding of their learning and where they are at and what their next steps are, the children are taught to use the tools they have learnt (such as their research skills, youtube, BBC, Kahn Academy, Scholastic and thousands more) to help them succeed with their goals.  They are also given the choice to personalise their learning by finding out information they are curious about.  This could incorporate any of their learning goals, so students see everything is interconnected with their learning. Or it could be a chance for them to use their research skills to simply find out about their curiosities (e.g. Wonderopolis is a website that demonstrates all kinds of kids’ curiosities).

Being able to find out about their own interests is a huge motivator for them as they are now able to bring their interests into the classroom and share it with everyone (eg last UOI they were able to inquire into anything that is being exploited by humans and could present this in however format they chose; they came up with the S/C they needed and collaboratively we came up with a research structure of where they had to “check in” with the teacher)


  • Opt-In Meetings:

Opt-in Meetings are “optional” for students to attend. At first, children suggested “fun, engaging” opt-in meetings that they would like to attend. This gave students a chance to practice managing their time and scheduling in these meetings within their diaries. These meetings later turned to goal focussed sessions where students were able to tell us what goals they were struggling with and needed guidance on (which informed our planning of these opt-in meetings). To begin with, these lessons were all teacher run. Later on, as students became familiar with how the meetings were run, and understood the relevance for them, they were able to take opt-in meetings based on their strengths. For example, a student who feels confident in teaching a meeting on a particular goal (e.g. converting whole numbers to an improper fraction) could run a meeting for those who needed help with that goal. This provided an opportunity for students who had run the meetings, to practice consolidating their learning by sharing it with others. Students were given guidance and tools to take an effective lesson to ensure that they were successful. Students often comment on how much they like opt-in meetings because they get a say in what they will be about and they don’t have to attend any meetings that would waste their time (because they already have that knowledge).


Classroom Structure Now:

  • To make this possible we have altered the way we organise our weeks. We don’t have reading, writing, and maths time in specific time blocks. We still teach groups and the whole class, it’s just organised in a more flexible manner.  We also needed to find the time to be able to conference individually with students, as well as seeing their groups and cover our curriculum content.
  • Students being able to plan their own weeks fitted this schedule.  They can book in their group meeting times, class meetings, any opt-in meeting they wished to attend.  They could also book the computers for when they needed them and this freed up the teacher from computer problems because there weren’t too many children on the network at the same time and children had the problem solving skills to help them solve their issues. We found that later in the year, some children became the experts in solving computer problems and other members of the class were comfortable asking for help from them or anyone within the room.
  • If a computer was “broken” or unusable the children learned that they had the opportunity to change their planning and plan for another task. This meant that no ‘learning time’ was wasted.

A smidgen of help for teachers

Yesterday I launched a series of videos I have been working on with Room Service Media at one of the TTS Class to Cloud events. These videos are designed to be “bite sized ideas for busy teachers.” Videos outline what an e-learning tool does, how to operate it and how it can be used in the classroom. The idea is that a teacher could follow the blog, get an email update in the morning, and be able to effectively use the tool in the classroom that very day. Small bites of PD making e learning simple for those of us who aren’t so confident in their IT usage.

Go to the Smidgens site for the introduction video and the first how-to on Prezi.

On a more serious note, I am looking for funding for more of these videos to be produced so, if any schools out there want to pitch in to keep this project going, please email me