Mapping our learning

I was lucky enough to attend and speak at the Cognition ‘Connected Thinking’ Symposium last term, which was a brilliant event. I was particularly impressed by the thoughts of Brian Annan, and the mater-of -fact, down-to-earth manner in which he presented.

One of the ideas Brian shared with the audience was that of ‘learning maps’ which I thought was a simple but effective reflective and analytical tool for students to use. I also thought it would provide great feedback to me on anything I needed to alter within the classroom. Basically, the idea is that the student draws themselves surrounded by the people/things they learn from, as well as the influences they have as well.

Here are a couple of examples:

map 2

map 1


These maps took a fair bit of critical thinking and resulted in a good discussion. The following are the main ideas from this:

  • About 2/3 of the students were happy with the way their learning occurred.
  • They were generally happy with the influence they had online and the learning relationships with their family and myself.
  • Some wanted to have more of a reciprocal learning relationship with their friends. They felt the learning went one way.
  • About a third wanted to have more influence on others’ learning in general.

The next step for us is to make the most of online connective tools, to help them to have more of an influence in general. I also want to unpack the idea of interdependence with the students, to help them see the informal learning relationship they already have with their peers, as well as beginning to think about how we can enhance this.


How can you be sure the kids in your class are actually fully aware of their learning?

I talk to people a fair bit about the importance of students being fully aware of what they are learning, why they are learning this, how they are doing and what their next steps are. Fellow educators come into the classroom and, without fail,  comment on how well the kids know where they are at. They’ve even wowed the local Intermediate  and College Principals with their in -depth knowledge of their own learning.

But how good are they really?

Are they just parroting learning intentions, or do they have a deep and holistic grasp on their learning?

I decided to put this to the test and find out. So, in the holidays I did nothing. Zilch. Didn’t come into school once. I planned out the first day as a big planning and reflection session (plus dancing lessons and library!) and that was all. The long-term planning for the term was decided by the students. Here is what they came up with, after small group discussions around different subject areas and whole class sharing of ideas- Term 4 Targets. We also came up with whole class, competency based, learning intentions to help us become more successful learners. These two aspects form the basis for the weekly planning, whereby there are whole class sessions and optional sessions, so students can chose the meetings they require for their learning.

They were able to suggest learning intentions that were necessary, relevant and that useful for their inquiry. I think this also shows how open and honest students are about their learning; something we have worked hard to achieve all year. Students suggested meetings that were appropriate for them and are attending these meetings without embarrassment or scorn from others if they are seen as a bit basic.

They have become much more capable learners and I feel they are on their way to being well set up for their life. Well done Room 3!

“The smartest person in the room, is the room.”

I was so excited to be able to bring EduCafe to ULearn this year and it was pretty successful. I thought it would bring a little something extra to an already wonderful conference, which already offers clever and informative breakout and keynote speakers – a chance to connect with fellow educators in an informal manner, whilst focusing on an important question- and I think it delivered.

This connected well to a comment one of the key notes, Ken Shelton, made at the very beginning of the conference –

The smartest person in the room, is the room.

After introducing the event to by far the biggest audience I have spoken to EVER (and being horribly nervous about it!) we were able to get under way. We didn’t have wine this time, but lollies instead, to help fuel the conversation. Most importantly, though, we had a great bunch of people who were passionate enough to stay back during reflection time, when most others were (sensibly!) resting, recuperating or finding bling for the conference dinner. The conversation related to the conference themes  and centered around the following timely and poignant question: “How are small-scale, grass-roots innovations enabled and grown in schools?” or, more specifically:

  • How are we re-designing and re-imagining what is possible in education?
  • How are we tackling our school’s challenges head on?
  • How ambitious, proactive and provocative are we being?
  • How are these innovations enabled by leaders and fellow teachers?
  • How are these innovations tested and how is quality ensured? How are these innovations then grown and enhanced?

I think the most exciting part of the conversations I was involved in was the lack of deficit thinking – exactly what we need if we want to make improvements to our education system in New Zealand.

Below are photos documenting the thoughts and ideas from the discussion  (click to enlarge and navigate between all pictures):

We don’t need no education

One highlight of the ULearn conference for me this year was one of Mark Osborne’s breakouts that I attended. As part of this, he posed the question – why do kids need to go to school? He discussed how we can learn everything from how to play the guitar on YouTube to online university courses from the likes of Harvard and MIT without leaving home. So why bother with school, as our access to such a wide variety of knowledge continues to grow and grow?

The discussion within the room was lively, resulting in some insights such as the following. Schools remain relevant  for:

  • Developing the ‘soft skills’ or key competencies at the front of the NZC.
  • Teaching collaboration.
  • Allowing for face to face connections with fellow learners and mentors.
  • Building the capacity to become discerning learners.
  • Providing a learning community.
  • Teaching students to become innovative and entrepreneurial.

So it seems that schools need to ensure they are less about the transfer of knowledge, and more about competency development and a community of learners to remain a necessary part of the education landscape.