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Post it!

My nephew was tidying his room recently and found a book he thought I might like … it made me think about writing this blog post on the use of sticky notes in teaching and learning!

My teacher friends often joke about how we should have bought shares in the sticky note companies … along with butcher’s paper they are my most used teaching resources. So, let us count the ways …

Sticky notes are thoughts! I ask people (including myself) to write their ideas, questions, wonderings and connections on sticky notes as we read or discuss something.  Being small and sticky means you are not writing a huge essay and we can move them around.

I have shared my Running Dictation activity before – I print onto sticky notes! This is something I have also done to produce quick assessment rubrics for feedback on drafts of extended writing.

These photos show teachers working through the development of protocols for having professional discussions. We were able to rearrange the ideas until we had a set of criteria we were happy with. The same process can be used with students … to establish success criteria for a project, for example.


More recently I have been doing whiteboard tugs-of-war with my year 7s. They have 10 mins to work in a group to write as many ideas for/against the given topic. We then stick the ideas on the board – each student has to explain the idea on the sticky note as they add to the ‘rope’. At the end we can see which side won the tug!!

Tomorrow I will be starting a whole class novel study. I encourage my students to tag ideas and write their wonderings as we read. These become fodder for discussions and potential evidence or paragraphs when we start to write about the text. Some students go to the next level and colour code for different characters and/or themes.

The best thing about them is that we don’t feel too guilty about putting them into the recycle bin at the end of the session!


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How do you use sticky notes?



The Games People Play … part II …

DSC_0025So … the 2015 school year is upon us. Like most teachers I have spent part of the Summer “Holidays” reflecting on last year and planning for this year. I have blogged about games in the classroom many times and last year I was reminded on an almost weekly basis about why we should be using games more often.

Initially I used games as a reward in my classroom … part of my behaviour management plan. However, as I observed my students last year I became aware that the types of games (mostly old-fashioned card and board games) were not familiar to most of my high school students. They do play games … on computers and electronic devices … usually against the computer or unseen opponents … it is a solitary rather than social experience. The experience of playing in real-time, in real life, with your opponent across the table from you, was not a common experience.

My Professional Goals last year focussed on the Personal and Social Capabilities of the National Curriculum. My weekly games sessions ticked the boxes particularly in terms of self management and social awareness. I watched as students learnt how to negotiate teams, rules and even which games to play. They managed their emotions (to varying degrees) as they won, lost, cheated / bent rules. As they played different games (and even invented their own) they learnt to play / interact with all class members. They set goals about improvement – for example, achieving new high scores each week. Playing games was a real life experiment in how your decisions influence the reactions of others and potentially change relationships.

Some students even wanted to know where I bought the games so they could play them with their family at home!

This is the most valuable homework I could ever hope that my students do. Parents have told me they often feel unable to help their high school-ers with homework … so don’t, play a game with them instead! Challenge their thinking, help with decision-making, show them how to manage emotions. You might even find that some of the relationships (or at least the tolerance) between siblings improves.

As an English teacher, I tended to restrict the games to language based games (scrabble, boggle slam, up words, scattergories, pictionary, charades) or strategy/thinking games (logic puzzles, chess, guess who), however, on reflection, I am going to increase the choices this year. All games require the same personal and social capabilities: negotiation; communication; self-control of behaviour and emotions; social awareness about the skills, abilities, values, opinions and attitudes of classmates.

The unwritten side effect is, of course, the fun the students have! One of my Year 11s told me she ‘lived for Thursday, games day!” She accepted that she had to get through the rest of the week and do all the reading/research/essay writing/etc, but it was bearable because she looked forward to Thursday.


What games will you play in your classroom this year?

What motivates you?

This year I have taken on a Leading Teaching position for the first time and, as a result, joined the leadership team in our school. It has been an eye-opener and a learning curve, and has caused me to visit again one of the thoughts I ponder regularly – what makes a good teacher a good teacher? The simple answer is practise! The more complicated answer involves a cocktail of motivation, reflection, challenge, change, discomfort, discussion, failure and success.

I couldn’t attend ictev2012 this year but thankfully (and as you would expect from a tech conference) the participants and presenters generously shared their thoughts and experiences on twitter. So, again, from the comfort of my lounge room (and even with a visitor dropping by) I was able to continue my professional learning. Again some of the tweets challenged me to think about “good teachers” and what motivates them.

Are the teachers who “give up” a Saturday to attend such a conference the same teachers who complain about the number of meetings on the school term planner or how many ‘dot’ points they still have to cover on their curriculum content? I suspect not!

What motivates you to be a better teacher today than you were yesterday?

What motivates you to keep up with the changes in educational tools, methods and theories?

What motivates you to stay in the teaching profession?

To the ‘complainers’ I say, GET OUT! If it really bothers you that you are 5 minutes over allotted; that you have taken four extras this week; that you have attended meetings every night this week; that you have 600 reports to write in three weeks; then you are in the wrong job and it’s not worth the stress. I am concerned about the stress you are under, but, more importantly, the stress you put your students and colleagues under with your negativity.

What motivates me is the challenge of preparing each generation of students to be ready to ‘fly’ in a world we haven’t experienced and can’t imagine. That is stressful even with the support of colleagues who are also motivated by a vision of the future without being bogged down by colleagues who are simply hanging on to the past!

The Right Tool?

I bought an iPad just before Christmas. Our school has been toying with the idea of using tablets /iPads in our yr 7 program – like most schools we already have a 1:1 program. I decided to take mine on my family holiday in an effort to give it a good test drive and duly loaded it with a variety of apps, ebooks, music and pod/vodcasts.

Today a friend asked me the hot question: Which is better, then, the iPad or a laptop?

I had to pause to consider my answer.

I like both and I believe both have their place.

I like the ease with which my iPad travels: it’s light, the same size as a book and I can hold it easily in one hand.  I was quite impressed with the quality of photos and videos I took on my holiday … playback is great on the device itself although some quality was lost when it was edited in to footage taken with a video camera.  I love the touch screen technology and how easy this makes using most of my favourite apps (more about those later).

However, I am a little annoyed withthe typing pad (as a touch typist I find it too small to use properly, although I get that the thumb-typing-text-generation probably don’t feel the same way). I do still find publishing easier using the office suite … yes, I know, etc can be an alternative, but therein lies another problem.  The assumption that everyone has easy access to the internet!  So, my laptop lets me publish things with familiar programs,  my laptop has a DVD drive which I still find very handy and I don’t tend to put my laptop down and forget where I put it!

I actually think that we ‘need’ both tools in our education toolkit … half a dozen netbooks and half a dozen tablets would be enough for flexibility in my classroom (26 students). In my discussion with my friend I suggested maybe one of each device per family would be a good compromise … at the moment many families end up with multiple laptops as their children enter various 1:1 programs. The practicalities of having the right tool for the job at the time you are doing it are not easily solved … but realistically the families I work with cannot afford to buy an iPad and a laptop for each child.

Before I forget … some of those apps?

Evernote … so many uses … notes at PD sessions, pictures of students’ work, notes about students and I have it on my laptop so I can sync between the two devices.

Wordflick  Whirly WordWord SolitaireUnblock MeFlight Control (not free but cheap) … I love to use games in the classroom whenever I can and these are some of my favourites.

Songify … just for fun! My sister got me onto this and a number of the other fun ‘talking’ apps. Songify particularly I use as fun thinking music with lyrics that remind us what to think about (what ever you speak and record become the song).

I am becoming a little concerned at the I-ification of education, specifically, and the world in general … but that is food for another blog post ;p

“Let the wild rumpus start!”

Summer break over … time to start the new school year!

Actually this is my third teaching day of the year and already the holidays feel like a distant memory. This year my allotment is VCE Literature units 3/4, VCE English units 1/2 and a yr 9 leadership program … so as a special treat for my VCE students I started the year by reading them a picture story book.

As secondary teachers we often underestimate the value of picture story books in our classroom and yet they can spawn some interesting theories of interpretation and stimulate creative writing. “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak is (apparently) a children’s classic and one of my two all time favourite PSBs.

In Lit we are revisiting critical theory and broadening our background knowledge in preparation for our first text study, the film “Persepolis”. I read WTWTA and then asked the students for their immediate response (reader-response) … like, dislike, why? We  explored ideas around imagination, emotional state and reality (psychoanalysis) … parent – child relationships and power … the impact of social and cultural values then (1964 when it was written) and now (historicism) … and noticed patterns in words and images (structuralism).

Then I gave the students a couple of reviews and we began to develop the skills we will need for our first SAC (School Assessed Coursework) … identify the views of others, evaluate them against our own and use the text to justify the similarities and differences.

In English I have a class of 18 students, 16 of them are boys who would rather be on the footy field than in a theory class period 5 & 6 on a Friday. We are preparing to study our first text which is the film “Witness”.  So, I read WTWTA and asked them for their response. Then we began to analyse the meaning in the pictures … colour … size … light/dark balance … position of characters. Friday afternoon didn’t seem like such a drag … even the two who didn’t like the story could tell me why in writing by the end of the session!

We had fun … we could read and re-read the text easily within our time frame … practice the skills we will need for our assessment tasks.

Oh, and the other book is “Dragon Quest” by Allan Baillie!

The Year That Was …

I haven’t blogged for a month, not because I haven’t had any interesting thoughts but because the last six weeks of the year just go by in such a blur! There is a stereotypical view that the year winds down in term four, especially in high schools as year 12s leave and begin exams in the first week of November, closely followed by year 11s and year 10s. I wish!!

I found myself jotting ideas down on scraps of paper but when I came back to them my mind had moved on and I no longer felt motivated to finish the thoughts …. hmm, if I’m like that I wonder how many of my students are also like that? How can I manage that better?

Tomorrow I have been blogging for 11 months, as well as being New Year’s Eve … so time for a look back!

This year has been a massive learning curve for me as I adapted to the biggest role I have taken on so far in my career. In my first post I admitted to being daunted by the prospect of being year 8 coordinator with just over 100 students in my care. I was lucky to have the support of a team of homegroup teachers to work with, who were willing to share ideas, try new things and back each other up as we tried to balance the trials and tribulations of our own lives while navigating the minefield of teenage traumas we faced each day. In my experience there is a three-week barrier when you go to a new school. If you can survive the first three weeks the students generally settle down and start to work with you rather than constantly test you, you start to find your allies and build your support networks and you start to figure out the processes of the school. I found the barrier in my role as coordinator was much longer!

I feel quite satisfied with the achievements we made this year and I can see amazing potential for the year 9 students at our school in 2012 … they have grown so much this year! We didn’t solve every problem but overall our graphs went up! Students learnt to manage their emotions and behaviour more consistently, students learnt to work together in groups (we’re still not quite ready to say teams) and we finished the year on a positive note with a successful and enjoyable celebration excursion.

One thing I did at the start of the year, which I am sure had a huge impact on how I got through, was establishing clear goals. What I didn’t do was write them down … I have already written my goals for 2012, and I intend to post them up in my office so I read them every day. Keeping an eye on the big picture helps to keep me on track.

In 2012 I am stepping my responsibilities up again as I take on the role of Junior Sub-School Manager (taking on responsibility for 300+ students and associated staff). So I face the start of a new school year with another overwhelming sense of trepidation. But looking back I learnt that: having clear goals will give me a clear path to follow; I can’t do everything on my own, I need to build the support of a great team (in this case three great year level teams); and we need to celebrate each success regardless of how big or small.

Happy New Year and best wishes for 2012 🙂

Ultranet … eating the elephant!

I have been using on-line learning management systems for a few years now … essentially moodle-based although called different names in different schools! The concept of anywhere, anytime learning appeals to me as a learner and as a teacher. Hence the idea of the Ultranet was also appealing … initially!

It’s hard not to sound bitter and frustrated, or not to feel let down by the DEECD with the #epicfail of the much publicised roll out day … but all that aside, I have started to take my first bites of this monster.

I have talked before about the power of twitter and again I must promote and thank my PLN for their support as I have asked what must seem like dumb questions. Although I consider myself to be reasonably tech savvy and I can set up moodle-based online classrooms quite quickly I have struggled to apply this knowledge to the new platform.

I have created a collaborative space for the year 8s at my school. I use the term ‘collaborative’ loosely … at the moment that just means I set up some pages and added the 107 students, 3 other  English/Humanities teachers and as many other yr 8 teachers as I could find on the list.

The pages are nothing more than pretty storage spaces for web links and files. I have always used my virtual classroom to provide such resources … it saves students research time if I provide some recommended sites (much like we also still ask our librarians to put together topic boxes of books). I have also always encouraged students to recommend links that they find useful. The true sense of collaboration would see the students adding the resources and I am guessing that Ultranet will allow this … I just don’t know how to facilitate that yet!

I know that another part of Ultranet is something called Learning Tasks. I have had a look at them … I even tried to make one up … not really understanding how they are actually used or what they should / could look like. I have no idea how to link them to the collaborative space, or even if they do.

I have a lot of questions and I feel as if I am learning to walk all over again. For a few weeks I felt like I was crawling around in the dark. I had a sense of what I wanted to do, I had some small idea of what was possible but no idea of how to achieve it. I tried the usual methods of getting help … the help guides weren’t really helpful, mainly because I couldn’t actually pinpoint what I needed to know … no-one in our school environment seemed to have the skills or knowledge, that may just be because I haven’t asked the right person but is also connected to the lack of professional development we appear to have access to … my PLN are supportive and patient but still make me feel like the dumb kid who is slow to catch on, which is more about my frustration at my slow progress than anything they actually do or say!

I know that in time I won’t feel so frustrated and helpless but it’s hard to inspire others when you’re struggling yourself.

So, for now, I am chewing my first bite slowly! My students are coming along for the ride. They are not ‘excited’ about Ultranet in the way that I read on twitter but they have quickly switched their question from “did you load the assignment sheet on infonet?” to “is the assignment on Ultranet?” They know this is our preferred virtual learning environment.

Letting go . . .

Remember my great game on experiment … well in week 2 I introduced the students to the skill development component. This component is built on some practices they were familiar with from primary school.

Rocket Writing.

I gave them a stimulus statement (thanks to Maiden Gully PS for my initial prompt) and then set the timer. We wrote for 10 minutes. The first goal on their game board was to achieve 5 cm of writing … well, the lowest score was 4.5cm! The top three students achieved 25-27 cm!! The students modified their game boards to allow for future growth!! No-one complained about it, some may even have a story starter they can use to beat a level. They were surprised to see me writing as well, “Are you doing this too, Miss?” … but I have always enjoyed writing and it was nice to share that experience with the students. I read when they do, so it’s nice to write with them too!


I asked the students to be responsible for creating their own spelling lists. I am no longer correcting spelling, I highlight incorrect spelling. I also provided some ‘standard’ lists of words grade 6, 7 & 8 students ‘should’ know. The students themselves noticed we have a list of commonly misspelled words in our school diary and some have used that as their source. I asked them to work in pairs and test each other. They bring me their results to enter on to our leaderboard. We discussed the consequences of cheating and who was really losing if they did this. We also agreed to random spelling tests (like random breath tests) where I could ask them to spell any word from their list at any time.

I have noticed that some students have started to underline the words they aren’t sure of in their writing. When I read it, if I highlight it, it confirms their suspicion and they go and check it. I also had a student ask me if they could do more than one spelling test a week. Great question … it made me stop and think … why not? what would be the benefit of limiting or not limiting? … we talked about it and decided they must do at least one spelling test but if they want to do more it’s up to them.

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About 20% of the class have already successfully completed one of the four level one tasks and are already well on the way with their next piece of work.  It’s early days yet, we still have 6 weeks to go, but I am happy with the level of responsibility and ownership the students are taking. I’m very happy with the ideas and discussion being generated.

We are also balancing our Humanities research in this time aswell. I asked the question “How can you survive in a rainforest?” Most students are working in teams to prepare a presentation … some are making a Powerpoint, some movies, some picture story books and some are going to Wow! me again with minecraft (is there nothing that program can’t do??)

Game ON!

We are about to head into the final term (home straight) for the year. The year 8 team have been working on what we call a parallel curriculum for English and Humanities which also allowed us to integrate SparkL (a project based learning approach to literacy) and Live4life (a local shire initiative dealing with mental health). This term we are embracing the idea of differentiated curriculum … all four of us will still be working towards the same goals and outcomes but each of us is taking a different approach and even varying topics covered in our class groups.

I have blogged about my use of games in the classroom and the more I read the more I am convinced to keep doing this. In my classroom this term I wanted to have a writing workshop theme for the English component and Rainforests for  the Humanities component. As a team we are still trying to incorporate opportunities for PBL and students managing personal learning. So …

… I had this crazy idea! Why not create a game that incorporated all of this.

Write Step! game board

Write Step! is the product I have developed.

It has four pathways (named for the functions of writing I wish to promote: creative, instructional, informative and persuasive). Each pathway has five levels and students will need to develop skills in order to progress through the levels.

Skill development is recorded separately and I have leaderboards for various skills as well as pathway progression. So we have competition with self and competition with class built-in.

There is no set goal level to achieve … that will be determined by the students. Students can work in teams or by themselves.


We have nine sessions together each week: I have structured the game so that all sessions build skills. We will still continue with our reading programme (FAB – friends and books) but this can be a stimulus for writing for Write Step! We will have master classes (so I can do some explicit teaching in relation to grammar, punctuation, form and function). I plan to set up stimulus for writing using our Ultranet space, classroom displays, games played on wii / netbooks / ds. (Building on the experiences we have been using in our classroom all year.) Students must book a teacher conference (another practice we have been fostering) at least once a fortnight which may be used to present work to “beat the boss” and progress to the next level, discuss problems, nut out creative ideas for new writing tasks.

The students won’t actually know exactly what they need to do to beat each level (that’s part of the learning) and potentially anything they write could be submitted in an attempt to “beat the boss”.

I’m really excited by this concept. When I finally stopped to take a breath and asked myself that important question “Would you want to be a student in this classroom?”, the answer was a resounding “YES!”

I’m now just nervous about how my students will react! Have I over planned? Have I made it too busy? Am I going to overwhelm them? I guess I’ll find out … term four here we come!

Are we there yet?

I spent the last three days of term on camp with 60 year 8 students. My team and I have spent the last term planning this three day extravaganza to Phillip Island … and, for the most part, it went off without any major hitches!

However, I am still mulling over the question “Why did only 60% of our year 8 student population attend the camp?”

Is this a one-off occurrence or what is it about the culture of the school that creates an attitude that says “It’s OK to choose not to attend this learning activity”?

Camps are an important part of extracurricular activities. There are lots of good reasons for schools to run camps. In this instance we clearly defined our “learning intention” or goals when we started to plan. We have been working with the year 8s all year to improve relationships, build teams and practice the skill of working cooperatively with anyone in a variety of teams. Our school works on a homeroom system in yr 7 and 8; students stay in the same homeroom with the same HR teacher for their two years in the junior sub-school. In year 9 they are regrouped and mixed up to form new homerooms. In preparation for this we set up a number of situations that required students to work in teams of varying sizes to complete tasks (duty groups, dorm rooms, activity groups). They were given choices about group composition (although dorm rooms were limited so teachers had to intervene and negotiate to achieve workable groups) and could work with anyone across the year level.

The camp we attended on Phillip Island offers a range of adventurous activities designed to challenge students and take them out of their comfort zone. We also planned an ‘Amazing Race’  (based on the TV show). We had a lot of fun putting this together; it was a lot of work to gather resources, write clues and coordinate the pit stops. When we suggested the idea to students before camp the responses were positive and on camp most students gave the race a red hot go! In three days it was interesting to see students work together in ways you can’t achieve in the classroom environment.

Camps are not holidays! They are a lot of additional work, stress and responsibility. They are an extension of the learning environments we create in our classrooms. However, when one third of the students are not participating in that learning experience we need to question why. If one third of my students don’t attend my class on any given day I ask why!