Barclass Reflections

Today my students have been reflecting on their Barclass experience. These are the reflection questions that I gave them.  Answers are currently going intodraft writing books, but will be posted to their classroom wiki. Please feel free to comment or query.


All of you have designed and taken part in several lessons during our Barclass. I would like you to take some time to reflect sensibly and honestly on
your learning over the past few days.

1. Describe the lesson you led
– What
– How
– When
– Where
– Who

2. Reflect on the lesson you led
– What was enjoyable
– What was challenging
– What would you do differently
– What did you learn

3. Think about these 2 days of Barclass learning

– Complete a PMI table, collecting your thoughts and ideas.
– Plus
– Minus
– Interesting

– How did this style of learning make you feel as a learner

4. Do you think barclass lessons could be used as part of regular classroom schedule?
– Why or why not – explain your thinking
– If yes – how do you think it could be done?  Can you give specific examples please.

Barclass Day 1

Today was the first day running a Barclass. Based on the Barcamp concept, and led by Mark Osborne’s Ignite talk – I had set about trying to replicate some of that powerful spirit of learning in my room. I was also inspired by attending Kiwifoo in Feb of this year, as well as some twitter taunting from @taratj. Tara is also rolling Barclass/camp in her room – make sure you check out her reflections here and here.

I set two rules for Barclass:

1. You lead the learning
2. You engage in the learning

Took away the vote with your feet rule, to bring some measure of structure to the sessions.

On Monday – the class were set some parameters, to design their own sessions to teach to fellow students. They had to consider:

1. The content – what were they going to share
2. The sequence – how would they share and teach it
3. The resources – What space and materials would they need

I gave a time limit of 15-30 minutes per session. This would allow us to have 2 sessions before morning tea, then another 2 before lunch. Our afternoons this week are taken up with formal prep and getting ready for EOTC.

One thing I hadn’t discussed, but which all of the students did, was they setup lists of max numbers that they wanted to teach. Most wanted their sessions to be no more than 6-8 students. They like groups – small groups!

Tuesday today, and after sorting the roll, we set to it. The class all voted to not go out for morning fitness, which is unheard of.  I had used paper and a vivid to lineup the time slots, then students volunteered the sessions they would run. Quickly added a blank piece of paper for students to sign up – reviewed the 2 rules – and let them go to it.

Session 1:
Netball Shooting and Defensive skills
How to bowl a cricketball

Session 2:
Hiphop dancing
How to use

Morning tea

Session 3:
Yoga / Aerobics

Session 4:
How to solve a Rubiks cube
Using Scratch
Waterpolo skills

“The boys were really good to learn from, because they were organised, and told you when you were doing things well”

“The girls timed things well, and we got to enjoy a game at the end – it was great.”

“Is it time for morning tea – it’s gone so fast”

Student leader: “You’ve got great skills – why aren’t you playing waterpolo?”
Student: “Because I can’t swim”
Student leader: “Oh… right”

It was a fantastic day, listening to students language as they engaged, and observing their interactions.  Students were focused, engaged, listening to instructions, joining in tasks and laughing as they tried new things.They were consistently positive, affirming, inquiring but also brutally honest. One student told the leaders of a session, that they weren’t very organised so it made it difficult to learn.

That made me wince a little bit, thinking about my own organisation at times. It made me wonder why we don’t have more spaces for them to be that honest though. Are we afraid of that honesty personally – or do our systems/curriculum and processes prevent that honesty being appreciated?

My role was one of observer, timekeeper and helper with managing spaces and bits of equipment. Sorted some breakout rooms, grabbed some Macbooks, checked that PE materials were available – just simple things. The students got all their own materials, or told each other what to get. I helped out as wicketkeeper so that the two boys leading that session could focus on the skills teaching. It was brilliant, and I thought I was doing a great job, until one of the students laughed at me and said “What are you squatting there for!”

It was a joy to watch young people leading their learning, and as a byproduct of that process being engaged, organised, relating to others, managing themselves, and participating. Oddly enough – all of those are the key competencies. They were blindingly obvious when using a barcamp model of learning. Are they that obvious in our regular classroom based practice?

And the planning for this process took all of 10 minutes of conversation with two fellow teachers, my personal experiences, and a belief that young folk really, really do like to learn.

Students in the two classes either side of me were constantly stopping outside our door to check out what was going on, and one of my colleagues stopped in this afternoon to check out what had been going on. Their comment was that their students were complaining about having to do book work. There was a real buzz, and I must admit to feeling a little sorry for those other students when I stuck my head into their rooms today – compared to mine, who were rocking, they looked deflated. Keep in mind that we’re all at the tail end of the year – technically my students should be similarly deflated. But they were kicking it barclass style.

Tomorrow we continue, we have 8 more slots, and 6 more sessions. Students at the end of today were already asking “Can we do a follow up session, we didn’t get to finish our sharing”. It’s funny how learning can be infectious.

This video to finish is of the Scratch session, majority of these students had never used the software, and the two students leading it are Y7 boys.

I had to laugh at the closing comment.


A walk on the waterfront.


On the weekend we went for a walk on the waterfront.

It was a gorgeous day. One of those blue-sky, still-bound, crystal-sun days that on occasion bless Wellington. A day that fills you with a sense of being alive, and gently punches you in the head to remind you that life isn’t something to be sniffed at.

We wandered through Waitangi Park, around Te Papa, down beside the lagoon and along to Frank Kitts Park. We stopped there and Boo played on the climbing frames, the see-saw and the swing. We didn’t step into the market – but the sights and sounds of shoppers were flowing along with people just rambling like us.

I saw people on rollerblades, riding bikes, skateboards and scooters. I saw folk walking, ambling, strolling, relaxing. I watched big kids doing bombs off the wharf. I watched tour groups poised to take pictures of Len Lyes “water-wand”.

I saw a group of women wearing the hijab and jeans catching up with each other, while their kids waited in line with Boo to go down the slide. I watched some teens try their best to parkour their way across, around and over a park bench.

I heard a busker warming up his guitar, his small amp popping and fizzing. I heard laughter as kids ran screaming around and around in that non-stop way they do. I heard deep conversations, light remonstrations and gentle murmurings. I listened to the snap from crisp sails, as boats from Port Nicholson went through their pre-season training out on the harbour.

I smelt the sea, not sharp or tangy or dramatic, but just that hint of it that you get when you’re around the harbour’s edge. There were a few food stalls, the gelato place was doing a brisk business, and just down the way was the mandatory coffee van, with flat whites and burnt tongues.

It was not a perfect day – is there ever one of those? We didn’t do anything or visit anywhere outstanding.

But it was a contented day – spent with family, with friends and watching this place flow past.

A day that allowed you to remember that this place, these two islands are a place apart – and in spite of all that we worry about – are a good place.

And it made me consider what’s about to happen in this place – this Rugby World Cup – that’s starting in just two days time.

I will get frustrated at myopic and hyperbolic media expectation and coverage. I will seethe at the opportunism of celebrities and politicians and anyone else who wants to ride the bandwagon.

I will mutter about the unfairness of a corporate juggernaut that has somehow squeezed the essence out of rugby with its rationalised productification of the game. I will refuse to drink the sponsors beer, but will enjoy some locally brewed beverages.

I will be supporting the All Blacks, and enjoying the spectacle of a sport I’m not much good at, but love to get fired up about.  I will savour being in the unique position of being able to take my father to a World Cup game to watch the team from his islands play,  and we will whoop and holler and jump around for Fiji like two childish smiling lunatics.

I will welcome mates and neighbours around to watch a couple of matches. We will cheer loudly and discuss furiously and groan noisily. I will probably say a few sweary things. We will eat cheeserolls and dip our Bluebird chips into reduced cream dip, share some home baking and savour some kai off the grill.  All the while we’ll try to get our kids to share toys and talk nicely and not to push and avoid too many tears.

We will talk and catch up on our lives and work, as we watch a game that’s part of something that brings us together – but not the only thing.

And in my heart I want the Blackness to win, but my head remembers ’99, ’03 and ’07.  And so while I hope, I know it may not happen.But unlike those times, I think I’m OK with it.

Not just because I’m older and am a Dad and other things mean more now, but because I went for that walk on the waterfront.

A walk that reminded me, in the simple completeness of it, that it’s these things, these sensations, in this place, with these people – that make up my life. And it is a good life. Here in this New Zealand.

So on the day after the ABs get knocked out or lose the final, I will take Bella for a walk, maybe on the waterfront. I will wait for her at the bottom of that slide and I will laugh at her laugh. I will buy my wife one of those gelatos, and take solace in the fact that I live in a fine place, with good mates all around and much to live for.

And if the ABs win?

Well, I will smile of course. And there will be unashamed joy no doubt.

But I will celebrate knowing that it’s not just the game or the ABs that make this place good. It is us.

It is us.

Where are the computers?

This weeks mass hysteria from the NZ Herald has been brought to you by Orewa College’s decision to add digital devices to their stationery list for Y9 students.

Their preference is for an iPad2, which is, as I understand it, based on the battery life. It’s this expressing of the preference that has caused the brouhaha in talkback-land. Talk of “haves” and “have-nots”. Talk of bullies beating up nerds for their iPads. Talk of “well, back in my day…”

Thankfully, there have been many useful and pertinent points added to the debate.

And the point is this.  It’s not about the device.

Just as good writing isn’t about the pencil or the pen that’s being used.

It’s about how the devices are being used – to create, deliver and support rock-solid teaching and learning. Learning that makes a difference – not just to test scores – but to the lives of the students we look after.

If Orewa College have done their research and are making the best decisions for their students then they are fulfilling their duty of care. If they’ve made those choices based on sound pedagogy, a sprinkle of PR pixie-dust, effective teacher buy-in and appropriate technical support for staff and students – then more power to them.

If they have not done that – then call them on that.

But don’t beat them up for making a call on a digital device.

We don’t know what the future looks like – we can only guess and boldly imagine.

And we can do our best to support our students to be ready for that future – and do that within the great game of political decision-making that is public education here in NZ.

Ultimately, if your vision for education is “future-tinted” like this one from Elmo…. then we’re all muppets really.




TopGun as a model for continual change.

Have just watched a fantastic video from the Gel Conference.

David Harris is a former TopGun instructor, and he describes the management and training practices that the fabled institution is based on.

(He never actually refers to the movie by name – and explains at the end how it’s a $25 fine if any instructor even refers to it.)

Key points:

  • Investing heavily in students AND teachers.
  • Institutionalize change.
  • Group ownership of results – the successes and failures.

He talks of the process of their learning, the 3:1 instructor to student ratio, the planning and debriefing that takes place.

There are no ‘personal programs’ or individual development plans – the credibility of the institution is based on it’s ability to reflect and change constantly. It’s based on 40 years of embedded training and expert knowledge.

He speaks with the composure of someone with confidence in the learning process they’ve developed, but with an honesty and and openness to make change happen when required, to meet the needs of their institution.

Can we say the same of the schools in our country?

David Harris at Gel 2010 (former TOPGUN instructor) from Gel Conference on Vimeo.



Moving ISPs – a creative writing lesson.

I had to change the school ISP this week, after 3 weeks of send email failure, blacklisted emails and just intermittent headaches for all of the users on our domain. The biggest issue wasn’t actually the technical, it was trying to actually talk to someone at our ISP. It was almost impossible.

I shot out a frustrated tweet, and actually got a reply back. That began a brief exchange of emails, and raised my hopes some progress might be made – but which ultimately proved to be futile. Last I heard from them was May 5th. And we moved ISP’s on May 12th.

So I sent this email back today:

“Just to let you know – I appreciated the willingness to provide assistance via twitter.

Unfortunately we never heard back from anyone at O___, after your email dated May 5th – nor were our technical support team able to get any assistance from O___.

As a result our school made the decision last Monday to move our broadband supply to T_____ – and this was provisioned on May 12th.

We have had fine service from O____ for the approximately 2 years that;we have been using your network. Like any business or school that is connected to the internet, issues only arise when that connectivity is intermittent or disrupted. The intermittent disruptions to our email;services, and the inability to diagnose these disruptions over the last 3 weeks has been very frustrating for us.

What has been more frustrating has been the inability to get any support or response from O____. Apart from you – and that response was the result of an undirected remark made on Twitter.

In this case it has been easier for us to move our services to T_____. I imagine that whilst one account means little to the bottom line at O____, I think it’s damning that you are losing our custom, not just as a result of technical issues, but mainly as a result of clear communication. The technical supply of internet services is cheap – the supply of clear communication is invaluable.

To quote your website: “Our vision is to be the ultimate provider of Internet and Communications products, services and customer experience. Delivering a remarkable experience for our customers in everything we do is at the heart of our mission.”

Our customer experience has been adequate and what we’d expect. But, as we’ve moved our services – without any contact or call from you – the final experience has been remarkably underwhelming. The sense that you actually cared about our custom, or indeed wanted to deliver that remarkable experience – well, that would have been enough to keep our custom.

Kind Regards,”

And it’s relatively easy to figure out who the two ISPs are. And I’m not actually bagging the one we moved from. We have had a fine level of service and supply from them. But it’s when things go wrong – that a customer relationship actually matters. As an exercise in how to lose a customer – it was perfectly executed.

Reflecting on it – the power of twitter for communication was really shown to me.

And for my own teaching practise – must. keep. being. clear. and. open.

With students, parents and colleagues.

(and yes, I know that using Google Apps for Edu would have sorted this… I’m working on that as well!)

EduCamp Welly

Just wanted to announce EduCampWelly is taking place on May 21st, here in what will then probably be bleak and yet bracing Wellington.
The venue is Wellington College – a big thank you to them for their generosity.
To quote the blurb:
EducampNZ is a user-generated ‘unconference’ focused on e-learning and education.We’re all about growing our learning, networking, and, of course, having fun! Everyone is invited to participate in some way…
The organisers are really keen to have individuals from across the NZ primary, ECE, secondary, tertiary sector involved – as well as those from the MOE and beyond.
It’s about having some input, sharing ideas and listening to others who are all about making education, learning and our place on the planet better.
There is no fee for attending.
There is no food or drink provided, but one of Wellington’s friendliest wine establishments is nearby, as well as a limited assortment of cafes and golden arched eateries.
If you attend, you’re responsible for contributing, challenging and considering.
If you don’t attend, you won’t get to see the historic glory that is the Basin Reserve.
Direct all questions, thoughts, and ideas to the wiki.

Spring Cleaning an “About”

Challenge #3 – add some muscle with some pages on your blog.

I decided to spring clean and update my “About” page. My original page was purposely brief, blunt, and as I look it now, quite hipster-dick. Which is to say, trying to be too clever.

So I updated and added a bit more of a history about myself, and where I’ve come from, and what I enjoy about this teaching malarkey. I hope it makes more sense to readers.

I’m not really sure what other pages I want to add to my blog. I think with tags and some judicious editing, I can control the mess.

At least, that’s the plan.

Make it worth sticking around.

My stab at carefully considering how to write better blog posts.

Step 1: Write.

I think this is my greatest challenge. Actually sitting down and writing posts that are personal yet pertinent. That don’t disengage my audience. That aren’t written only for me. That say something. But that aren’t too sanctimonious and insipid.

In this era of tweeting, and sms-based conversations, and threaded ‘conversations via email’ sometimes trying to be a blog entry can be too much! Sometimes a blog post should be short and sweet and say something right then and there. Sometimes it should be a lengthy rant or an ongoing rumination with updates as one discovers more.

Step 2: Worry about your audience…

But don’t worry so much that the worrying stops you doing Step 1.

It’s tough to know your audience, when you’re writing for a nebulous “somebody” out there. It’s important to decide the purpose for creating your blog. Is it like Larry Ferlazzo’s site, which is a huge compendium of lists and links – an excellent resource for any teacher, but not particularly personal. Or is it like The Podograni – which is fantastic if you enjoy listening to the rants of a curmudgeonly NZ principal who’s not afraid to speak his mind.

Or will it be a mixture of both?

I think if you can choose that mixture for yourself – not worry too much – then follow Step 1, you can really make it happen in your blog.

Step 3: Less is more.

From my time working in a design collective in London, it’s the brevity of your wit, your work and your design that will make the most lasting impact.

As a teacher, it’s an occupational hazard to blather on. So one simple thing I do is to write, then sit on my posts before posting. On a visual tip, I changed my theme today. Not sure about it yet – but will let it sit a while.

I need to work on this step.

Step 4: Enjoy the process – and follow the conversations. You never know where you’ll end up.

This is the nice thing about blogs and online communities in general As you read more, you build up a community of people you follow, read and engage with. For example, I’ve already been inspired by the writing on Russell’s blog, and I only started reading his work a day ago.

Step 5: Share

I guess that’s one of those basic things we are all meant to learn in kindergarten. The principle in relation to blogging (and to a greater extent, teaching) is about sharing the knowledge, the wisdom, the tips, the tools, and the people that we all connect with.

With that in mind… I really enjoy following and reading two other NZ educators, both who work at CORE.

Firstly Greg Carroll, who is the principal at Outram School in Dunedin. Like the Podograni, he has a particular take on many of the big picture political issues that are at play in NZ education, but also is a gracious thinker, who shares his thoughts with clarity.

Secondly, Derek Wenmouth is Director of eLearning at Core, and his blog is full of tech tips, future thinking, analysis and as of yesterday… robotic balls.

Image via Indexed – a blog that is the epitome of Step 3

Teacher Challenge #1

As with any January, there’s always lots of challenge and new ideas and hopes rolling around the place. One of the nice things about teaching in the Southern Hemisphere is that we can recover from Christmas and NYE celebrations, and still have 3-4 weeks before school starts again to mull over what the goals for the year will be. We get to sit in our deck chairs and dream of being ambitious….

Last week I stumbled on Teacher Challenge, and not having a resolution to blog more, but wanting to write more in general, I thought I’d give it a whirl. The first challenge is to interview your blog in 10 questions.

1. So Continue – how’s it been?

Pretty good really. I don’t get used or abused much, but I like the fact that I’m a one word url, and I am a place to capture some ideas and thoughts. I do wonder why Tim takes so long to write posts sometimes. He usually has great little ideas, but then struggles to craft those ideas into succinct and pointed posts.

To be fair to him – becoming a Dad over the last two years has taken up most of his time.

2. Why do you think you were started?

The main reason was to have a place to collect thoughts and comment on what was going on around. Teaching is a hell of a crazy occupation – rewarding, frustrating, endless, exhausting. In some ways there’s so much going on in teaching, the nature of the occupation goes against quiet, focused reflection. But that’s what is needed, to become a better teacher and learner, so that our students are better learners also. I wanted to have somewhere to do that.

Simple reason though – to learn in your first years of teaching that Marie Clay is/was a second cousin was pretty humbling, and to be able to aspire to make the difference that she was.

3. What’s been the hardest part of being a blog?

The abandonment. I get visited rarely, and edited even less frequently.  I think I’m a little embarrassed and sometimes threatened by the prolific edu bloggers. The Chris Betchers, Larry Ferlazzos, David Warlicks, Dan Meyers, Jeff Utechts, Sue Waters – all of them are wonderfully inspiring writers and friendly, friendly types. But I do wonder how they do it – how they manage full-time lives as teachers, parents, husbands, wives, and consistently blog the way they do.

And threatened isn’t really the right word I know… I’m not afraid of blogging. I’m going to answer my own question and know that it’s about making blogging a habit – a part of who you are – and a part of your teaching practice. I know I’m not there yet.

4. What tools do you use to get made?

I’m a Mac guy by choice, but an IT agnostic – I use XP and Ubuntu and Sugar for fun. I’m big on FOSS type software and am working hard to be more minimalist in my software choices and workflow habits. So I’ve settled on using Scribefire to write my posts – it’s handy extension to Firefox, Safari and Chrome. I tried with ecto and Marsedit, but Scribefire just works for what I do. I’m not a coder, or a server maintainer guy (even though I try to be) – edublogs was a nice hosted fit, and if I can become more of a habit, I’ll think about getting my own domain.

Other tools… People’s Coffee, tunes (which is currently highly skewed, because I’ve mostly been using the ipod to play music to a 2 year old!), my gifted, pre-loved Herman Miller.

5. What are you looking forward to in 2011?

More regular attention! Tim’s been invited to Kiwi Foo Camp, and an Emerging Leaders in Education unconference this year – and if they’re not catalysts for serious consideration and sharing with others, I don’t know what is. Apart from that, just capturing the simple and the direct moments that fill our lives. And sharing them so others can learn from them. And learning from others, students, other teachers, my wife and daughter. That’s always the best stuff in life.

6.  ….

So I’m out of questions, and it’s 11pm, and I’ve got a good book to finish.

Roll on Challenge #2

Oh yeah – the Wordle… Wordle: Untitled