A new school, a new me?

It was with a heavy heart that I said goodbye to my colleagues at Davidson High School at the end of last year. As I walked out of the school gates for the last time, my mind was preoccupied with thoughts of cider, holidays and Christmas. Despite being overwhelmed by the generous words and emotions of my colleagues on that last day, it didn’t feel like I was leaving. It was only as I prepared myself to begin my new school, that I started to realise what I had lost.

What had I lost? Obviously, I’d lost many hours of shared experiences and laughter with my colleagues (who of course are really friends, now) but what hit me most was the loss of my students’ future selves. It sounds weird, but I started panicking that I wouldn’t see how certain students ‘turned out’. Would Tom get taller than his sister? Would Adam ace English in his HSC? What about Lachie, would he become the new school clown, performing on stage in SOPA? Of course, you don’t know who these people are, but I do, and as I type those questions out, I get a bit choked up. I know that very soon their names and memories will be swallowed up by time, and replaced by new names and future selves. That kinda scares me. I am grateful, though, for social media – already one student has tweeted me about their new English teacher. Of course, that connection won’t last forever, but it does fill a little Davo void, whilst I work to develop my connections at my new school.

So how is my new school? It’s actually really awesome. This makes me very happy, but it makes me feel guilty, as though somehow I’m being unfaithful to my colleagues and students at Davo. I continue to use the collective first person when referring to Davo, ‘We didn’t have that’ and ‘Our students did this’. I suppose when I refer to Manly in that way, I’ll know that my heart has left Davo, and found its new home at Manly.

One thing that’s played on my mind a bit, is how much of ‘me’ I should be at this new school. Like, how slowly or quickly do I reveal that I’m really disorganised, or that I’m a constant apologiser, and self-deprecating? When do I let it slip that I can be a bit bossy and even arrogant? Should I let my new students know that I panic when writing on the whiteboard incase I make a spelling error (it’s always the double consonants that get me!)? What about the fact that I am pretty forgetful, and bad a managing class time? I guess by now they know I’m an anxious people-pleaser, since I’ve been running around like a nutcase trying to stay on top of stuff.

Most of all, I wonder how I should be in the classroom. Davo is a very different school to Manly. Perhaps what my students loved and respected me for at Davo, the kids at Manly will find frustrating? Perhaps they’ll think PBL is silly. Perhaps I’ll find myself giving them what they want, rather than what they need, simply because I’m anxious to be liked? So far, I’ve not planned any projects for any class. Not one. That’s weird, huh? I feel very unsure. That’s what it is. I’ve just got to find my feet, and then the creativity will come back, my confidence, right?

I certainly now have much greater empathy for teachers and students who have taken that leap and started a new school. If you’re new this year, and you’re feeling a similar way, or you have some tips on making the transition more confidently, let me know! I do know that having ridiculously friendly and caring colleagues at my new school has helped HEAPS. I also know how lucky I am… and I’m happy. I’m just still at that ‘tail between her legs’ stage, lol. Are you?

SEVEN: A short film festival

The final project that I ran with year 7 in 2014 was really fun – I loved writing the project and loved running it with students. Better than that, the students loved it too. I had two year 7 classes last year, so that meant almost 60 students working individually, in pairs or in small teams to create a short film to enter our inaugural ‘SEVEN’ film festival. I know that many people have run film festivals in their schools before, but this one was just for year 7. That’s why it’s called ‘SEVEN’. I hope that it continues to run each year, even though I won’t be at Davidson to organise it.

Here is the flyer for the film festival that also served as our project outline:

seven (3)

The main focus for me for this project was to help students understand and appreciate the process of film-making, and also to get them to understand and appreciate the concept of ‘inventiveness’. It’s a difficult concept, but one that I feel passionately about in regards to art and literature. So how did we do it? Well, in typical PBL style, we started with the ‘need to know’ questions. You can see them at the end of this post. The students had heaps of great questions! The first thing we did was learn about film techniques – students worked in small teams to create a PPT with all of the film essentials. This was a hard task for them – many haven’t studied film before – but they certainly learnt a lot! Next we watched five of the finalists from the 2013 TropFest Jnr competition, as well as a range of other short videos. As you can see from the flyer above, I specified what film style the students could choose – animation, claymation, stop-motion animation, machinima or silent film. I did this for two reasons: I wanted them to understand style and the conventions of a style, and I didn’t want to watch any films with awful live acting, haha. Most students ended up going for claymation, perhaps that’s because the winning film for TropFest Jnr was a claymation. It was cool to see that students could appreciate why some films were better in terms of the camera work, narrative, etc.

After students selected their style, they spent time researching the conventions of that style. This only took a couple of lessons and required the students to share their findings via edmodo. This concluded the ‘research’ part of the project – we then moved on the the ‘create’ part, where students spent a lot of time ‘ideating’. Basically they had to come up with five different ideas for their film, share these with the class and get feedback on which was the most popular. We spent time reading through the BIE rubric for creativity, which helped them appreciate the importance of reworking an idea, not just sticking with one thing without making modifications. Finally, once students were happy with their narrative, they moved on the script-writing. I spent a lesson showing them the conventions of script-writing for film and looking at model scripts for short film. I did the same thing for story-boarding once students had completed their scripts. Many of the teams found this stage of the project really boring and time-consuming, but in the end they all appreciated how important it is. I loved seeing their surprise when I told them how much time goes into pre and post production when making a major film!

Once students had completed the pre-production stage, they were very excited to move on the production. The students who chose silent film managed to get their filming done very quickly in comparison to those doing the other styles. Regardless, students had a great time shooting, and my classroom was abuzz with activity for about two weeks – actually, if I am honest it seemed like utter chaos, haha. The final stage of film-making is editing and that is always THE most stressful part. It’s also where students learn the most. Unfortunately many students rushed into filming with a range of devices – iPads, phones, cameras – before they worked out how to get the footage off that device and into some editing software. We don’t have anything at school that students can specifically use for editing- just the Lenovo PCs and laptops that have editing programs that are too powerful for the slow machines. Very frustrating! Most students ended up using the iMovie or Lego app on iPads or phones, and then I used the hotspot on my phone to upload them to YouTube. Many films failed to make it that far, because students simply didn’t think ahead, I wonder how many short films end up in the bin because of this? I do know that students will do things differently next time they make a movie!

Those films that did make it to YouTube were entered into the competition. Two of my ex-students are currently studying film, and were happy to be judges for ‘SEVEN’. They watched them via YouTube, chose the 10 finalists and then sent me the list via Facebook messenger. The 10 finalists were invited to the film festival at 5pm on a school night, where all 10 films were watched and then we watched a video where Jake and Todd (the judges) announced the winner. It was so cool. The guys are hilarious and inspiring. The night was a success, and all students appreciated why the winner got the trophy. Phew! Here is the video Jake and Todd made, I love it!

Here is a link to the 10 finalists: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLYrEX0iYtIItLD2ZcA45VEEd_pmXbptPJ

Here’s the winning short film:

At the end of the project, I had students go back to the original ‘need to know’ questions that they had come up with, and then answer them. It was cool to see so many students able to answer all questions confidently! I don’t care what anyone says, PBL worked for these kids, and they loved learning! Here’s the list of questions and the answers from one of my students:

photo 1 (3)

photo 2 (2)

Video Games Appreciation Day #VGAD

Not everyone appreciates video games, and no one understands that more than year 9 gaming boys. For the last two terms I’ve had the pleasure of running the Game On critical and creative thinking course with 20 committed gamers. This time the gamers all happened to be boys. We’ve done some cool stuff – designing games with Gamestar Mechanic, filming game reviews and designing board games. We’ve also played a lot of Counterstrike 1.6.

In order to celebrate the boys’ love of gaming – and their awareness that gaming has a bad rep in some quarters, typically with teachers and parents – we decided to run a video game appreciation day at school. We named it VGAD for short.

The boys decided that they wanted admission to be competitive with students having to compete in gaming-related competitions in order to earn an invitation to the event. They were responsible for choosing, planning and running these competitions, as well as advertising the VGAD event and organising how it would run on the actual day.

Two weeks before VGAD we had over 70 students apply to attend. Only 30 invitations would be handed out. The week before VGAD the boys ran three competitions – Minecraft Build Challenge, Halo Grifball and Counterstrike 1.6 5v5. Each gamer had to earn a total of 50 points in order to earn an invitation to VGAD. For three lunchtimes we had two classrooms full of gaming – it was chaotic but awesome. Adding up all the points, deciding on the winners and getting the invitations out was a big job, and a great learning experience for the boys.

Last Tuesday was VGAD – two periods of gaming, Doritos and Mountain Dew. We had 50 students (48 boys and 2 girls) in the library playing Halo, Counterstrike, Minecraft, board games made by students (the teachers likely enjoyed these more than the kids) and generally having a great time to a backdrop of pretty loud music.

By then end of VGAD I had heaps of students asking me if we could do it again next year. That’s a win in my opinion. I hope it continues at Davo, but I’m likely to bring it with me to my new school. I think it’s super important for adults, especially in schools, to value video games and the knowledge and skills our students have.

IMG_9549.JPG

IMG_9587.JPG

IMG_9579.JPG

IMG_9580.JPG

Professional Learning Library

Well there’s only four more weeks left of term 4, which also marks four more weeks left at Davidson High School. I’m starting to get a bit nervous and a bit sad. It’s going to be so hard to leave my great friends at Davo – especially my English teacher colleagues. When I first arrived at Davo I was 25 years old and my youngest son was only 5 months old! Now I’m leaving at the age of 34, and my youngest son is 10. It’s all kinds of crazy! Anyway, this post is not about crying, so I’m going to stop thinking about what I will be missing and start thinking about what great new things I will be learning and experiencing!

My new role is all about teacher professional learning – how cool is that? If you read my blog regularly you’ll know that TPL is my passion, because learning is awesome and so is teaching. One of the first things I want to do is to establish a ‘Professional Learning Library’ for myself and my colleagues. Of course I will spend a lot of time introducing them to social media (Twitter being the world’s biggest staffroom) but I also know the value of the stillness and focus that comes from reading a book. As such, I want to buy some titles that are guaranteed to inspire my new colleagues to think in new ways and to try new things.

My question to you is this: What books have you read that have inspired you to think in new ways about your role as a teacher and to try new things with your classes?

All suggestions are welcome – even if they are books that are not necessarily ‘education’ books – so they might be about innovation, design, creativity, architecture, technology, leadership, managing change etc. If you could comment below with the name or names of the suggested books and brief description of why I should get it, that would be awesome. I’m hoping to get to reading a number of the books myself these holidays – especially any suggested books on leadership and gifted and talented education.

Thanks a billion everyone! :)

It’s been one month since my last blog post…

It feels like so much has happened since I last posted on here. I’ve been so insanely busy that, quite literally, I have not had the energy to write a post. So what’s been going on?
– year 12 have completed their final HSC examinations. They were all really happy with the questions and came out relieved and pleased. It is such an emotional journey for us all, and I continue to miss them every day. Just yesterday two of my class came to visit and we chatted for over an hour! I’m so proud of them all :)
– year 7 participated in Literature Circles for three weeks. They were so lovely and engaged in their chosen novels. They wrote excellent reviews of their novels which we will be posting to Amazon or Good Reads. They’ve also been participating in a pen pals project with three other year 7 classes from different schools. One school is from rural Australia, one from Western Australia and one from northern NSW. They’ve been learning the conventions of letter-writing, which is amusing to me but all new to them. Yesterday half of the class received their first letters – there was much excitement! They’ve now begun working on their final project for the year – introduction to film making focusing on the concept of inventiveness. They’re all entering their short films into a film festival. More on this later!
– year 10 have been engaging with images of war. They have been learning about the concept ‘representation’ and how composers position responders to think and feel a certain way about war. They just finished their end of year exams, so we’re starting to compose their own images of war to share in a showcase for Remembrance Day.
– Lee and I have completed the first manuscript of our first PBL book! It was a lot of hard work, but we’re really proud of it and know that it will be a great resource for English teachers. It should be on shelves by the end of the year – watch this space!
– I got a new job! I’m really excited to be heading to Manly Selective Campus next year in the role of Head Teacher of Teaching and Learning. A big role that will provide me with lots of opportunities to hang out with students and teachers, talking about what I love – teaching!

So that’s what my month has looked like… phew! Hopefully I’ll get some time to reflect more comprehensively on my projects later this term. How’s your month been?

Shadow Hunters Take Melbourne!

My Year 12 Advanced English class has been studying the historical fiction novel, True History of the Kelly Gang for their HSC. In order to deepen their appreciation for the history of the Kelly legend, the class, my husband and myself travelled down to Melbourne for the weekend of August 15-17. After an eventful and enjoyable flight from Sydney, we arrived in Melbourne city around 10pm. The bus ride in from the airport revealed to us the picturesque Melbourne skyline, featuring the neon beauty of the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel. We happily discovered that our hotel was located within walking distance of all the great locations in Melbourne city.

We had a super early wake-up on our first day – our tour guide arrived at 7.30am! Once the bus turned up, we hit the road, heading for Kelly Country. First stop was Beveridge, only 40 minutes north of Melbourne. Here we saw the childhood home of Ned Kelly. Stepping out into the cold and misty morning, we were surprised by the small size of the wood and stone cottage where the legendary Kelly was born. The cottage is over 100 years old and has been heritage listed, which means it will hopefully be standing for many more years. Our next stop was Avenel, the small town where Ned’s family moved when he was a young boy. Here we saw the place where 11 year old Ned rescued 7 year old Dick Shelton from drowning in the creek. We were also given exclusive access to the Shelton Hotel, where Ned was taken after rescuing Dick. The current owner, Margie, was so hospitable and we were all in awe of the original state of the hotel. It was a privilege to be given the opportunity to stand in the very place Ned Kelly had stood over in 1866. Afterwards we were taken to the Avenel graveyard, where we saw the grave of Ned’s father, Red Kelly.

The next stop was the Benalla Museum, where we saw the green sash that Ned was given by the Shelton family to recognise his courage. When you look closely at the sash, you can see dark blood stains – Ned was wearing this sash under his famous armour during the shoot-out at Glenrowan Inn. This historical artifact really brought to life the legend of the Kelly gang. Further up north, we were taken to the actual scene of the infamous siege – Glenrowan. Our guide, Airi, provided us with very detailed commentary about the events leading up to and after the siege. It is often surprising for people to learn that Ned Kelly should ne more accurately labeled as a failed revolutionary, rather than a bushranger. The siege at Glenrowan certainly was a remarkable event in Australian history, and all students appreciated the poignancy of the location.

Our final stop on the tour was Greta, the final resting place of Ned Kelly and many of his relatives, including his beloved mother, Ellen. Visiting the graveyard was a moving and surprising experience for all of us. Ned Kelly’s remains have only recently been discovered at Pentridge Gaol, in Melbourne. He was buried with ceremony early in 2013, however the exact place of his burial is unknown. He is buried in an unmarked grave, to protect his remains from grave robbers. This certainly interested us all! Grave robbers, in Australia? Kelly must truly be a controversial figure in our history! We were then taken to the land where the Kelly’s homestead, Eleven Mile Creek, once stood. By this stage we were all very tired, having been on tour for nearly 12 hours, but it didn’t stop us from taking time to acknowledge the hardships that the Kelly family ensured in that very location.

The next day once again started fairly early, with a VIP tour of the Old Melbourne Gaol, the place where Ned Kelly was hanged in 1888. Our tour guide was fantastic! He was engaging and knowledgeable and worked hard to bring the true history of the gaol to life. Despite being tired from the previous day’s tour, all students were fully engaged in the stories being told, and were particularly interested in the death mask of Ned Kelly that is on display. The harshness of life in Colonial Australia was made apparent when our tour guide pointed out the very low heights of the doorways. People were much shorter in the 19th century because of their poor diets.

After a very enjoyable breakfast at the Queen Victoria Markets, we made our way down Swanston Street to the State Library of Victoria. Outside the library we stopped for a couple of photographs in front of the statue of Sir Redmond Barry, the judge who condemned Ned Kelly to death. We made sure that we showed him how we felt about his decision. Inside the quiet beauty of the library, we were greeted with what we were all waiting for – the famour armour of Ned Kelly. There is something so powerful about that armour, and we all felt it. Even more moving was seeing the boot that Ned was wearing on the day of the siege. It seems to give humanness to the history. Another artifact that we were excited to see was the Jerolderie letter. Having read it in class, it was certainly special to see the neat and careful handwriting of Joe Byrne and read the heartfelt narrative of Kelly and his family.

The trip ended in a rush, with laughter and a bit of drama, as we caught the final bus to the airport shuttle. I can’t commend my students highly enough for their enthusiasm, positive attitudes, joy and maturity on this trip. They taught me how to sound off, how to look both ways when crossing the road, and of course, they taught me what a hair donut is. This trip reminded my husband and I why we became teachers, because young people are amazing and joining them on their learning journeys is a privilege.

yr12-2014

Farewell to my PBL guinea pigs #shadowhunters

I began experimenting with PBL in late 2010. In 2011, I started teaching a class of students who would become my little PBL guinea pigs for the next four years. They are what is sometimes referred to as an ‘extension class’, a motley group of students who were talented at English, loved English or were very well behaved and completed all their work, haha. I am happy to say that the majority of them fell into the first and second description. Being well-behaved is never a sign of a great learner, in my opinion anyway. Over the years the line up of students changed – some no longer loved English (oops) and some ended up in a different class when year 11 came around (sad). Despite this, the class had some consistent members, about 15, who stayed with me for the full four years. Sometimes I think they lamented that fact – usually in the final week of a project when it’s all getting a bit stressful. However, overall, I know that we had an amazing time together. We learnt together, we laughed together, we failed together, we shared amazingly crazy highs together and we played together. Seeing them leave my classroom for the final time two weeks ago was terribly emotional (I did hold it together mostly) because I have seen them grow into wonderfully confident, independent learners who love asking challenging questions, enjoy working in a team and who are happy to take risks and try new ways of doing things. I’m going to miss them terribly to the point that these 26 letters on my keyboard and all the emoticons in the world fail to express.

I’m writing this blog post to try (somehow) to bring together all of the amazing learning experiences we have shared. If you can’t understand why I’m getting so wussy about one class and you’ve been reading my blog for a while, this might help: #HG2212. These guys played the Hunger Games. They are them. Wow.

OK, so here’s a list of the insanely cool project based learning we experienced together as a team:

Year 9:

Protest Poetry: I didn’t blog about this – waaah – which is random cos it was such an epic project. My students adopted the role of ‘guerrilla poets’ and composed team and individual protest poems. We then help a performance poetry evening where we handed out their poetry anthology called ‘Poems for the Silenced’ and students performed their poems for their parents. Students also had their poems published in the Australian Teacher Magazine’s student publication, I think it’s called Spectrum. It was cool.

Passion-Driven Blogging: This project saw my students writing blogs to try to answer the question, How can I shape the way the world sees me? We connected with a couple of schools from the US, who were also blogging. You can read about it here.

Passion Project: This was so cool. End of year project that saw my students having real-world impact by raising awareness of issues that mattered to them. You can read about it here.

Year 10:

Cyborg project: This was technically my first collaborative PBL project. Dean Groom helped me design this project and it’s been successful every time I’ve run it. My lovely class, now in that tricky year of high school where things other than school matter, were amazing. They created lovely little poems and turned them into YouTube clips. You can read about the project here.

The Emo project: Why do emos write poetry? This was a massive PBl achievement for me. I finally bagged a rock star – Craig Shuftan from Triple J came to my school! The wit of my students can be seen in their brilliant memes created part way through the project – check them out here. Oh, and read here about how CRAIG SHUFTAN came to my school, and I wasn’t there… waaaah! Finally, here are their adorable podcasts… we watched one in class during our very last lesson two weeks ago. OMG, so funny!

Resilience Writers Project: This saw my class connecting with a class in the San Francisco Bay area. Boy did my students learn A LOT about America from this project! They made some super funny videos to introduce themselves to the American students, and we received some pretty hilarious videos in return. So many memories. Such fun! This is an overview of the project.

Hunger Games: We played the Hunger Games. Legit. We totes did. It was insane. Students metaphorically killed other students. Students cried. Students worshipped me as I walked past (no, literally). We went to the movies. It was fucking brilliant. Sorry. Expletive was required. You can read all about it here. I think this is one of my most favourite memories with this class. There are so many, but this is WAY up there.

Wild at Heart: We studied Where The Wild Things Are (book and film), we learnt about Freud (that opened some eyes!) and we published a book of personal essays! These kids were writing at a university level when they were in year 10. No pressure of the HSC, just 100% engagement in challenging ideas. Sigh. The HSC is such a fail.

ECP: To end an insanely big year of learning, my students were given the freedom to choose their own project. It was called the English Composition Project and my mind was BLOWN by some of the work finally completed. Stories, essays, blogs… rad. We had writing mentors from around the world to support student learning. Here‘s a list of who helped.

Year 11:

Vampire Trivia: To be entirely honest, we didn’t do anything exciting in my year 11 Advanced class. That was my fault entirely, because I got so intimidated by the ‘HSC’. Urgh! However, my Extension English students did awesome PBL stuff, including running a super fun vampire trivia evening. Loved it!

Year 12:

I was DETERMINED to make year 12 so much more awesome than year 11. As such, I planned to return to PBL with my little guinea pigs, and it worked!

Belonging: We went for a bush walk. Doesn’t sound like much, but just getting HSC kids out of the school is a major drama. We went down to the local state park, The Cascades, and wandered through nature like Emily Dickinson – whose poetry we were studying at the time. Lots of laughter was shared, especially when Angus found a dead yabby. Walking back chatting about life and stuff was just awesome.

Module A: Ah, Shakespeare. He can be tough. Especially a history play, Richard III with all of its characters named the same. Anyway, to make it more exciting we did a bit of a ‘project’ where students worked in teams to make YouTube videos as study aids. It was cool because they worked so well together and it reminded me of their wonderful collaborative talents. You can see their work here.

Module B: Oh, this is probably the best project we did during year 12. Studying Orwell is always great, he totally challenges students in the very best ways. We totally bagged another rock star for this project, with Dr Peter Marks from Sydney University coming out to our school to adjudicate my students’ debates about Orwell. Peter was stoked with my students, and so was I. I’m pretty sure I cried. Great memory. You can read more about it here.

Module C: Holy crap how can we top this one? A trip to Melbourne for two nights and two days to immerse ourselves in the life and world of the ‘infamous’ Australian outlaw Ned Kelly. Not really PBL, but kinda it was. The trip was part of the inquiry stage of Mod C, and the end bit was students presenting their learning about texts about history and memory to the other Advanced English class. Of course they rocked and the other class was dead jelly of how bloody rad my class are, haha. No blog post to link to yet, but watch this blog… I’ll be posting one up soon.

So, it is with a heart as heavy as a heavy heart, that I say goodbye to my super amazing class of 2014. They have unwaveringly supported my edu experimentation on them and their learning, which is totally likely to be unethical, but what happens in great classrooms anyway. If you don’t trust me that they loved it, maybe watch the video below and see what they have to say. Gosh, I’m going to miss them.

yr12-2014