Day 1 2016 – Staff Development Day

Well one of my new years resolutions was to be far more active on social media – including this blog, which has been suffering over the last couple of years.  In fact I have found that since I moved to Killara High School, my blogging and tweeting was the first thing to be left behind –  ironic as they were the best source of self reflection and innovative practice.

After the usual congratulating one another on an outstanding year of academic results we spent the first few hours working on what it means for students to be successful learners – directly linked to our school plan. As a faculty we have been discussing how we can encourage our students to be more independent learners. Late last year while working on the PDP goals for 2016 and reflecting on the process that new scheme teachers have to do in providing evidence we threw around the idea that perhaps students can be given the outcomes (kid friendly) that they need to demonstrate and provide their own evidence that demonstrates their understanding – this can be anything they believe demonstrates their understanding.  Our goal is to trial this approach with Year 7 in 2016.  Today’s session gave me the idea that perhaps students could use their work and give self reported grades , or +, – and = to record whether their work was better,worse or equal to their previous attempts.

A couple of other key things stuck with me:

  1. A quote from Simon Breakspear “Education is richly social but intensely personal”
  2. I don’t give enough time in class to go over feedback, and often the feedback given is not personal to a student but more generic
  3. Detective marking – give the students a mark and they then have to determine why they got that particular mark…
  4. Metacognition is like programming the Google self driving car – see TED video below
  5. Title pages as a concept map, on the title page for each topic, students are asked to write down what they have learnt at the end of each lesson and at the end of the unit they have a summary of what they need to study. Alternatively, the teacher could provide students with a summary of the concepts and skills the students are expected to have learnt by the end of the unit. Students can then tick off as they go.
  6. “What did you learn in mathematics today? Provide an example to demonstrate your learning?” as homework


Colo Meroo Camping – Wollemi National Park

What a great spot! An easy 2.5km walk in from Upper Colo Road (Google Map) . We spent a fantastic 4 nights here with our three children and Chris & Sandie with their three kids!

The campsite can be reached in three different ways – a longish walk in from Mountain Lagoon, liloing in from Bob Turners track or a flat walk from the end of Upper Colo Road. If walking from the end of Upper Colo road the trail passes through private property so make sure that you stay on it and leave gates the way they were when you came through. A well sign posted detour with styles over the fences allows you to avoid one property.

It is a well grassed site with room for about 10 different groups. The picnic shed was handy to shelter from the hot sun and there is a well cleared fire area. The river is about 150 – 200m walk from the campsite (not the 500 it says on the sign!) and we drank it straight – no treatment. The Colo is a fantastic river for children – although it flows quite fast it is mostly shallow with a coarse sandy bottom.

The first night we shared with one other guy who had been coming to this spot for years – we had a great chat. Later that evening a bunch of university students from UNSW (many of whom knew our nephews!) came in as well. The second night we had it to ourselves!

The third day dawned hot and sunny and we set off up the river for about 2.5 km. Along the way we saw numerous animal tracks – possum and wild dog/dingo. The walk upstream was fairly hard going but we floated back down! Storms threatened but although we got rained on upstream they missed the campsite  A family of five joined us after an arduous trek in from Mountain Lagoon (they had lost the trail in several spots).

We spent the final (very hot!) day just lazing about in the river and when it became to hot we played cards in the picnic shed.That evening we were joined by a couple who had made the lilo journey from Bob Turners track.

After we walked out we detoured home via Wiseman’s Ferry for lunch at the pub.

A great 4 night trip!

Walking Party
The kids with Sandie & Pru about to head off on the walk into Colo Meroo
Colo River
Testing out the Colo River for the first time
Colo River
Looking downstream towards the Campsite from a big sandy beach
Sandy Beach just upstream from the Colo
Sandy beach just upstream from the Colo Meroo camp site
Colo River
Swimming upstream opposite the campsite
Colo Meroo
Chris, Pru & Sandie around the campfire at Colo Meroo
Colo Meroo
Simon & Pru around the campfire at Colo Meroo
Colo Meroo
Storm that went around us at Colo Meroo
Colo Meroo
Cooking risotto for 10 at Colo Meroo
Colo Meroo
Colo Meroo Cricket oval and picnic pavillion
Colo Meroo
Our campsite under the trees for some shade at Colo Meroo
What a luxury - picnic tables at Colo Meroo
What a luxury – picnic tables at Colo Meroo
Colo Meroo
Around the campfire at Colo Meroo

To rank or not to rank….

All students studying the HSC know that it is not the assessment mark (in school) that is most important, it is your rank within the cohort of students. Now there is a lot of misunderstanding about how this actually works – for details see So I totally understand students in Years 11 & 12 being preoccupied with this! But when is it to early to start giving students their ranking – thus encouraging competition?

It doesn’t feel like an environment that is conducive to learning is being created when students are only concerned about the formal assessment tasks (as listed in the schedule) and their rank based on these tasks. All other learning and assessment activities “don’t really count”. And this is the opinion from Year 7 onwards.  The parents and teachers expect it.

Is this a hill to die on? Should it be changed? Or the status quo (in which students achieve outstanding results in the HSC) maintained?

What do you do at your school  – is a ranking important? and from what age?

An old favourite reinvigorates a textbook focused Year 9 class

I have recently made a big move from Coffs Harbour High School to Killara High School on the north shore in Sydney. I made this move for a variety of reasons one of which was the opportunity to teach in a bigger and very high achieving (Mathematically)  school. I have been at my new school for almost 5 weeks now and am loving the new challenge. But…..

One thing is annoying me!

How much Killara students LOVE their textbooks!!!!!

I don’t like rocking the boat to much to start off with  – you know when in Rome do as the Romans do… and all that – but only for a little while!

I have great classes – a lower mixed ability Year 8 class, a top Year 9 (5.3 class) a newly created Year 10 Advanced (5.3) class and a Year 11 General class. The kids are fantastic – they say please & thank you and listen when asked! 🙂

But….they buck a bit when given something out of the norm (i.e not in the textbook). The first topic I did with Year 9 was probability – so lots of fun, less structured activities there – they loved engaging with the birthday paradox and the Monty Hall problem – a great video explanation of the Monty Hall  is here

We then moved onto Polygons. A bit more reluctance to engage with an activity investigating interior and exterior angle size using Geogebra and a great deal of reluctance to do what I thought was  a fun investigation Year 9 Tesselations and Shapes project 2013 looking a tessellation’s using Google SketchUp.

I was then quizzed by a parent at Parent Teacher interviews as to when I was likely to start teaching real maths again – I asked what she meant, to be told – “you know lots of textbook exercises”. Hmmmm……at least the parent was genuinely interested in what their child was doing in Maths!

Next topic Consumer Maths – lots of opportunities to do real life applications. But the kids still reluctant…..I lightened the mood by showing the duck song as a model of how a stall keeper learns to work with his customers.

But then I tried an old favourite (while half the class was away on an excursion)

the kids loved it!  So much so that those who were away yesterday came in demanding to see it.  For some reason they then willing engaged in today’s lesson – investigating deferred payment schemes – they had to find their own on line and look for the hidden costs working out how much it actually costs! So I rewarded them with another of Vi hart’s video’s as a treat just before the bell

on the condition that doodling was to take place more in all other subjects – not so much in Maths! 🙂

Rich Tasks, PBL and PrBL


Some PBL Websites

SOLE – Self Organised Learning Environment

I was really inspired by Sugat Mitra’s prize winning TED talk – Build a school in the Cloud

so I started thinking about some big questions to try. My bottom Year 10 class are doing permitter, area and volume (again!) so will try these questions this week”

How many people can we fit in our classroom?

If the classroom was sealed – how long will they survive?

I’ll take some footage and report back on the success or otherwise.

I am also experimenting with SOLE and my own children (Sam 7 and Matthew 9) (after all one’s own kids are a perfect experimental environment!). They have recently discovered “Cool Maths Games” and are really enjoying it.  So I downloaded Scratch and told them to create! They have already found tutorials on YouTube and the user forum on the website as tools to assist them in their discovery. Oh and when I searched on my old laptop to find the program it came up with an introductory guide (pdf) that I have used with students before – Sam quickly said that he wanted me to leave that open and Matthew wanted me to transfer it to his computer as well.

What a great way to start a Sunday – watching inspirational TED talks!

To LMS or not?

An interesting discussion on Twitter for #ohedchat today about blended learning which not surprisingly turned to the necessity of an LMS for effective teaching in a blended classroom. But first what is blended learning? Wikipedia defines it as:

Blended learning is education that combines face-to-face classroom methods with computer-mediated activities.[1] According to its proponents, the strategy creates a more integrated approach for both instructors and students.

The terms “blended,” “hybrid,” “technology-mediated instruction,” “web-enhanced instruction,” and “mixed-mode instruction” are often used interchangeably in current research literature.[2] However, recent researchers in the United States tend to use the term “blended learning” with more regularity.

To me it is the use of digital technology to enhance and extend classroom learning experiences.

So is an LMS essential? Well it depends….

My first teaching job was at Trinity Grammar School Kew – the first school in Australia to have a school wide wireless network to support a laptop program. In the same year I started they also employed a teacher to look at a means of providing access electronically via the web to resources. He designed his own LMS (called school tool from memory) and I spent lots of time trying to break it. Anyway after a couple of years out of teaching I went back into a school that used Moodle – once again I always pushed the boundaries (often getting frustrated and the limitations!) using Moodle extensively.

The change of schools (and systems!/ states) to Coffs Harbour High school also coincided with the start of the Digital Education Revolution – so of course I set up a school Moodle ( ) that is still up and running today. the reception to this was to say the least varied! But now four years on I myself only use Moodle for some things (e.g online administration of diagnostic tests at the commencement of the year and for subject selection for senior years) preferring to use a blended (pun intended!) mix of tools to assist with the digital support of students learning. This includes blogs, Edmodo, Adobe Connect, Facebook, OneNote, DropBox,Mathletics, Mangahigh….

Of these I have found FaceBook to be the most successful (for senior students) mostly because it is an online ecosystem which my students already inhabit. Ever since I started teaching my mantra with regards technology has always been “see what the kids are using in their own time and try to find an educational use for it”. If I post a message on Facebook (in our class group) at 5:30 am (I am a morning person!) 90% of my class will have read it before school – why because the first thing they do when they wake up is check Facebook! But this approach is not for everyone –  it is to unpredictable and ever changing.

Whenever a new way of digital delivery is suggested many teachers want to: be trained;  know exactly what it should be used for; know how it will be managed etc. Now this is all fine but my question is how will you ever keep up with the continual changes if you expect a training course in everything! Consequently many just don’t do anything! An LMS offers a nice safe place for these types of teachers and will perhaps expose them to alternative options down the track.

The biggest problem I have  with any LMS is that it is a walled garden (this includes things like Yammer too!) but once again this is what makes them attractive to some people and institutions.

I guess there is no “One-size fits all approach” some will want to use an LMS and others not – but at what point does an institution no longer provide an LMS for those who want to use it and are not confident elsewhere?  Will removal of something perhaps destroy the confidence of a teacher who has either just taken or is about to take steps to use online tools in the classroom? How can our professional learning as educators be more about taking risks and experimenting with new tools? And WHO IS GOING TO TAKE OVER ADMIN OF OUR SCHOOL MOODLE? :0 Any volunteers?