Welcome to my blog.

I am a geography teacher in New Zealand - using ICT extensively in my classroom to enhance the teaching and learning. Looking forward to talking with you about issues and ideas to improve teaching and learning in classrooms across the globe.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

More fun... videos I love.

Ice Age - teaching us about Plate tectonics. Wil use this in my class somehow.....

And this is fun - how could I use this in my class?

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

The Marshmallow Challenge

I think I will start this term off with the Marshmallow challenge - getting the students working together.

Looks like heaps of fun.

Families and Holidays

One of the best parts of being a teacher is the time we have (about every ten weeks or so) to reflect and relax.

I find these breaks so very necessary as a teacher. For me it is a time to sleep in; catch up on marking I did not manage to do during the last few weeks of term; as a geography teacher do some reconnaisance for field trips; watch a fe clips on Youtube (for my classes, PD and enjoyment :)) and it is a time to reflect on how things went and most importantly what I do do to make it work even better next term.

These holidays there has been a bit of all of that and especially lots of reflection. One of my classes has a wide range of abilities and the challenge is always to challenge the students who "get it" quickly and at the same time help those who take a little longer to "get it".

The class I am thinking about are Year 13 Geography students and we are studying coastal processes at Muriwai beach on the west coast of NZ (40km from Auckland city). I have decided to differentiate much more and give them a bit more independence with their learning. I hope that they will enjoy the change in the learning environment and that the students will take responsibility for their own learning rather than relying on me for everything. I will give them choice as well as setting examination type tasks for them to complete - will keep you posted on how this goes. I have differentiated the learning with younger students but have never really been brave enough to do this with this age group as it is their last year of school and so much hangs on their results that they get at the end of the year.

Will keep you posted on how this goes.

Monday, 25 April 2011

This is a very interesting clip from Sugata Mitra on letting students research for themselves.

What do you think?

Thanks John Sayers. :)

ANZAC Day 2011

Another ANZAC Day -

On 25 April 1915, eight months into the First World War, Allied soldiers landed on the shores of the Gallipoli peninsula. This was Turkish territory that formed part of Germany's ally, the Ottoman Empire. The troops were there as part of a plan to open the Dardanelles Strait to the Allied fleets, allowing them to threaten the Ottoman capital Constantinople (now Istanbul) and, it was hoped, force a Turkish surrender. The Allied forces encountered unexpectedly strong resistance from the Turks, and both sides suffered enormous loss of life. The forces from New Zealand and Australia, fighting as part of the ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps), played an important part in the Gallipoli campaign. At its beginning, people at home greeted with excitement the news that our soldiers were at last fully engaged in the war. New Zealand soldiers distinguished themselves with their courage and skill, establishing an enduring bond with the Australians they fought alongside.


It is interesting now how many people go out to celebrate ANZAC day nowadays compared to when I was a child. I don't remember it being very important when I was ten whereas my daughter aged 11 has been to at least seven ANZAC services (not today though as we all have colds and felt miserable and the rain did not help).

I am thinking that this is an excellent topic for us to teach at school - not the history stuff - although this is very important but the issues affecting us now, such as:
- where are the poppies made NZ vs China - what are the issues?
- is war a solution to a problem?
- should we have a holiday for ANZAC day - why or why not?
- why particular places or surroundings such as Gallipoli or other major locations where New Zealanders have fought are significant to people.

Any of these ideas would be great to do with classes. Maybe they could have an online debate; create a blog from a particular perspective then others could comment on this; maybe they could create a podcast or make a tv documentary on their chosen topic; Perhaps they could put themselves in someone elses shoes and argue from their point of view. What other ideas are there?

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Professional development

Professional development - what is it?

Professional development refers to skills and knowledge attained for both personal and career advancement. Professional development encompasses all types of facilitated learning opportunities, ranging from college degrees to formal coursework, conferences and informal opportunities situated in practice. It has been described as intensive and collaborative, ideally incorporating an evaluative stage There are a variety of approaches to professional development, including consultation, coaching, lesson study, mentoring, reflective supervision and technical assistance.

It is the subject of much debate and is difficult to get the balance just right. Is it something you do at a particular time in a particular place? Is it something that you can do on your own? Can you do it at home?

Can you count reading a blog from someone you admire as PD? I do. I read many blogs and articles on the internet and it is where I get most of my new teaching ideas.

Andrew Churches from Kristin School on the North Shore is someone I admire and whose work on his blog is always interesting and thought provoking. I've heard him speak about technology in schools and he is marvellous. He and I were nominated as Microsoft Distinguished Teachers here in NZ a few years ago. Neither of us won but he sure should have. His interest and involvement in ICT is impressive and he is someone whose presentation at a Conference I would not miss.

I have recently used his Blooms Digital Taxonomy which has been very useful for planning tasks for students. I have found reading his stuff on this taxonomy excellent PD.

The highest order tasks "creating" are some of the hardest to do especially when you are teaching students in their last year of school. In many ways, these students are reluctant to do things like this, as they think it is a waste of time when they should be learning things "off by heart" for their exams. I continue to perserve however.

Here is some information taken directly (with some deletions as I am applying it to my classroom and those in my faculty) from Andrew's site on the taxonomy - I am really interested and hope to get my students beyond the simple lower order thinking skills to the HOTS.


This element of the taxonomy does infer the retrieval of material. This is a key element given the growth in knowledge and information.

The digital additions and their explanations are as follows:

  • Bullet pointing – This is analogous to listing but in a digital format.
  • Highlighting – This is a key element of most productivity suites; encouraging students to pick out and highlight key words and phrases is a technique for recall.
  • Bookmarking or favorite-ing – this is where the students mark for later use web sites, resources and files. Students can then organise these.
  • Social networking – this is where people develop networks of friends and associates. It forges and creates links between different people. Like social bookmarks (see below) a social network can form a key element of collaborating and networking.
  • Social bookmarking – this is an online version of local bookmarking or favorites, It is more advanced because you can draw on others' bookmarks and tags. While higher order thinking skills like collaborating and sharing, can and do make use of these skills, this is its simplest form - a simple list of sites saved to an online format rather than locally to the machine.
  • Searching or "Googling" - Search engines are now key elements of students' research. At its simplest the student is just entering a key word or phrase into the basic entry pane of the search engine. This skill does not refine the search beyond the key word or term.

Key Terms - Remembering:

Recognizing, listing, describing, identifying, retrieving, naming, locating, finding, Bullet pointing, highlighting, bookmarking, social networking, Social bookmarking, favorite-ing/local bookmarking, Searching, Googling.


The digital additions and their explanations are as follows:

  • Advanced and Boolean Searching – This is a progression from the previous category. Students require a greater depth of understanding to be able to create, modify and refine searches to suit their search needs.
  • Blog Journaling – This is the simplest of the uses for a blog, where a student simply "talks" "writes" or "types" a daily- or task-specific journal. This shows a basic understanding of the activity reported upon. The blog can be used to develop higher level thinking when used for discussion and collaboration.
  • Twittering – The Twitter site's fundamental question is "what are you doing?" This can be, in its most simplistic form, a one or two word answer, but when developed this is a tool that lends itself to developing understanding and potentially starting collaboration.
  • Categorizing – digital classification - organizing and classifying files, web sites and materials using folders etc.
  • Commenting and annotating – a variety of tools exist that allow the user to comment and annotate on web pages, .pdf files and other documents. The user is developing understanding by simply commenting on the pages. This is analogous with writing notes on hand outs, but is potentially more powerful as you can link and index these.
  • Subscribing – Subscription takes bookmarking in its various forms and simplistic reading one level further. The act of subscription by itself does not show or develop understanding but often the process of reading and revisiting the subscribed-to feeds leads to greater understanding.

Key Terms - Understanding:

Interpreting, Summarizing, inferring, paraphrasing, classifying, comparing, explaining, exemplifying, Advanced searching, Boolean searching, blog journaling, twittering, categorising and tagging, commenting, annotating, subscribing.


The digital additions and their justifications are as follows:

  • Playing – The increasing emergence of games as a mode of education leads to the inclusion of this term in the list. Students who successfully play or operate a game are showing understanding of process and task and application of skills.
  • Uploading and Sharing - uploading materials to websites and the sharing of materials via sites like flickr etc. This is a simple form of collaboration, a higher order thinking skill.
  • Editing – With most media, editing is a process or a procedure that the editor employs.

Key Terms - Applying:

Implementing, carrying out, using, executing, running, loading, playing, operating, uploading, sharing, editing.


The digital additions and their explanations are as follows:

  • Linking – this is establishing and building links within and outside of documents and web pages.
  • Validating – With the wealth of information available to students combined with the lack of authentication of data, students of today and tomorrow must be able to validate the veracity of their information sources. To do this they must be able to analyse the data sources and make judgements based on these.
  • Tagging – This is organising, structuring and attributing online data, meta-tagging web pages etc. Students need to be able understand and analyse the content of the pages to be able to tag it.

Key Terms - Analysing:

Comparing, organising, deconstructing, Attributing, outlining, finding, structuring, integrating, Mashing, linking, reverse-engineering, cracking, mind-mapping, validating, tagging.


The digital additions and their explanations are as follows:

  • Blog/vlog commenting and reflecting – Constructive criticism and reflective practice are often facilitated by the use of blogs and video blogs. Students commenting and replying to postings have to evaluate the material in context and reply.
  • Posting – posting comments to blogs, discussion boards, threaded discussions. These are increasingly common elements of students' daily practice. Good postings like good comments, are not simple one-line answers but rather are structured and constructed to evaluate the topic or concept.
  • Moderating – This is high level evaluation; the moderator must be able to evaluate a posting or comment from a variety of perspectives, assessing its worth, value and appropriateness.
  • Collaborating and networking – Collaboration is an increasing feature of education. In a world increasingly focused on communication, collaboration leading to collective intelligence is a key aspect. Effective collaboration involves evaluating the strengths and abilities of the participants and evaluating the contribution they make. Networking is a feature of collaboration, contacting and communicating with relevant person via a network of associates

Key Terms – Evaluating:

Checking, hypothesising, critiquing, experimenting, judging, testing, detecting, monitoring, (Blog/vlog) commenting, reviewing, posting, moderating, collaborating, networking, reflecting, (Alpha & beta) testing.


The digital additions and their explanations are as follows:

  • Programming – Whether it is creating their own applications, programming macros or developing games or multimedia applications within structured environments, students are routinely creating their own programs to suit their needs and goals.
  • Filming, animating, videocasting, podcasting, mixing and remixing – these relate to the increasing availability of multimedia and multimedia editing tools. Students frequently capture, create, mix and remix content to produce unique products.
  • Directing and producing – to directing or producing a product, performance or production is a highly creative process. It requires the student to have vision, understand the components and meld these into a coherent product.
  • Publishing – whether via the web or from home computers, publishing in text, media or digital formats is increasing. Again this requires a huge overview of not only the content being published, but the process and product. Related to this concept are also Video blogging – the production of video blogs, blogging and also wiki-ing - creating, adding to and modify content in wikis.

Key Terms – Creating:

designing, constructing, planning, producing, inventing, devising, making, programming, filming, animating, Blogging, Video blogging, mixing, remixing, wiki-ing, publishing, videocasting, podcasting, directing/producing, creating or building mash ups.

Thanks to:

Churches, A. 2007, Educational Origami, Bloom's and ICT Tools

for this excellent information.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

It's in the genes....

Both my parents were teachers - maybe that's why I am one, and my sister also. Perhaps I had no choice. In some ways they are my role models for my teaching career.

My Dad was a school principal - he taught in many different schools in the Upper North Island. He was an innovative teacher in his time. He taught at East Tamaki Primary in Otara, Bruce McLaren Intermediate (Henderson) and Hay Park Primary (Mt. Roskill) to name a few. He set up reading programmes for families who had few books in their homes; he was available to talk to parents 24/7 and he tried his best to ensure that the best teachers were in front of the students in his care. Dad always got to work early and stayed late to ensure the schools he was in charge of were safe and the students were too. We often went as kids to the school fairs and I loved seeing how popular he was with the kids he worked with. He had an infectious laugh and even at a school fair with thousands of people there I could always find him laughing with a parent or a student. He also had a crazy handshake - so strong - it almost pulled your hand off - we try and replicate that in my family now but never as strong or as long.

He always told me make your vocation your vacation - not sure who said this originally but I do take this on board - no point going to work every day and hating it. Love your job I say - you're a long time doing it so best to have fun and enjoy your job. I like this quote "Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else" by Jame Barrie - so true.

Despite this strong work ethic, Dad always had time for me and his other kids. He came to nearly all of my hockey games (cheering me on from the sideline); drove me all around Auckland; took me on holidays and spent many hours with us kids up in the Bay of Islands. I wish this for myself - I hope my kids think that I don't spend all my time working but spend time with them doing fun stuff as well.

Sadly my Dad passed away in a boating accident in 1990 and I miss him every day - he was much loved and the many, many people who came to his funeral in September 1990 were testament to his giant personality and dedication to his job. We read this poem at his funeral - so true of him and so true of what I would like to be remembered for. This sketch of my Dad was done by my cousin and is such a great likeness (Thanks for this Shirley!)

To laugh often and much,
to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children,
to earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends,

to appreciate beauty,
to find the best in others,
to leave the world a bit better,
whether by a heathly child,
a garden patch
... to know even one life has breathed easier
because you have lived.

This is to have succeeded!


My Mum was also a teacher. She retired about 11 years ago to look after my daughter full time when I went back to work. She was also a school principal but in a school for students with special needs. She cared hugely about these students who had so many physical disabilities often unable to show their mental abilities as they were so disabled. She worked tirelessly for these children and their families - and eleven years later she still keeps in contact with many of the families she worked with. She loved working and was a real inspiration for many of her staff. I admired her enthusiasm and efforts she put in even when she did not win the battles - sometimes though she won the war. She would have loved to have been in teaching, with ICT in the mix - somehow she would have battled to ensure that all the kids at her school would have had access to the most up to date hardware to ensure they could communicate with everyone and that they could maximse their learning.

I try to do this with my students who though not disabled, need help to learn and ICT can be the vehicle to do this.

My daughter drew this picture of her Pammie five years ago - it's gorgeous. And quite a good likeness!

Born to Learn - does education/schools change that?

We have to think differently.

How we raise our kids.
How we teach our students.
How we learn.
How we communicate.
How we assess learning.

We need to be more creative with our learning and thinking. We need to be more caring. We need to be more flexible in our teaching and learning.

I like this clip on Youtube. It makes me think about where we are going and why with education. It makes me think about what I want out of teaching and how is the best way to teach and have students learn. You just can't say to kids - go and learn something say about coastal processes, for example, you have to sacffold and help them into the learning but perhaps we, as teachers need to be less controlling and give the decisions back to the kids. Let them find out why and be inquistive, like they were when they were three years old and always asking WHY? WHY? WHY?

And, also it makes me think that we don't all fit into the same box. Some of us think differently. Maybe that student in my classroom (or yours?) who doesn't really "fit in" - maybe they are just not able to do things like you want them to but maybe they could do them differently. I'm really going to work on this with my classes this coming term. Maybe it might make learning more fun and interesting, for some.

Videos I love to watch (over and over again)

Taking a break now from some marking to share some of my favourite videos on youtube.

This one from Ronnie Corbett makes me laugh no matter how many times I watch it.

This is also a cool one for technology which I always find funny as well.

I am showing this clip to my Geography scholarship students at the start of next term. We are going to look at the issue of global warming for the term - what causes it, possible consequences, why we should be worried (and this clip called The most terrifying video you will ever see.... might be very thought provoking).

We will then debate, discuss and look at different perspectives on global warming. The geography scholarship standard requires students within a geographic context:
• critically analyse a particular setting by:
− interpreting the geographic nature of the context
− evaluating geographic perspectives
• apply the critical analysis to another setting.

and demonstrate:
• a high level of integration and abstraction
• insight
• sophisticated communication

I think a discussion and time spent on the issue of global warming will develop those skills.

I also love to use this one for school: (It's not a funny one though!) Hans Rosling rocks! My scholarship students will look at this one as well when discussing big issues such as disparities around the globe.

And staying with something serious - Sir Ken Robinson is a great guy (very funny presenter) and thought provoking as well. It's 20 minutes long BUT OH SO WORTH IT!

Sir Ken Robinson is interesting to listen to (and watch) and his recent discussion at a Summit on Science, Entertainment, and Education in the USA - what follows is interesting stuff.

Happy Easter!

It is eggsellent that people have time off to spend with their families at Easter and more public holidays are needed I say. And this year in New Zealand two of our public holidays have fallen on a weekend so no day off for people then. The second of these days is tomorrow - so Happy Easter Monday and Happy ANZAC day.

I have been on holiday for the past week (after a very long term) and have made some progress with some marking of work that Year 11 NCEA Geography students have done. The students have made websites on weebly.com and have done an excellent job. The site is very intuitive and easy for students to use and I think they enjoyed using it to present their work rather than just hand writing it in a test. They took great care in their publishing of their work as they realised that it was up on the net for everyone to see it (should they be able to find it). They also realised that they could show it off to other people - grandparents, parents and friends and this I think made the learning much more authentic for them. Next time, I will get them to make websites about different things as I have read about 40 all about the same thing which is a tad boring for the marker so I have lots planned for this assessment for 2012.

"The integration of ICTs and thinking skills is a core component of teaching and learning at St Cuthbert’s College. Classroom practice that enables multi-modal personalised learning is essential for all students to reach their potential.
Digital literacy is essential for students to be prepared to face the challenges of a future which is largely yet unknown. Our intranet is based on Moodle - a multimedia rich interactive platform for a student learning management system that provides for student centred constructivist learning environments. Student enthusiasm for web 2.0 tools and social networking can be harnessed through our integrated social bookmarking system and individual portfolios

This quote from my schools website is interesting. We are not there yet with our vision I don't think. But well on the way. I guess the hardest thing in education and using new ICT tools is that often teachers are behind the eight ball with technology and don't always feel comfortable doing something that they don't fully understand but I think this is the beauty of using ICT in the classroom. If the teacher doesn't know the answer someone else in the class will and then we are all learners together. This teacher and student interaction is vitally important to how students perform and when there is mutual respect between both parties then the classroom teaching and learning will be positive and engaging and LEARNING WILL HAPPEN.

This is one of the findings of John Hatties research which you may be familiar with. Hattie's meta analysis ( a synthesis of 50000 previous studies) found that student teacher interaction came out on top. (not a surprise, I say!)

Hattie's book is about the power of directed teaching, focusing on 'what happens next' through feedback and monitoring. This is an approach that also informs the teacher about the success (or failure) of their teaching; making learning for both teacher and student 'visible'.

Hattie found, that 'expert' teachers had real respect for their learners as people with ideas of their own. They are passionate about teaching and learning, able to present challenging tasks ensuring 'deep learning'. They are able to make lessons their own, invite students to 'engage', integrating and combining new learning with students prior knowledge. Their expertise allows them to understand their classrooms and to be more responsive to learners. They are extremely flexible, improvising to take advantage of contingencies and new information as it arises. Hattie found it was pedagogical knowledge rather than content knowledge that distinguished the 'expert' teachers.

I am continually striving to become that 'expert' teacher - and this is always my goal. Roll on term 2 with new ideas and ways of making the learning 'visible' to the learners and certainly I believe e-learning is one of the ways to do this.

The start of something big???

Well, I have decided to start a blog for my ramblings and thoughts about teaching and learning. (And I might talk about my life - family and friends as well) Now for some basic background.

I am a secondary school teacher in Auckland, New Zealand. I teach Geography at St. Cuthbert's College - www.stcuthberts.school.nz - I love teaching and spend ages on my lesson preparation trying to do interesting things with my students. My students all have laptops and I am keenly aware of the importance of ensuring the learning that happens in my classroom is just right for the digital natives we are teaching now.

STCC is an independent girls school. It is an independent Christian day and boarding school, in the Presbyterian tradition, for 1,470 girls, from Year 1 to Year 13, in Auckland, New Zealand. The College is located at 122 Market Road, Epsom. I have taught there since 1999 - had eighteen months off when my daughter was born but pretty much I have been there for just over a decade. All the other schools I have taught in are in the Auckland region and include Kaipara College, Lynfield College, Macleans College, Mahurangi College and a brief stint at Avondale College.

I am currently Head of the Social Sciences faculty; Head of Geography and for this year Curriculum Manager. I teach Year 13 Geography (NCEA) and IB Geography (which I enjoy) and various other classes.

Since being a staff member at STCC I have been a Dean of Year 12; TIC of Beginning teachers and TIC of lots of co-curricular things. It is an excellent place to work.

I have a family and I manage to have quite a good work-life balance (I think).

My husband, Anthony Fowler is a university lecturer at the University of Auckland. His teaching responsibilities lie across the sub-disciplines of climatology and hydrology. Environmental change (especially palaeoclimatology) and hydroclimatology are foci at senior undergraduate and graduate levels. Phew! Anthony and I love to travel. We have been to many places, both in New Zealand and overseas. Our last trip together was to Melbourne in Australia (where we lived when our son was born) and we had two weeks together exploring the area again. I loved living in Melbourne (the cosmopolitan lifestyle was wonderful!) but back now in NZ where most of my extended family live. The photo below, was taken by daughter, in Melbourne of me and my best friend (Anthony!)

My son, Michael is nearly 20 years old (freaky!) and studies Computer Science. To be honest I don't understand much of what he does but he is a great young man and a real home boy. I don't know where he will end up (jobwise) but my best guess is in a large city somewhere (London, New York etc) doing something with intellectual property - well time will tell.

My daughter, Alexandra (although she prefers to be called Alex) is 11. She is in year 7 at St. Cuthbert's College. She is a busy wee thing. She plays in two football teams, a netball team, a band, learns the flute, is in the literature Quiz team for her school, does Orienteering and has lots of friends she manages to fit in every now and then. I am her main driver to take her from place to place. Luckily I love reading and often I am found reading beside the soccer field. Or sometimes I mark!

I am always busy. I love reading (anything with words is great); walking my dog (Nugget); spending time with my family; kayaking and swimming; meeting friends for coffee and wine; fiddling around with new teaching and learning resources; reading interesting educational blogs; catching up with friends on Facebook; and I have a twitter account which I enjoy updating (and reading other peoples updates and links to cool websites. I am on a few committees and am secretary of the Auckland Geography Teachers Association - I update their facebook page with cool websites as well. I have a wikieducator page http://wikieducator.org/User:MaryR which I fiddle around with a bit. All very fun. Sometimes I manage to bake for my family with brownies and cupcakes and muffins being my favourites.

Well, that's me for now. Looking forward to blogging some more soon.