• Wikispaces Classroom as an online, collaborative “draft book”
  • Individual student blogs (Kidblogs or Blogger?)
  • A class Evernote account for “tagging the learning journey” / collecting evidence of learning
  • The “teacher adviser” aka mentor, aka whānau teacher, aka learning guide – what does this role look like? (hint: needs to be rigorous – a formal, but close, learning relationship)
  • Think about how primary-aged students can fast track their learning (and how to assess this – a “testing centre”? sidenote: using Infographics to show learning!)
  • Self-directed learning boot camps (if needed)
  • Digital Citizenship as a theme throughout the year – inc. community evenings
  • Developing events in Wellington to share awesome teaching (educafe evenings?)
  • Kids doing unconferences / ignite talks
  • Setup Apple Configurator or Meraki
  • Take part in some place hacking / guerilla geography later in the year

So lets get started! How do you motivate/inspire kids to take control of their learning?#edchatNZ

This was the opening question in last nights #edchatnz twitter chat – a topic which I’m quite interested in and keen to hear how other people are “doing it” and grappling with the challenges. I tried to chirp in a few comments here and there, but the twitter character limit was beating me into submission, so I’ve resigned myself to the fact I’d better hit the keyboard and record some of our journey. Thankfully it’s a PRT day, so I’ve got the wiggle room! Until next year, then I become a fully registered teacher with no time – maybe I can be like PRT Pan and never grow up! PRT days every week! Bangarang!

This is a bit of what we do – it’s probably not the most epic way, or the best way, but it’s one way. Please leave a comment or get in touch if you’re doing anything similar or even unsimilar, it’s all good!

Taking control of your learning is about knowing where you’re at, where you’re going, how you’re going to get there, and then knowing when you’re there.

Knowing Where You’re At

Every kid at our school has three matrices shared in with them via Google Docs – a reading, writing, and maths one. These are updated as much as possible (once a term, sometimes once every term-and-a-bit) with recent progress.

Having these shared in with children to view through their school Google account is key. They can, at the drop of a 5 cent coin, bring up a detailed view of their progress and next steps. The parents can be shared in as well, or can access them through their child’s account.

Mathematics Standards Matrix – identifying next learning steps

Knowing Where You’re Going

Our matrices are great for a wide, detailed, current picture on where a child is at. In order though to distill this wealth of information into workable, manageable next steps, we have another document called a Personal Learning Treaty (or a PLT). Together with a teacher, the matrices are used to determine three main learning goals over reading, writing and maths. These are then put into the PLT along with a co-constructed learning behaviour goal.

Last year we held mini-meetings with each child in order to discuss the creation of these PLT goals. This year, with the seniors in particular, we are moving to children formulating their own next steps and translating them into their PLT. I can then sit there on the weekend and check out their PLT docs and make comments / suggestions if necessary. It’s a bit more practical in a time-constrained busy school environment.

Knowing How You’re Going to Get There

So the kids have these goals, they are current, manageable, and co-constructed – but do they know how to actually go out and work to achieve them? When do they do this?

When: we block in self-directed learning time (we called it iTime last year, but call a spade a spade this year) each week. I just peeked around the corner to our planning timetable on the whiteboard (see below) and we have just under three hours scheduled in total this week at various times, and in various chunks of time. We rarely have all 74 children in our hub on self-directed learning time at once, as it would be a strain on the devices and the equipment – it’s usually a part of a rotation.
Timetabling self-directed learning blocks

How: I’m going use maths goals as an example, as it was raised as some kind of no-can-do area in the aforementioned #edchatnz discussion:

We agree that choice motivates. How can we engage students in subjects where less choice is available? Eg. maths?#edchatNZ

We made a series of how-to videos called Snappers which we recorded, played around with a little bit in iMovie, then put up in an area of our blog. Admittedly, we haven’t made many, but more are on the cards! Current Snappers cover topics such as “Using Maths Equipment”, “Using Texts” as well as various times tables and fractions Snappers outlining strategies to independently learn and understand the concepts involved. Some upcoming Snappers include a handwriting one, a series of tutorials on various web-based applications, maybe even a ‘cleaning up at the end of the day’ Snapper! We’ve also started putting up Snappers from other educators around the world – there’s no point reinventing the wheel!

Having videos students can watch and re-watch (directing them to appropriate activities or tasks) helps focus their self-directed learning time by having them do the things that matter, rather than faffing around with activities that don’t really help. This year we have planned learning workshops where we run through what you can do if you like to learn in a competitive way, or an independent way, or a creative way, and a plan to produce a larger variety of Snappers as mentioned above. At the end of the day, it’s about giving the children the direction they need to work on something independently and meaningfully.

Simply even having the PLT accessible and understandable helps focus their time too. If kids can do a quick check-in at the start of the day to refresh themselves about their goals, they are more likely to be conscious of their next learning steps throughout the day.

Knowing When You’re There

When a child feels they are independently, consistently and accurately performing a skill, strategy or built knowledge, they record somehow – they capture – evidence of their learning.

We’ve had children create docs where they upload three or four different samples of their work, whether it be photos, scanned writing, videos, webcam reflections, screenshots or links to online goings-ons and then submit it to us.

As teachers, we use our professional wizardry to judge whether the compiled evidence of learning meets the indicators – the matrices are updated, and another learning goal is created.

Why do it?

  • Children are engaged and motivated via ownership, choice and independence – they design their own learning pathways
  • Self-directed learning time necessitates knowing your own learning goals
  • Providing evidence of learning means understanding what success looks like
  • Students can learn how they learn best – the style and the preference
  • It offers deep personalisation of learning

Learning how to take the reins of your own learning is a powerful competency to build. In an era where an absolutely ridiculous amount of knowledge is available at your fingertips, self-directed learning endows agency and creates lifelong, confident and flexible learners.

To start at the end, my colleagues and I came away downright buzzing over Ewan McIntosh’s captivating breakout this afternoon entitled “Tagging the Learning Journey – A New Model For Assessment”. He skirted the thin line between big picture thinking and practical take-aways like a pro and like other great sessions, we came away with T.U.C.D.O.M. (“Things You Can Do On Monday”).

So what’s the down-low?

Ewan has been working at Rosendale Primary School in South London on an assessment project with the aim of “capturing learning reflections which are used to inform next steps in teaching and learning” (c/o the breakout description). Ewan and co wanted to put the power into the hands of the children, rather than having the teachers and adults control the story of their learning.

Ewan’s team empowered the children in this particular class of youngsters to begin “tagging” their learning. As a soft entry point, they began to tag their wonderfully messy ideas, findings and prototypes (in an inquiry provocatively titled “London is Full – Evacuate!”) with annotated luggage labels. Children’s work, wherever it may roam, was tagged – be it pinned to a wall, or attached to the bottom of a computer screen.

At the start, teachers did the tagging of all the messy, post-it festooned immersion displays on the walls. Then gradually the children got involved. They began personally tagging their written work in their books with boxes shaped like luggage labels at the top of their pages, then with the real, laminated labels on a whole range of their research and work.

They began with straightforward classifications, such as “writing” or “maths” as the children got used to tagging their learning (and which learning to tag). According to Mr McIntosh, this was a big hit with the kids. As things progressed, and after a big effort to secure enough devices, the next step in the grand master plan was put into place.

Children in the class were introduced to Evernote.

They were set-up with personal ‘notebooks’ in one unified Evernote account. This was important because A) It would mean spending no extra coin going “Premium” and B) it would mean they could, and I quote (from one of the kids in Ewan’s class) “browse each other’s learning” – all online notebooks were open and viewable by others in the class.

Using their newly acquired mobile devices, children began snapping pictures and recording video and audio of their learning. As a function of Evernote, these notes were tagged with labels the children could personalise. There were three different categories to these tags:

1) What it is (ie, subject specific tags – “Writing”, “Maths” etc.)
2) The skills or competencies involved (ie, subject detail tags – “addition”, “instructional writing” etc.)
3) How they felt about it (ie, emotion tags – “boring”, “fun”, “proud”, “enjoy” etc.)

So the children began writing and digitally recording their own learning stories. They served as rich, powerful meta-cognitive port-holes into the process of their learning. The could organise and archive their learning, and chart their progress.

More importantly, the learning artefacts uploaded and tagged on Evernote were more often than not accompanied by reflective comments written by the children. In analysing these comments, they seemed to point to children giving themselves formative feedback – many comments hitting on where they have been, where they are now, and where they are going next.

Reflections in this class were not done at a certain time of the week, regularly, week-by-week, after the fact, but just as the moment occured. Children self-managed their reflections by just toddling off and doing them when the time was right. This was an AHA! moment for me, as we have always done our reflections on a Friday, at a certain time, well after the emotions of learning have faded.

The roadmap suggested for the roll-out of this assessment project is, after the slow, measured luggage label introduction, to keep it in-house for the first six months, then open it up for parents to view, then allow students to take their devices home and begin recording learning at home too.

This last phase for me is particularly exciting – if children know their learning goals, why not let them upload evidence of learning and reflections on the evenings or the weekend. Each child at our school has specific learning goals, but they also have a learning behaviour goal at any given time too. If they show evidence of this holistic, key-competency based learning say at a soccer game on Sunday or with their cousins at the park, chuck it up in their Evernote notebook! Record it, reflect on it, articulate their “where to from here” – cultivate life-long learners.

A few other notes:

  • Children naturally only captured and tagged what they thought was “successful work” – Ewan and the teachers found the challenge was to have children reflect and upload their mistakes and missteps too. Sharing the failures, the prototypes, or steps to the final product are just as important as sharing the successes. Reflecting on the failures is even more important.
  • Tagging the different learning experiences with emotions enabled some children who had trouble expressing themselves to be able to do so in a safe way. Having classmates actually hunting out and viewing their learning artefacts because they were interested in viewing them gave them increased confidence.
  • Evernote allows tracking of frequency and amount of uploaded notes. You can use this data to pinpoint particular students who may need extra support.


What a great idea! If we were doing Formative Feedback 1.0 at school, this would be 2.0. Likewise with reflections.

To add to the conversation, I think the Evernote web-clipper function could be utilised to great effect with this method too. Kids could take a screenshot of their online goings-ons (for eg, Mathletics, blog comments, articles they have read etc.) then upload those for tagging and reflection.

If teachers have smartphones, evidence can be snapped or recorded from those devices too then emailed to the student who could then upload it. Desktop or laptop webcams could also be utilised for recording. Evernote is a multi-platform application, spanning everything from Chrome extensions, Windows 8 apps, Android apps, to traditional desktop programs. The ability to capture and upload evidence of learning could be widespread and easily accessible.

All n’ all, an awesome project to embark upon – pedagogically sound, technologically smart and most importantly – will have a positive impact on the learning. It’s motivating and empowering for students, and that’s gotta be good.

So Thenk Ye Ewan, I know we’ll be embracing the awesomeness of this when school starts in a few weeks.

P.S – I’m sure I’ve missed some bits and pieces – what do you guys think? What were your takeaways from the session? Are you as excited as I am? Leave a comment!

P.P.S: More from the man himself on using Evernote to tag learning in the classroom:


I was thinking about the Kirpal Singh session yesterday on my run this morning, and hastily banged out a blog post as I was cooling down. Note: I’m coming from a primary school context. Also Note: I wrote this really quickly because I have to leave to today’s keynote, so I hope it makes sense!

You have taken the idea of the flipped classroom and thought about how this could develop in the future. You have extrapolated from current happenings in the world of education, particularly tertiary education.

You say that future education could well be based around clusters of homeschooling. You also say that the economics of living are overtaking the morality of living.

My take is that these two predictions don’t particularly mix.

Making the decision to educate your children yourself is a huge moral responsibility. You need to do it right, you need to do it thoroughly. As well, in order to make the time to homeschool, you need to forgo something else – spending time (or more time) on making money. If the morality of living is bowing to the economics of living, do you think people will make the decision to do less work and spend more time homeschooling, to the detriment of their paycheck?

You mentioned that this wouldn’t matter if more people in the future are working from home. I can see the amount of people able to do this increasing, sure, but the bulk of the population, I’m assuming will still need to physically go into work.

What I see happening is schools and teachers becoming altogether more cognisant of the two different types of learning that the flipped classroom calls upon, and a redistribution of our equality of time on each. Or as Guy Claxton was saying yesterday, and acknowledgment of the fact it need not be an OR situation (standards, knowledge acquisition, tests OR cool, creative, collaborative learning) it can be an AND. You can do both at once. They are not mutually exclusive.

Why flip when you can do both at once?

I see schools retaining an emphasis on skills based, knowledge based learning instead of it being passed off to parents and caregivers for homework. But, I also see schools spending a higher amount of time on the practical application of this knowledge in collaborative, holisitic, project-based, real-world, purposeful learning scenarios.

Warning, what follows is a self-indulgent reflective blog post. Reader beware!

2012: My first year of teaching.

2012: Amesbury School’s first year open.

Obligatory Amesbury School / community panorama
Having these two run concurrently has been a winding road of a journey; sudden swerves, long straights, gradual curves, ups and downs, speed bumps (wow I got more mileage out of that metaphor than I thought…).

These two “firsts” have also shared a symbiotic relationship. Each has strengthened the other.

  • As I was finding my feet as a teacher, Amesbury was finding it’s feet as a school.
  • I wasn’t slotting into a team, I was a founding member of the team.
  • I didn’t just have new kids, everyone had new kids.
  • I didn’t just not know the expectations and norms in the beginning, everyone didn’t.
  • I was learning how to teach and learn in an environment where experienced teachers were rethinking what teaching and learning means to them.
  • I didn’t just not know where the tea towels were kept, everyone didn’t.

It has been an incredibly full year. Here are some highlights!

Team Teaching
During my first few months (and throughout the year), Tara, Urs and Carolyn were my safety net. They were incredibly supportive, inclusive and actually listened to my hair-ball, mostly lame ideas. Team teaching for a BT is awesome – you are in a constant state of observing, while also being observed by others. You learn from osmosis. You are an edu-magpie and gather the best, shiny bits of teaching from all around you and bundle them up and mould them with your own way to create something even better. A+++++++ Highly Recommended for BTs.

PBL / Ignite Projects / Impact Projects
I wrote about these in a previous post, but they are indeed a highlight. We had our Year 6 leaver’s dinner last night and most of them spoke about how much they enjoyed them. Passion based, collaborative, exploratory, real-world, community-focused. Hard work for teachers, but amazing, wide, authentic learning.

Increasing Nerdyness
I was always a bit of a nerd-burglar, but this year has really given me the opportunity to embrace my nerdist tendencies. I discovered Twitter as a rich, endlessly informative tool for communication, collaboration and PD. RSS readers, movie making, blogging, Apple, PC, Android, tablets, embedding, sharing, Google, tech problem solving. I’ve grown a passion for using technology smartly in the classroom; to enhance real learning, not as a token gesture, mindless brand devotion, or as a slave to the next new thing. Being a nerd is not a negative thing these days – get amongst!

Finding out we need to talk less
It kind of clicked about halfway through the year. Kids can zone out pretty quickly. We absolutely need to keep things short and snappy. Mix things up, keep it diverse, keep it interesting, keep it fun. The last thing they need or want is for a teacher to warble on in front of them for anything longer than ten minutes. A highlight of this year was discovering my new mantra: “keep it snappy”.

Another discovery (which should have been obvious to me, but nope, I’m slow) was “getting” that kids need constant reminders there are expectations for their behaviour. How should they know what is expected of them if we don’t let them know? I’ve found a wee reminder here and there, especially before times we know will become looser, does wonders. At the start, these were longer, but as they have sunk in we need to have these little chats less and less.

Developing Relationships
With teachers, parents, kids. I’ve met some wonderful people, both young and old. I’ve laughed every single day with them, which to me, makes Amesbury School a pretty great place to spend my days. The Amesbury community is supportive, friendly, and forward-thinking. Good bunch of peeps.

These are a few of the many highlights of the year, and just quickly, here are a few more:
Friday morning tea, Ignition 2012, @taratj teaching me iMovie / twitter / tizmos / Google sites and blogger / minimally invasive education / Sugata Mitra / how to relax and not take things too seriously, sunny days on the staff-room balcony, our official opening, camps, Christmas cards, quiet kids finding their voice, PRT days spent on beanbags in the library (right now as I’m typing!)…

The 2012 Harakeke Hub crew


Lisa (my mentor teacher) wanted me to write a little on what I think my contributions to school life has been this year.

In no particular order:
IT skills and using cool new web-based thingys, contributing to positive and friendly relationships, the ability to deal with left-over food, putting smartphones in teacher’s hands, enthusiasm, sharing our learning with others – especially on blogs, organisation, contribution to an epic and innovative learning programme for our kids, laughs, supporting others, contribution to the growth of a strong guitar / music culture.


A PRT day only every two weeks? How will I ever cope! When can I write my long-winded reflections?

I’ve got a couple of possible goals and areas of focus for next year:

Do kids love writing? Do they see themselves as writers? How can we make writing cooler?

Set-up of individual student e-portfolios. Have students (and parents and teachers) collect evidence of their learning goals and more holistic learning (key competencies).

Set-up of individual student blogs. Quad-blogging. Networking. Worldwide focus.

I want to work on my ability to sort out arguments. I tend to be quite blunt and just tell kids to get over it. I need to learn more tact, and how to get to the core of the problem through effective questioning.

Our PBL. This won’t be happening all year, but when it does, I want to refine the system, keep moving it forward, and encourage greater positive impact on the community.

I want to keep working on my Te Reo, learn my mihi off by heart, and make Te Reo a more natural part of everyday school life.

Here’s to more messy, student-centered, creative learning in 2013


So there we have it.

It’s been a fun-filled, mind-blowing, weekend-chomping, thought-provoking year. I can barely remember what I was like last year, but am pretty sure the guy sifting around Palmy doing his Grad Dip Teaching degree would not recognise the fellow in front of him today.

Here’s to another year of pushing the boundaries, personal growth, new friendships, and new learning.
tl;dr Had an epic year. Ready for more of the same next year.