There’s just something about Google Maps which is down-right compelling: the visceral, on the ground images in street view, the zooming from hyper-local to global, zipping from Germany to Tonga in seconds, perusing the halls of the greatest museums on earth, seeing the sun light up half the world in real time, walking down a street, craning your virtual neck left and right as you take in the sights. It really is an amazing tool for both setting up learning experiences and immersions, and as an open platform for adventure, exploring, and curiosity building.

This term we are introducing the concept of being “Asia Aware” to link with our weekly Mandarin lessons. Google Maps provided just the introduction. I started zoomed into our school, then slowly zoomed out, bit by bit, as the world got larger and larger. Eventually New Zealand became a little speck of land in the bottom right hand corner as we focused upon the cluster of countries that Asia comprises. The students were transfixed as we traveled the earth, zooming across oceans and space and time. It was perfect for illustrating the scale of the world, and our small size and position compared with most other countries.

We talked about the countries in Asia we could see and what we knew about them. We cross-referenced what we knew with statistics on the current and future make-up of New Zealand (it turns out, nearly 1 in 5 children in NZ will be of Asian heritage by 2021). We talked about the value of diversity – how it enriches and deepens our understandings of the world, can bring new perspectives, and help spark creative new ideas. We reflected on the quote “My world is your world”, globalisation, and the effect of the internet.

The students then had time to explore Asia. To follow their nose. To take the road less travelled. They were tasked with coming up with as many wonderings as the they could wonder, based on their adventures and what they could see. The students were transfixed and excited and bubbling over as they explored downtown Shanghai, temples in Japan, beaches in Thailand, rivers in Laos, islands in the Philippines, mountains in Tibet, jungles in Vietnam, apartment blocks in Kuala Lumpur, and deserts in Mongolia.

Here are a few of the wonderings the students came up with – great prompts into learning about Asia for the next few weeks ~

I wonder if everyone lives in apartment buildings?

I wonder how come that guy on the scooter is not wearing a helmet?

I wonder how old that temple is and if people still go there?

I wonder why they need so many buses?

I wonder what that sign says?

I wonder if their McDonalds food is the same as ours?

I wonder if people still live in that jungle?

I wonder if any people have back yards at their houses?

Giving students the room and tools to develop this kind of curious thinking is important. It helps develop an active, always on, always thinking mind – one which is not content to idle through life, consuming and passive. Curiosity is a key disposition for lifelong learning, and what’s fantastic about these modern days is that we have the ability to both fan the flames of wonderment as well as satisfy that wonderment via the information and tools at our disposal.

After some summer holiday reading (Guy Claxton’s “What’s the Point of School” and “Key Competencies for the Future” by Hipkins, Bolstad, Boyd & McDowall) I’ve been all revved up and revived in my attempts to focus on a much broader range of outcomes – not only the academic, core curriculum stuff, but also Harvard’s dispositions of thinking, the NZ curriculum’s key competencies, a design thinking mindset, Claxton’s ‘Magnificent 8‘, as well as knowledge skills, digital literacy, and visual literacy. There are many, many overlaps between all of the above, and they share very similar base concepts – ones which are integral to living well in this complex, knowledge-ridden world.

I’ve written in a post a few weeks back what I thought were the ingredients needed for designing good learning. It turns out it’s easy enough to sit back and blog about it – it’s much more complex in practise to actually do it. Regardless – I’m giving it a nudge, and today in class we began exploring how to “cook up” good learning for ourselves.

It’s the start of our Term 1 in New Zealand, so we really wanted to kick-off with a strong message about learning. That it takes effort and challenge, that it’s an active process, that it stems from curiosity, that it is sometimes collaborative and sometimes solitary, that it is sometimes online and sometimes offline. With an eye on curriculum coverage (instructional writing and author purpose) we decided to prompt the students into writing a recipe – “How to Cook Up Good Learning”.

We integrated different elements ~

Inquiry – This forms the core of our inquiry this term, how we live well in the world, with ourselves and with others.

A generative topic / interest hook – We showed clips of Chef from the Muppets and afterwards reflected on why it was or wasn’t clear. We gave the students a list of instructions which asked them to read all of the 20 instructions below first, then the last point said disregard all of the above except the top two (not one single student read all the instructions first! – good learning for all). We asked – why should instructions be entertaining?

Guided Reading – We read excerpts from Guy Claxton’s “What’s the Point of School” and other blog posts I borrowed information on the qualities of good learners from. We read through these together in a guided way, the students taking notes on post-it’s as they went. These were combined into a whole group brainstorm later where we shared what we had learned, adding our own prior knowledge. We talked about comprehension and what to do when we are unsure of certain vocabulary.

Independent Reading – While the students were’t with me they were looking at my Star Wars Cookbook and Jamie Oliver clips and taking notes on the kinds of language being used (a pinch of this, a hint of that, bake X for 20 minutes, prepare X beforehand).

Knowledge Snapper – We presented a 10 minute “Snapper” on the features of instructional wiring. Students listened as we ran through it, although it is now available online for them to check out if they need a refresher.

Writing – Today we took all of the above and began planning out our “learning recipes” on big pieces of paper with post-it notes, scribbling thoughts down in a low-fidelity way – talking with others and getting their feedback. Tomorrow, students begin drafting their recipes, getting feedback early and often as they move through the writing process.

And it’s working out pretty well so far! The students seem very keen on it, and love the silliness of “adding a hint of curiosity” and “bake the thoughts in your head overnight at 200 degrees”. They are getting the key curriculum content over both reading and writing, learning more about themselves as learners, and practising the dispositions of getting thinking out into the wild, being open to feedback, working with others, and the challenge of working with complex ideas – “working the hard parts”.

I’m learning a lot this week about how to blend lots of these elements together – it’s not easy, and takes a bit of thinking, but it’s absolutely possible to have your cake and eat it too in this teaching gig. To cover what you need to cover, but still really helping grow key competencies and dispositions for these students which will serve them well now and in the future.

Many worlds collide when you interact with texts (texts used as a loose catch-all word for any kind of communication – movies, music, art) to gain meaning.

There is The World of the Writer – what experiences and contexts the writer draws upon to create meaning, for a certain purpose. Then there is The World of the Text – the authenticity of the piece; it’s ability to stand-alone and be genuine. And of course, The World of the Reader – what prior knowledge, experiences and purposes the reader brings into the fray.

These worlds jiggle and jostle together; combining and flowing into each other, creating meaning for the reader.

It’s our job as teachers to help scaffold the understanding of deep meaning by drawing attention to these different worlds. What is the author trying to convince us of? What knowledge claims is the author making? What is my own prior knowledge of this? What bias and assumptions do I bring to the reading? Why am I reading this? Am I learning anything? Is this changing me? How?

Every text has the potential to be a rich battleground of these competing worlds – one in which you can activate knowledge skills such as critiquing, creating, customising, interrogating, elaborating, remixing, and challenging what is put in front of you. Investigating the different layers of a text contributes to an understanding that the world is complex, and the more we can draw attention to that and analyse those complexities, the more students can unravel them and understand how to live more critically, fully, and actively in this world.

Ask students to share what they are thinking – they are being bombarded with texts day in and out seeking to manipulate their understandings. Advertising is a particularly pernicious one, but what meaning are kids absorbing from the 6:00 o’clock news? Cartoons? Pop songs on the radio? Magazine covers?

It’s imperative we help students become active, critical users of the world around them, not simply consumers. Examining the different worlds of context which are mushed together when interacting with a text can contribute towards a deeper, more active, critical understanding of the world in which we live.

1st February, 2015 || Day One || 2:45pm

A premortem is a “what might go wrong” thinking prompt for teams at the very start of a project. Teams can use it to air out all their grievances and issues and reservations in a safe, structured way. It helps teams identify risks at the outset of an undertaking instead of getting deep within a project, investing time and money, and then having to confront the issues / attitudes.


This is my #28daysofwriting premortem

Reservation: Time. Resolution: Make time. I’ve got a weekday time to blog – right after I put my 2 year old to bed. I’m sorry 7:00pm current affairs show – you’re just going to have to be on mute for a bit.

Reservation: Ideas. Resolution: Think ahead. I’ve been noting down interesting bits and bob, half-hunches, and scribbles of ideas over the last few days. I’m going to make a regular “segments” (if that is the right word) – for example I’m going to reanimate an idea I had a while back called “Friday Takeaways” where I reflect on the week. Kiwis love our Friday takeaways.

Reservation: Perfectionism. Resolution: Just Do It. I’ve probably ummed and ahhed over ideas and never actually removed them from the space between my ears and into reality too many times. I’m going to write stuff down, get it out there in the wild, and care less about crafting the perfect paragraph. Good start with that today.

Those are probably my top three worries about this month, however, even in writing them down and thinking about solutions in the last 16 minutes, I’m feeling confident and excited about the month to come.

28 Days Later…

I’m going to have doubled the amount of posts I’ve ever written (I’ve only ever done 27! Eeek!)

I’m going to have developed a writing habit – something I’ve always wanted but never quite had

I’m going to be a more reflective educator

I’m going to have shared more – what works, what doesn’t, and what’s challenging in education in 2015

I’m going to have connected and learned with / from a whole gaggle of other legendary teacher-types


And those are all good things.

Thanks muchly to Tom Barrett for the prompt into this month. I’m looking forward to sinking my teeth into the challenge.

1st February, 2015 || Day One || 3:13pm

CC Image by WarfyrdauzwaR