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I am a long time advocate for project-based learning. While not all projects are created equal, I believe the possibilities of student-led projects are immense. I have listed a few of the reasons why I am such an advocate for project-based learning below. However, in my opinion, two key criteria must be met to see the benefits listed below.

Criteria 1: Projects must have an authentic purpose beyond the classroom.
Students must be doing, making, creating, etc. something for a person, place, organisation other than the class and the classroom teacher. At my school, we talk about projects being about the "we not the me". For our school, this has meant that we have built partnerships with the Kaipatiki Project, OnBoard Skate School, the SPCA, KidsCan, Hobsonville Land Company, the Heritage Trust and many more!

Criteria 2: Projects must be based on supporting the student's response to an issue.
While the teacher might be responsible for drawing students' attention to an issue and helping them to explore and understand it, ultimately the students must make the decision about how they will respond. Their decisions should, of course, be well informed, researched and validated. For example, students might interview their community about their proposed solution to a lack of youth orientated community spaces.

With these two criteria at heart of a well-designed project, I have found an enormous range of benefits to project-based learning. Some of these include:
  • Working with authentic, real partners (the teacher is not an authentic real partner) increases student accountability and buy in.
  • Working with authentic partners gives students a much more realistic idea about careers in their field(s) of interest. 
  • Working on projects in the community helps students realise that their voice and contributions matter and do make a difference.
  • Project-based learning provides students with career skills such as budgeting, marketing, project management, etc.
  • Project-based learning provides opportunities for schools to build community engagement, and as a result, foster belonging for our students.
  • Projects provide the opportunity for students to collaborate in a more meaningful way, where diversity becomes necessary for success (rather than an inconvenient barrier). 
  • Authentic projects help students develop empathy and understanding for perspectives beyond their own lived experience. 
Below is a student created video from the group of students for whom I facilitated projects in 2018. I am so proud of the young people involved in these projects. They have persisted when things got tough, they have outwitted many an obstacle, and they have genuinely thought about others. Along the way, they have learnt all about conducting interviews, designing surveys, developing budgets and business plans, marketing, content development, social media management, and even some agile project management skills. They have had to collaborate, problem solve, think critically and creatively. It's been an awesome *ride* and I look forward to seeing how these students take on the world and their futures. 

Project Kickflips- Final Copy - spell checked as well - YouTube

*I have been thinking about developing a book along the lines of "Miss D the Teacher's Guide to Project Based Learning". The book would contain project-based learning examples, project-based learning resources, project-based learning activities as well as help guides for facilitating projects. I would discuss the benefits of project-based learning, as well as the theoretical justification for including it in a curriculum. This might look like a book where I release chapter by chapter for those who have signed up. If you are interested, you can sign up for the mailing list below:

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Where has your professional inquiry taken you this year? Our whole school focus on culturally responsive pedagogy has led me on a wild ride... 

We kicked off our Spiral of Inquiry this year with the intention of having a culturally responsive and sustaining focus. As part of my new learning, I read Culture Speaks (a book EVERY New Zealand educator should read). The sections below really stood out for me:

"They control you, and it is really annoying. They have to be the boss. I don’t know, but if I don’t like the teachers I can’t learn. They just like, pick on you, it just makes you not want to work. So you don’t work. You do that on purpose. Or you do that because you don’t know how to do the work anyway." (Kindle Locations 438-441)  
"These students raised the issue of not being able to sit by, or associate with their Māori mates. One student saw this as an attempt by teachers to separate groups of resistance, to ‘neutralise’ Māori students." (Kindle Locations 466-468)  
"They think we will gang up on them if we are all sitting together, so they make us sit by ourselves because then they think that will control us easier. That will shut us up. Well, that’s what I think." (Kindle Locations 476-477)  
"I don’t want to be a ‘dole bludger’. But … the problem is some classes are really boring, and some teachers give me such a hard time. ... He went on to tell us that he had given up working in most classes. ’Cause there was no point. They don’t like me, and I don’t like them." (Kindle Locations 670-671) 
"That’s a substantial number of our students. Not only Māori students but certainly Māori students ... the first thing you notice is the lack of equipment when they turn up in the form room and accompanying that, often, a great big chip on the shoulder." (Kindle Locations 3110-3112)

If your schooling experience was one where you felt that teachers were trying to "control" you and "neutralise" you all the time, like the students in the exerts above showed, how likely are you to feel a sense of empowerment? If you were told continuously when and if you can use the bathroom, what you should or should not be doing, and what you can and can not wear, how autonomous are you likely to feel? It is no secret that schools attempt to control the students, their behaviour, etc. It would be chaos otherwise, wouldn't it?

Our 'control' of students is of course not just confined to the logistics of schools. We also control their assessment and what they learn. By setting the due dates, choosing the standards, deciding on the learning objectives are and prioritising what I know to be the 'most important knowledge' that students must learn, I am again making some attempt at control. Our senior students are often experiencing the effects of being chased by the 'content monster', where we just have to "get through" the content that they have had little to no influence on. In senior science, there are so few standards that students hardly get a choice about what standards they have to do. The content in standards has usually been predetermined too, and not by the students...

Essentially the curriculum itself is also a form of control, it controls what learning we value and prioritise in our schools. And further, there is a range of scholars who argue that the curriculum is Eurocentric in many ways, and as a result, contributes to the colonising and control of Māori people in a harmful way.
"However, in many cases, the education system has negatively affected te reo Māori indirectly through aspects of Eurocentric education.  These  include assimilation, cultural invasion, cultural subordination, language domination, hegemony, the curriculum, class structures, racism, meritocracy, intelligence testing, and negative teacher expectations." (The impact of colonisation on te reo Māori:  A critical review of the State education system) 
"Hegemony, used as a colonising tool is invasive and attacks the fundament ideological nature of indigenous beliefs, values, and customs as well as questioning the value of indigenous languages." (A Critical Analysis of the Impact of Colonisation on the Māori Language through an Examination of Political Theory)


As I read more, thought more, observed more, I had a hunch... What if the disengagement that we see from so many of our Māori students, is not disengagement at all? What if it is disempowerment? I remember reading about a student in Culture Speaks that said "If I don’t like the teachers I can’t learn. They just like, pick on you, it just makes you not want to work. So you don’t work. You do that on purpose." These three sentences have continued to haunt me as I increasingly began to think about how the actions of a disempowered and an empowered student might differ.

An empowered individual might know that they should, could and can focus on learning in spite of the teacher. An empowered person might find other ways to do the learning. They might even seek help from a trusted adult to help them if they feel that they are being picked on unfairly. A disempowered person, in contrast, might feel that they have little choice or influence about their situation. They may be unlikely to seek help, ask questions, challenges injustice and demand more and better.

If my hunch is correct, then I am dealing with an entirely different kettle of fish than I first thought. Rather than seeking to engage students, I would be trying to empower them. It would mean that all the fun lessons in the world, upskilling on my assessment for learning practices, or building up my Universal Design for Learning arsenal is all unlikely to make enough of a difference. Perhaps it means that I would need to seek ways to dismantle the power structures that keep exerting control on the most disempowered of our young people? Maybe it means that I would need to challenge embedded cultural narratives? Or does it mean that I would need to fight against the systemic ways that we seek to control students?
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In 2012 as a beginning teacher, I wrote a blog post about the e-learning tools I was using in my classroom. At the time, the internet was rife with various blog posts, tweets, etc of various educators sharing how they were trying, testing and using e-learning tools in their classrooms. It was these early posts that first introduced me to the wonders and marvels of the blended learning world. I learnt about the power of learning management systems to support students to become autonomous. I revelled in the authenticity of the real world collaboration that social media made possible for my students. I flourished and thrived in the online communities of teachers.

Nearly 6 years later and the use of digital technology has accelerated at an incredible pace. Many educators are using scratch and makey-makey like it is no big deal. Others are using 3D printing, laser cutters and virtual reality in their day-to-day practice. So much has happened! However, I recently went on a hunt to find some blog posts that describe how various educators are using these new fandangled tools in their classrooms. I remember spending hours in 2012 pouring over the many posts about how others were using e-learning, byod, etc. in their classrooms. While I am sure that there are many out there, it was much harder to find recent posts than what I anticipated! Perhaps this is because we have passed the 'popularity' phase of e-learning. We are no longer concerned with the latest and greatest cool tool on the block, and have become increasingly focussed on the deeper learning? How do we use e-learning to amplify learning, not just use technology for technology's sake? In response, I thought I would share some of the tools that I use now. Of course, my pedagogy has evolved massively since the time of my first post. Here is a brief snapshot of the tools I use now and the pedagogy/theory that underpin them.

Fuelled by my role at Hobsonville Point Secondary School where the students are flying the plane and I am just the air traffic controller, I needed something to help me manage all the independent projects that were happening at any given moment. This can be a real juggle, especially when there are delayed flights (students not making enough progress), flights that arrive early (students making really fast progress), multiple flights arriving at once (many students needing your attention all at once) and emergency flights (urgent things that need to be addressed eg. inappropriate behaviour). I use a number of tools to help me manage the project based, personalised and autonomous learning environments that I strive to create.

Every lesson begins with a do now in the Google Classroom. Every lesson begins with a self-explanatory 'DO NOW' so that students can come to class and get started on the learning without me. This gives me time to do the roll, talk to late students, check in with students who were away, etc. The whole lesson and learning objective is also outlined in the Google Classroom along with the relevant resources. This means that students who are away can catch up on their learning. Students who finish activities quickly can also move on to the next task. We also add the rubrics and assessments in the about section of the Google Classrooms. Our use of Google Classroom is largely informed by our original HPSS e-learning best practice guide. You will see the influence of assessment for learning and universal design for learning quite heavily in this document. The image below shows the 'should do' section of our best practice guide.

My use of Google Classroom and our best practice guide has been heavily informed by:
  • Hattie, J. (2008). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. Routledge.
  • Hall, T. E., Meyer, A., & Rose, D. H. (Eds.). (2012). Universal design for learning in the classroom: Practical applications. Guilford Press.
  • Absolum, M. (2011). Clarity in the classroom: Using formative assessment for building learning-focused relationships. Portage & Main Press.
  • Voice of our students.

Trello is without a doubt my favourite tools to manage my air traffic controller role. Trello allows me to quickly identify students who are behind or ahead, students who need help, students who are struggling, etc. I set up the tasks students need to work through in each column and the names of the students/groups as cards. As students complete activities, they simply move their cards along. I have even used Trello for assessments since the cards allow you to attach files, set due dates on tasks, add comments, and track your interactions on the board. We also use the labels to signpost if students need help or are making progress.

The reason why Trello is without a doubt one of my favourite classroom e-learning tools is that it facilitates the kind of autonomous student learning environment that I am working hard to develop. Additionally, using this tool in conjunction with agile and scrum has meant that it can also be used to facilitate collaboration as it allows students to see their contributions, progress and involvement.

My use of Trello has been influenced and inspired by:
  • Adkins, L. (2010). Coaching agile teams: a companion for ScrumMasters, agile coaches, and project managers in transition. Pearson Education India.
  • Facer, K. (2011). Learning futures: Education, technology and social change. Routledge.




The latest tool that I have been using is Kialo. The website attempts to do "empower reason through friendly and open discussions." While there are some interesting debates happening on the platform, I have found it's the greatest merit the ability to map out perspectives, evidence, opinions and claims for an argument. Not only can you find some great examples of how to structure an argument, but you can also build your own. We have really enjoyed how everyone in the class can find ways to contribute, whether it is through adding their own claims or evidence to an argument, or whether it is through voting on the impact of others' claims. Additionally, after building an argument collectively as a class, you have created a digital, collaborative artefact to act as a resource for future use.

My use of Kialo has been informed by:
  • Scardamalia, M., & Bereiter, C. (2010). A brief history of knowledge building. Canadian Journal Of Learning and Technology, 36(1). doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.21432/T2859M
  • Hipkins, R., Bolstad, R., Boyd, S., & McDowall, S. (2014). Key competencies for the future. Wellington, New Zealand: NZCER Press.
  • Gilbert, J. (2005). Catching the knowledge wave? The knowledge society and the future of education. Wellington, New Zealand: New Zealand Council for Educational Research.
  • Gilbert, J. (2007). Knowledge, the disciplines, and learning in the Digital Age. Educational Research for Policy and Practice, 6(2), 115-122. doi:10.1007/s10671-007-9022-1

As I wrote this post, it struck me just how much my pedagogy has evolved. I have become increasingly focused on translating academic and scholarly work into a workable classroom version. (That means I genuinely enjoy having a good debate about epistemological integrity and then working out what that could and should mean for the class I am teaching this week.) I also recognise some of the early elements of my practice that are still present too. For example, I still think that saving time is a key filter for the tools I use. Electronic grade books, automarking and productivity tools are all a key strategy to juggle the many demands of being a teacher. The time I freed up by getting Flubaroo to mark the quiz was time I could spend on high quality feedback instead! 

So my education friends... I am curious what e-learning tools you use now and why? What is it that has stood the test of time for you? Perhaps it's time for a circa 2014 chain blogging event? Tag three people to share their #edtechevolution?

PS: Some other tools I have used recently include Playposit, Google Cardboard, Kahoot, Quizizz, Google Maps, Google Earth, Google docs/sheets/presentations/drawings, Piktochart, YouTube, Socrative, videonot.es, Read Write for Google, Equatio, iQualify, Khan Academy, Soundcloud, Garage Band, iMovie, Screencastify and so many more! 
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Everyone knows that I am a professional learning junky. I love professional learning. I love the feeling of knowing that your practice has truly been transformed and has made a positive difference in the world. What you might not know, is that I get my kicks from far more than just conferences and reading educational books and journals. Next time you are in need of some professional learning or a new perspective, why not try one of these...

#1 Visit the art gallery.
Visiting a well-curated art gallery is a relaxing but cognitively engaging way to gain new perspectives and understanding about many issues in society. For example, my visit to the Auckland Art Gallery this week revealed some new understandings about the way that our 'priority learners.' I was interested to learn about the way that the term Pasifika is used and perceived. It had me wondering about my own inquiry and the language that we use in schools that inadvertently serves to alienate, exclude or include people. Additionally, the gallery also provided some inspiration for my upcoming module about Megastructures! I see some making in our future!

Photo taken at the Auckland Art Gallery, 18 July 2018.
Photo taken at the Auckland Art Gallery, 18 July 2018.

#2 Visit the museum.
Museums can hold many clues about how we got to where we are. At the same time, they can provide inspiration for where we might go next. My most recent visit to the Auckland War Memorial provided inspiration for an upcoming module at school called War Machines. Not only did it help me to plan out my unit, it has provided me with relevant examples from the New Zealand Māori and European context. As my inquiry this year is focussing on how we might draw on and build cultural knowledge (in the science classroom), the inspiration was well received and immediately implemented.
At the end of the museum visit I had to sit down and take a moment to write down all the ideas!

#3 Curate a Twitter list. 
One of the reasons why I keep coming back to Twitter over many other social media platforms is that I have far more control over what I see. There are fewer algorithms prioritising what I see (in my experience at least). Hence, to increase my understanding and awareness of alternate perspectives, I have curated a Twitter list of Māori new sources, influencers and leaders. This provides an ongoing narrative helping me to reframe my thinking about what is going on in our world on a daily basis. I find Twitter an endlessly useful tool for exciting my regular thought bubbles.

#4 Watch a comedy show.
There are some absolutely brilliant comedians that provide a nuanced and critical view on many of the issues that influence our young people and their decisions in school. And, they do this in an entertaining way. Just think about Trevor Noah or Hannah Gadsby.

Trevor Responds to Criticism from the French Ambassador - Between The Scenes | The Daily Show - YouTube

There are tons of other ways that you are able to top op your learning too. Here are a few of the other ways that I like to supplement my academic reading with:

  1. Interview an expert.
  2. Watch a related documentary.
  3. Listen to a podcast.
  4. Read a novel with a similar theme or context. (Talk to your librarian/English teachers about this!)
  5. Watch a movie with a similar theme or context. (Talk to some media studies teachers about this.)
  6. Complete a MOOC. They are free, fantastic and flexible with time. 
  7. Curate a Pinterestrest board with some visual inspiration. 
  8. Observe a colleague.
  9. Visit a school who has attempted to solve the same problem in a different way.
  10. Check in with your local university about upcoming (and usually free/cheap) seminars and talks.

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