Frank, my boss, likes to talk about three types of space in school - physical space, virtual space and teacher headspace. The first two only get used well when the third is open to good practice, seeing things differently and willing to re-imagine what could be.

I've been in leadership since 2003 but it has mainly been on what I think is the first rung - as a coordinator who had release time from my own classroom responsibilities to lead out in the area of learning technologies. Since July last year, I've been on the next rung as an Assistant Principal, and it is only now as I'm starting a new school year with this school and this group of colleagues that I'm really realising the difference it makes when you have different broader responsibilities without the responsibility of one specific group of students.

As a coordinator, it was easy to lead by example. "I've set this up in my classroom and it works this way." I had classroom credibility but was always short on time to do as much as is needed for the whole school big picture. Now I have the time and scope in my new experience but I have no classroom presence to draw on and to demonstrate with.

A quick example from Wednesday. I led a presentation on Inquiry Learning, knowing that at a large school just over a year old, there would be colleagues with a wide variety of experiences and perspectives on the topic. At Lockleys North, we had a huge focus on inquiry learning and I have a reasonable amount of experience with the process, planning and implementation of learning in this vein. I've had the privilege of high level training and PD - three sessions with Kath Murdoch, two times listening to both Mark Treadwell and John Hattie and been to Melbourne to spend three days with Jay McTighe. I've designed units of work with my former Upper Primary colleagues over the past four years and sat in on the planning of many others in that time. I have a sizeable digital resource library of articles, videos, powerpoints and templates. I've even been on the journey from back when I was teaching at Flagstaff Hill Primary in the nineties and getting into Resource Based Learning in a major way just as the internet was becoming a viable thing in South Australian schools. I dabbled and wrote webquests, then moved onto Problem Based Learning in my new role as a coordinator at Lockleys North when I started in 2003. So I've done heaps.

But now it is all in my head. I mean it was in my head before too but I could show Inquiry Learning as an extension of my own practice. As an AP, I'm the person spouting what the classroom teachers should be doing, becoming a quasi-consultant - talking the talk but the walk is back in the immediate past. I worry that I may become one of those people from the department who lose touch with what really happens in the classroom and a result command very little respect without ever really realising that their words are ignored at best.

I'm sure that if you are a school leader, you know what I'm talking about. So, I'm keen for any feedback here.

How did you make that transition from leading classroom practitioner to leadership?

How did you hang on that credibility that is vital for effective leadership?


Belinda, my neighbour in our new classroom block, went for a look at one of the newly amalgamated schools in the northern suburbs of Adelaide (dubbed one of the so called "super schools" by the Adelaide media). Today, she showed one of her photos from her visit that had both of us puzzled.
blair athol north ps 009

Belinda pointed out the long white jagged line that goes from the foreground towards the back of the room and asked me what I thought it was. She also said that whatever it was, it wasn't visible to her when she took the photo and can't recall if there were any electrical devices in the room. So, I have no idea but I suggested that I would post it here and appeal to the collective (and much more scientific) intelligence of my (and your) network. You can click on the image here to go to the original full sized version that shows more detail.

What are we looking at here?

Is it some sort of electrical disturbance that happened at the precise moment of photography?

What could causing it?

Please help us out with either your considered opinion or pointers to potential answers. Our thanks in advance. Cheers.

musicgraphThis is a graph created by our two Year Seven classes as part of our inquiry unit "What Are You Listening To?" The graph was the result of an exercise that asked the students the question "How do songs get onto your playlist?" Before the results came in, my offsider Kim and I hypothesized that kids today would barely listen to the radio and would lean more on their social networks to find and enjoy new music. Well, the results tell us that for our particular cohort, the radio still holds some power and influence.  Just in case, your eyes are struggling to make out the results, both the radio and recommendations from friends are the two most common ways of discovering new music, closely followed by the internet. Students also had to create a flowchart that showed the pathway of discovering and adding a new song to their collection. If I get permission, I might share some of their work here.


The upcoming National Curriculum is part of a push for the improved teaching of Science and Mathematics. There has been Federal money flowing to the states to provide teacher training to support this, and in South Australia this has meant the adoption of the Primary Connections program:

‘PrimaryConnections: Linking science with literacy’ is an innovative approach to teaching and learning which aims to enhance primary school teachers’ confidence and competence for teaching science.

Teachers have been funded for this training and my school has been busy swinging this new approach into action. Our Science teacher has been using a team teaching approach (which has only started for my class this term) to help us become familiar with the Primary Connections approach, and today two weeks ago, my upper primary learning team went to our first training workshop out at Modbury. So, here for posterity and anyone who's interested are my notes recorded using the 5 R's model to be utilised by students in their Science Journal writing. (I won't refer to the practice as Journalling as one teacher present today was quite hot under the collar about this term, quite concerned about this "Americanism" creeping into our Aussie vocabulary. For me, English is an evolving language but hey, everyone has their little pet peeves.) The 5 R's are Reporting, Responding, Relating, Reasoning and Reconstructing.


The official name of the workshop was “Talking Science – developing a discourse of inquiry”. Primary Connections revolves around developing students' skills to:
1. Respond verbally 2. In written form  3. In graphic form about their Scientific knowledge and thinking.

We were shown an image of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano and asked to respond using the three skills.

My written response: "The image of Eyjafjallajokull brings back a lot of information that I have read about the local impact. Iceland being a country that has a lot of permanent ice and then there is this massive heat erupting from below the earth’s surface, melting some of the permanent ice, causing flooding and doing things like taking down bridges etc."

We were reminded that we don’t know what science knowledge a student will bring to a given topic or prompt. The more open the task, the more varied the responses and methods that will be used to tackle that task. The importance of the art of discourse was emphasised. Discourse refers to conversation from a science point of view – talking with a “science hat” on.

We made use of Y charts scribing to discuss the ground rules for talk/discourse in the classroom. (Collective, reciprocal, supportive, cumulative & purposeful), which were then collated for a gallery walk.

We then were shown our next image of a rock wallaby.

We the applied the same process of verbal, written and graphic.


"I identified this animal through having seen them in the wild, the lower Southern Flinders Ranges. They are endangered because of feral animals like foxes and cats. We were also informed that other kangaroos can “adopt” a yellow footed joey via and raise them unwittingly."

Using the graphic form could be a diagram, a map, incorporates scales, horizontal line labelling – formal scientific standards need to be explicitly. The 5 E’s are the different phases of scientific inquiry.  (Engage, explore, explain, elaborate & evaluate)

(In the interests of finally publishing this post, I have decided not to do a Relating section. But in this part I would recall and take note of how my knowledge and conceptions have changed over the course of the day.)

(This is what I wrote off the top of my head as my group trialled the 5 R's during the workshop. It seems a shame to leave abandoned on a scrappy piece of A4 so here it is, regardless of the fact that it may make no sense to anyone but me.)

As we worked through the various tasks, it gave us a chance to "road test" how the various components of Primary Connections would work in the classroom. Looking at the photographic images of the volcano and the rock wallaby demonstrated how to start the students off on the social plane, something familiar that they would all have some varying knowledge and context for. It is there that the adage of "No one's wrong - there are just varying degrees of accuracy" can be applied by the teacher as they direct the questioning. As the goal is to move the students onto a more scientific headset, starting with a visual (of some familiarity) also demonstrates how the real world, the world the students experience, hear, read or view about, is completely science based and viewable through a science lense.

As we stepped through the 5 E's model, our activities enabled me to gain a deeper grasp. Every time we tackled an activity like the camping trip items, we became more aware of what goes on with our student discussion groups, and where your time as a teacher is best spent.


Well, that's what this blog post has been all about! This should have been up two weeks ago but the rest of my life kept getting in the way.

I've posted this to my Group in my role for a PLP cohort, but want to post the bulk of it here as a way of documenting part of how we start the school year. I don't pretend to be an expert on Inquiry but offer this over-the-shoulder look for anyone who is interested:

I went back to work today, as here in Australia we have just concluded our summer holidays break. We have three preparation days, then the Australia Day public holiday before welcoming our new students for the 2010 school year. I thought that I'd share with you all how Inquiry sits in our preparation for the coming year and how we approach both our units of Inquiry and the development of an inquiry driven classroom.

First, a bit of context. This year I am a tandem teacher of a class of thirty Year Sevens (12 year olds) - I teach the class three days a week and my partner Kim takes the other two. As well as that, our school has a model of co-planning teams where the Inquiry Units are planned and implemented in a consistent way. So, Kim and I have a co-planning buddy - Maria, who is the teacher "next door" who has a class of thirty-one Year Seven students. We met today to start to map out our Inquiry units for the coming year.

Our school has developed a Scope And Sequence for Inquiry that incorporates outcomes from our local curriculum in the subject areas of Studies Of Society & Environment (known as SOSE), Science, Health and The Arts. Literacy and Numeracy outcomes are woven in where relevant but each co-planning team has a series of six Inquiry Units designed to "cover" the defined curricular outcomes. It is similar in many ways to an International Baccalaureate program of inquiry, and there are key questions developed to represent each unit and help in starting the design of that unit. We have a great deal of freedom within each unit in terms of activities, guiding themes, focus but two things are constant in our approach to Inquiry design.

Firstly, we use a document planner template (Word format although we may move it to a wiki eventually) that is designed with the principles of Understanding By Design (UbD) in mind. The thing that many teachers are guilty of when planning any units of learning is leaping to designing the activities that they believe the students will enjoy or taking a theme and going extremely wide in covering as many aspects and tangents behind the inquiry question as possible. So, the key thing this planner does for us is keep us going back to the designated outcomes and "Essential Understandings". What is it that we want the students to understand? What skills and knowledge will help them to get there?

Only when we are clear on this can we move to the next aspect which is thinking about assessment. How will we determine that students have moved in their understanding of the unit? Then we move to selecting and designing learning activities that only serve those purposes and we use an Inquiry Process developed by an Australian educator from Melbourne named Kath Murdoch to lead the students through the inquiry process. Here's a link to a webpage that includes some resources related to her work. The page also has a link to a great PDF that outlines her approach, the approach that we use throughout our school.

Well, we are not ready to plan anything yet for this year as we like to re-design units of work to avoid the issue of any students saying "We did that last year." Today, we started to put together an Inquiry Timeline, placing the required units from the Scope & Sequence in a suitable order and determining the approximate time in weeks to spend on each unit. We looked to tie one of our Inquiry units in with our planned double class camp down to Aldinga Beach, with an Indigenous Studies focus. Once we have established the sequence for 2010, we will pull out a new digital planning document and start the design process.


I make no secret that I really enjoy Dan Meyer's blogging and his ideas around engaging mathematics. If I was a high school Maths teacher, I'd be rewriting my own curriculum and unit plans around many of his concepts and points of challenge. But because much of his content is based around concepts that students typically engage with in that high school setting, I've been hesitant to try and scale down his ideas into my own classroom, fearing that my own mathematical knowledge would fall short and my students would flounder in the over challenging expectations.

But his recent What Can You Do With This: Groceries post was too good to resist. The simple but engaging idea - surely I could work that in during our current focus on time. The comment thread has been fun to follow and read, and the television spot made for great viewing. So, I grabbed the image from Dan's blog, threw it up on the IWB and started to see if I could scale it down to a level that would make sense to twelve and thirteen year olds. I started yesterday and continued today, but with my tandem partner, Kim, coming into the classroom tomorrow, I tried to convey the essence of what we have covered in an online chat. See if this makes sense to you.

Notes from the wiki that Kim had already read:

Numeracy - looking at the concept of speed. Start with working out the connection between time and speed and then show Dan Meyer's supermarket checkout image as a warm-up for that thinking.

What is the question that relates to speed from this image? hopefully, someone will pose the question - which checkout line is the best one to join? Which one is faster? What information do you need to know to gauge the speed of either line?

Have students dicuss how they would determine the faster line. What information would they need? What factors could stop your prediction from being true?

Graham: Maths is still investigating the grocery queue issue.
Kim: So they just go on with that too - no new instruction required?
Graham: Maths - well, they are using a set of data that the teacher Dan Meyer created but some are not sure how to proceed. You can leave it until Friday if you want.
Kim: No that's ok - have time for maths and is prob best not to start something new midway. I'll get the kids to explain the task and we'll go from there. Do I need any links?
Graham: Except I'm not 100% where it's going!! This link explains the maths task and he also appeared on CBS about his topic.
Kim: That's huge - what are the kids doing with it?
Graham: Well, we looked at the pic on the IWB, and got everyone to take an educated guess and air some theories, we then talked through what maths info was on the pic we talked about variables - credit card or cash, items that don't scan, old ladies, running out of receipt paper roll. H**** and E***** went to a supermarket and ran their own field test!!
Kim: That's cool!
Graham: Today, I threw Dan's data from his 90 minute observation and got them to talk about how they might work out which line is quicker. M**** had one method he was going to try but most were going to take a sample of ten customers, add the items scanned, add the time taken and try and work out an average of time per item that could "prove" their theory. Not perfect maths but getting them thinking and getting some of the less confident kids thinking about averages, adding time amounts so there is a bit of learning at a number of levels.
Kim: It's beaut - were they to collect this data (the items of the 10 customers?)
Graham: Yes, they have a print out of 36 customers.
Kim: OK - we'll continue on from that point. Have you had to revise averages with them at all yet?
Graham: Not as a class - can u make sense of that all?
Kim: I reckon I have now.
Graham: It's a bit messy but it was good to see more kids engaged for a change.

I should have maybe asked for help in scaling this down over on Dan's blog, but the conversation there was already very busy without me saying "Help me?" How else could we make this work well for our students? How can I ensure that good mathematics is there as well?


I quite enjoyed the first day of training for the Intel Thinking With Technology course today. A small group of ten educators who are being trained to take this course back to their sites made for an engaging time as we whipped through the first two modules, led by our expert Senior Trainer Steve Nicholson. I plan to reflect in more detail as the next four days unfold but I just wanted to document this realisation before it fades.

We had time this afternoon to start using the planning template the program offers for designing a unit of work. It has a number of similarities to the Understanding by Design influenced unit planner my schools currently uses, so it was very user friendly to work with. Steve had time set aside for us to work on designing of a unit of work for future use in our classrooms, and with the gift of time, I looked at the school's Inquiry Scope & Sequence to determine which of the inquiry units that my colleagues needed planned before the year's end. I started on the last one currently titled "Does Music Make The World Go Round?" , cutting and pasting SACSA outcomes into the template before I had a major attack of the doubts and emailed my colleagues at school (Kim, my tandem teaching partner and Maria, our next door co-planning buddy) for counsel in where I should start, especially as our next actual unit of inquiry centres on Health outcomes in the dreaded "growth and development" area. Kim answered during her lunch break, correctly calling me out for being cowardly and avoiding this unit and so in the afternoon when we had some more time, I started again.

So, as I pored through the outcomes and SACSA examples to get my head around what the unit should be about, I realised that this was not how I plan for learning in the classroom any more. I needed my colleagues' input, the conversation that hones in on the essential understandings, and the shared understanding of where we want the students to go during an inquiry unit. We do all of this together in our co-planning time, in the evenings on the wiki chatroom and through email exchange. Occasionally, we break the planning up into segments for individuals to work on alone but these are always pieces to the bigger puzzle.

It's been called the deprivatisation of practice where teachers open up the closed door to their classrooms and create better learning through conversation and planning. But it is truly how I work best now. It is how this whole online networking thing works best - learning from each other and creating better learning experiences for our students.

We can't do it alone.

If we want our students to understand why certain groups of people from around the world chose to leave their home and end up in Adelaide (my students' home town) , then an overall sense of modern world history is needed to gain that understanding. This becomes a classic example of how skills and knowledge are intertwined. Content without skills is mindless but skills without meaningful content is just as hollow.

So here's what I'm trying to find in the fire hydrant that is the web. I'm hoping that someone has created a multimedia piece that covers the important events from a world perspective of the last century (there's plenty with an overly American bias which is not useful for this inquiry). I've hunted through YouTube and the best I can find is this creation below:

I still think that this is too complex and requires far too much prior knowledge for twelve year olds although we have one student who is a history buff who could probably take on the role of narrator for both classes. After all, not every child can excitedly talk about having stood on the exact spot in Sarajevo where the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand sparked the Great War. But unless, I find something better, this might be the best way to give the kids the sense of events that pushed people, sometimes their own families, to seek out a better, safer place to call home.


Just a quick reflection on a tuning in activity I did with the class this afternoon. We're starting a new Inquiry unit titled "Why Is The World Coming To Adelaide?" which has a focus on examining the impact multicultualism has had on this city over time. So, the starting point is to help define "the World" with the students. Yesterday I had the kids pore over a unlabelled world map to see how much geographical knowledge they collectively possessed. We finished up that session with a discussion around reasons why some countries were easier to identify than others.

Then I gave them a simple homework task.

Pick a media source and gather some statistics from a news source (television, newspaper, web) about which countries were mentioned and how often.

The efforts ranged from a quick glance at the local paper to one enterprising student who recorded three different news programs on the family HD recorder and then scanned through them all to gather her stats. We then dropped those results into Wordle to generate this image:

So, I finished the lesson by posing the following questions to the class. "So, what does this tell us? Why do some countries feature so prominently in our news sample? Why are some countries barely mentioned or not noticed at all? What theory do you have?"

Any other classroom teachers elsewhere in the world who'd be willing to try this quick exercise and share the results with me and my class?

I really enjoyed our class camp last week to Hindmarsh Island, near Goolwa on the Fleurieu Peninsula. It was good to get to know my students some more in a different environment away from the classroom but I enjoyed the opportunity to step away from the lead teacher role and become an active learner for several days. I really enjoyed listening to, noticing and observing things from the camp instructors.

So for this blog post, I just want to share a few images from the three days from my perspective as a learner who has not really taken the time to find out about this interesting and vital area of South Australia.

This is the controversial Hindmarsh Island Bridge. I took the photo from the middle of the Murray River and the effects of the driest spell in recorded history are pretty obvious. Nathan, our guide for the “Murray River Walk” told us that the water level was two metres below normal levels and the salinity levels had given rise to a new issue - the bristleworm. There was castings growth from these creatures attached to the lower pylons of the bridge for the first time and what looked like rocks on the sandflats of the river were actually also castings growth on a variety of objects ranging from turtle shells to beer bottles to rusty metal pins and mussel shells.

You can see the castings growth on the metal pin held here by one of the students.

We also visited the Murray Mouth where the most important river in Australia finally connects with the sea. This is also a place in a state of flux. When the river isn’t flowing freely into the Southern Ocean (as is the case currently) sand builds up in the mouth, threatening to seal it off completely. From our viewpoint, we could see several dredges, giant vaccum cleaners sucking sand from the floor of the mouth and dumping it all back in another area nearby via lengthy black plastic piping.

Nathan, our instructor, told us that the Mouth is normally much wider - from the left peak to at least the white fluffy cloud is normally flow into the ocean. From the left is the world famous Coorong (think Storm Boy if you know your classic Australian films).

This photo sums up the Murray’s plight in my opinion. Here we have a paddle steamer, similar to the type that cruised all the way down from the sheep stations up on the Darling River system, onto the Murray and down to the port of Goolwa, beached on the shores of the Murray because the water just isn’t deep enough any more. So, it is time to ask the students “Why is this happening?”