Middle Schooling


One of the first inquiry units we have on the planner for 2009 is called ''Myself As A Learner". All classes are meant to be exploring this theme in the first fortnight and as part of our professional tuning in we had a couple of staff members run us through a "Learning Preferences" survey which we shared informally.  This one came from the John Joseph book ''Your Amazing Brain" which charted preferences on a four way axis that listed the following - Dynamic Learner, Innovative Learner, Procedural Learner and Analytic Learner. I remember doing a similar exercise quite a few years  ago at a Julia Atkin workshop - it would be interesting to see how that diagram stacks up against my latest version. Anyway, the teacher running the session pointed us towards some more of these surveys available online.

It shows how much this concept of "Learning Styles" is unconsiously accepted as gospel by teachers when my learning team colleagues decided that getting students to do some of these online surveys and analyse themselves as learners would be a great idea. So, today I started to look at some of the links and to bookmark a number  of them when I found my own delicious bookmark to Professor Dan Willingham's video "Learning Styles Don't Exist". This was one of those I'll-get-back-to-it-when-I-have-time bookmarks so I watched it through and pondered its perspective with what I was planning to do with my new batch of students. Now the video is very thought provoking (and I know it had been discussed at length by many of  the edublogosphere's deepest thinkers about six months ago) but the good thing about the internet is I don't have to only listen / view  /read / experience to just one perspective.

I found Chris Craft's post which led me to Matthew Tabor's thought provoking post which critiqued another perspective which was well worth the read. This gave me the chance to read some varying educators' opinions going beyond the "you must cater for learning styles in your classroom" mantra that I see blindly accepted in many classrooms. (Mine included for much of my career but truth be known I think that I tended to operate on the common sense approach rather than formally set up learning approaches catering for a particular learning style.) Students give varying abilities and skill levels into their classroom and we all have activities we prefer over others in terms of learning but to state that a particular learning style is the best way any one student can learn does not gel with what I've seen in my twenty plus years in the classroom. I recall a big push on learning style analysis a few years ago back when my then school was part of the Blackwood Hills Middle  Schooling Cluster. We were given a number of paper questionnaires and surveys in order to identify our middle school students' learning styles with the hint that we would use this information to customise a relevant curriculum for young adolescents. What  I tended to find was that these surveys were informative for the individual in recognising their learning preferences in both formal and informal circumstances but not once did I cluster the learners of one style into one group and design learning activities and curriculum around that identified style. I have a feeling that back in 2000/01, that was what the leadership driving the Cluster were after. Plus my thoughts at the time were along the lines of if we spend all our time tailoring teaching and learning to kids' strengths, then how do they develop competency in their areas of weakness?

I know it paints a picture of a sheep like teaching force but generally we tend to accept methodologies and approaches without too much question as long as we hear the phrase "the research says." Why else would consultants who merely collate and present the pockets of thought and research become known as "brain experts" or "learning styles gurus"? And then there is the disconnect as described to me by a local education researcher between a teacher's stated beliefs about education and their actual classroom practice. Which is exactly why it is important for people like Dan Willingham to challenge our automatic mindset - even if we disagree, it sends readers searching for what they actually believe happens in the process of learning.

So back to the unit. My tandem and co-planning teaching partners and I are going to strategically use a number of these online measurement tools with our students. The goal is have them take a reasonable sample, collect the results via screenshots and look through them for an overall picture of their learning preferences (note the careful choice of terminology) in a bid to help them gain more insight into their own perception of "Myself As A Learner." The accumulated results should also give me some insight into the group as a whole and help the students to appreciate each other's differences and contributions as we start build the 2009 LA20 learning community.


Thought I'd put some of my contributions to one of the PLP Nings up on my blog as it is worth cataloging here for future reference.

Discussion in my blogging forum / early January.

It took me a couple of years before I was sure enough about blogging as a vehicle for learning in my classroom but in 2008, my students were involved in a very successful blogging program. Each student had an individual blog which was linked to a main classroom blog. I was hoping that this would become a learning community and over time, with the right nurturing, I believe that is what happened. I've blogged about this process in greater detail on my own blog.

My colleagues in my learning team also started individual blogs for their students but they seemed to peter out midway through the year. There are a number of factors that I believe caused that and the next group of teachers taking on this age group this year will learn from that. Every community has its leaders and if you as teacher can identify these students at an early stage then you can encourage and praise their work so that they lead the way and model the potential. Moderating their comments regularly shows the students that you value their interaction. One area I'd like to improve in 2009 is injecting my own comments into their posts on a more regular basis. One or two students really took that role on their own accord - one girl posted more than 100 comments for her 29 classmates over the course of the year.

Now blogging and writing in this way is not motivating for all students but I think I had greater take up from the students knowing that their blogs were not being formally assessed. A few reluctant boys (in terms of their writing) certainly improved in their output and became more conscious of proofreading their efforts because they knew an audience was reading. A core group of students have continued to post and comment during the holidays which is our major summer break right now down under. It is a real pleasure to know that they value and want to use this tool in developing their written voice - and most of the kids doing the writing will not be in my 2009 class!

Follow up comment / just a few minutes ago.

Things have been very quiet and I haven't been putting any new discussion up for a while so I thought I'd just pop in and give you all a bit of an update on my classroom blogging program. We've just started the new school year here in Australia in the middle of a heatwave (5 days in a row over 40 deg C / 100 deg F!!!) and most of my 2008 class have moved next door with my trusted colleague, Maria. But it was interesting to watch my little blogging community over the holiday break and see who was still contributing and how. A small group of students kept commenting and posting over the summer break - one student posted 16 times (which beat me easily) and contributed many comments for other active bloggers and trying to draw other less active bloggers into the conversation. Regularly during the week, I'd have a number of comments to approve and I tried to make sure I did so promptly so that the conversation would continue. And when one of most reluctant writers posted about - http://floppyj.edublogs.org/2009/01/02/i-miss-school/ - (because of the great support the kids had built up for each other) I felt that the time and effort to help these kids connect and respect each other through their writing was worth it.


I've really enjoyed this holiday break, spending as much time as possible with my wife and sons. We've been to the beach, seen some movies, bought icecream, played board games, shopped for DS game bargains and the time has just been a fantastic time out after the intensity of the 2008 school year. But six weeks zips by pretty fast and although I've tried to keep tabs on my personal learning, there have been evenings where I've veged out and watched a DVD series with my wife or gone and had a hour or so on the Playstation. If it wasn't for the fact that I'm involved in a couple of PLP cohorts as an "Expert Voice" (OK, you can stop laughing now) I may have been happy to put the PLN on hold. After all, it is always there, a living stream of information and people that is constantly interconnecting and growing.

At the moment, I have one minor project on the go and that is preparing a presentation I've been asked to do on Web 2.0 Tools In The Classroom for a group of schools next Thursday afternoon. The interesting thing about this particular group of educators is that their schools will combine in the near future to become one of the new "superschools" planned by our State Government. This day is part of their moving forward, becoming one cohesive group with a shared concept of what their new school will be like. Most of the sites are based in low  income, high unemployment suburbs and the new school is supposed to be an improved opportunity for education not possible with the current situation of smaller schools. The invited speakers are all presenting about the envisioned future of South Australian education, including a link up to Dan Buckley, UK personalised learning expert. I've been given an afternoon slot of 45 minutes, with a small audience of primary and middle school teachers who presumably are new to the idea of using social media tools in the classroom. That's been fun but hard work to do because it feels like going over old ground all the time - blogs, wikis, social networking, 21st century learning, digital footprint, blah blah bah - but I have to remember that the vast majority of this audience will only have a beginner's perspective and won't have all of the reference points (Friedman's The World Is Flat, anyone?) that have helped me to become very comfortable in this space as a learner and (in my opinion) a reasonably astute judge of possibilities in the classroom. I'll post the presentation here with audio if I remember and any other links of relevance. Like I said, for many of you who I connect with on a regular (or even irregular basis) this will be old ground. And I just might refer anyone from that presentation audience over to Jennifer Jones' Onramp series which looks fantastic for beginners and experienced educators online and will deliver key concepts and resources in a more digestible fashion than my 45 minute sprint.

I hope to finish that task by the end of this week and then I'll start thinking about the 2009 school year. I have really given my brain a big holiday in this area and I would say outright that I do not really know how or what I will teach this year. I start another three year appointment as Coordinator with an impressive title of Teaching & Learning Technologies Coordinator. Our DECS ICT grant has helped to provide for an additional day out of the classroom and I'm excited about that time being spent working directly with teachers, their students and our technology. But that means I am only in the classroom for three days out of the five and sharing a classroom with a tandem partner is always an exercise in compromise. So there is no point getting too carried away with plans for say a mathematics or reading program when I still need to meet with Kim (who doesn't really know what she is in for) and carve up our collective responsibilities management and curriculum wise. Add in the fact that with inquiry learning units need to be co-planned with Maria next door, it is easy to see that this is where experience can be beneficial in working quickly and efficiently to get a new classroom off to a successful, focussed start. I have a composite class of Year 6/7 this year with ten students from 2008 carrying on from Year 6 to Year 7 in 2009. That is always a plus in my book as these kids tend to make the core of student leadership within the classroom community, setting a positive atmosphere where kids can take risks and flourish.

I think that I have operated this way for most of my classroom career, always in a state of constant re-invention. Resources, printed or digital, tend to be rewritten or edited as units of work are never the same. I always maintain that the day I can't be bothered doing something fresh and new with my class (very occasional and exceptional times of pressure and constraints excepted), it will be time to give up teaching. We work in a system that grants a lot of creative freedom to teachers in curriculum interpretation - if the profession does not embrace that as a strength, it will be seen by our critics as a weakness to be "cured." Over the next few weeks I'll post a few more times about this preparation process and identify a few goals for my year ahead. I'll also try to share more the resources I create along the way for others to remix and adapt. But for now, this post will help get the ball rolling in the right direction.


There's one week left with one of the best classes that I've taught in my twenty plus years of teaching before the 2008 school year is done and dusted. We are trying to tidy up incomplete work, organise our end of year celebrations and wind up any other unfinished business. This is as good a time as any to look back at my student blogging program and get a few thoughts and observations done while it is still fresh in my mind.

Although I have had a blog of my own for over three years, this was the first year that I felt I had enough confidence to move forward from a single class blog to individual student blogs. Doing it right and making sure that I had the right purpose for this digital tool was foremost in my mind, but with the Gmail multiple sign on and a core group of students who has worked well on our 2007 Spin The Globe wiki project, it was time to get things rolling. The students did not take long to work out the technical details and we used it as a digital journal to try and get into the habit of writing.

I explicitly demonstrated specific processes on our interactive whiteboard to ensure that all students had a starting point for how to embed an image or create a text link. Although it wasn't done often enough, I also used our class blog to create demonstration posts focussed on aspects of our classroom learning. This gave the students a structure to follow and often these posts gave me valuable assessment information about the student's understanding of a particular concept. On some occasions, I showed individuals certain technical solutions for something they wanted to achieve but always on the understanding that they were then reponsible for teaching others who were interested. This might have been learning to embed a slideshow or video, showing some commenting etiquette or even to add a Clustr Map.

All comments were moderated which gave me a regular nightly task. It was important to talk to the kids about "raising the bar" in their comments so every time one of the kids contributed something of value, I threw it up on the IWB and pointed out the merits of effective commenting. Several of my students became very adept at this part of our program, generously giving feedback and encouragement which in turn fueled an increase in blogging quality. One student, KT08, contributed over 100 comments to our little learning community. I asked her one day about her prowess and she said that she actually reads every post from every student in our class.

"I get so many good ideas from reading everyone's blogs," she said.

And I have still to show her how to set up a RSS reader!

Quite a few others got into the idea of using their blog as a personal writing space. I had emphasised good etiquette, sensible protection of their identity and a focus on their own learning - and the kids were taking that all in their stride. One student, Pavlo, developed an excellent blog where he covered a wide array of topics ranging from video games, online worlds, weekends fishing to reporting on class excursions. Others then "raised the bar" on their own writing after reading his posts. Some kids who would do the bare minimum on paper would freely add much more of their own accord. Spelling and punctuation gradually improved as the students realised that others were watching and reading. 

Only a very small number of parents left comments during the year. I suppose that like many adults, putting your own words in such a public domain can be somewhat intimidating.

I was very careful not to just do blogging for blogging's sake. It was a vehicle for cybersafety, for creative writing, a repository of student work and technology skills. We had a major push with it as a tool for learning during this last term when we tackled our inquiry unit "What Makes Us Australian?" I appealed to my Personal Learning Network to give students feedback and that generated a lot of discussion back in the classroom as the unit progressed. Thanks again to those connected international educators who generously contributed to my students. 

We summarised our achievements with our LA20 Student Blog Awards (affectionately known as the Blogies) which we unveiled in an Upper Primary assembly. Ironically, we ended up with an actual nomination in the Edublog Awards.

As a Year Six class, my students have one more year of primary school to go and my plans are get them to continue with their individual blogs for 2009. I will work closely with their Year Seven teachers and bring the other students from other 08 classes into the fold - and have this useful digital tool as part of the learning toolkit. 


My students' blogs have experienced a flurry of comment activity since we returned from camp last week, with generous support from educators from all around the world. This has meant a real learning curve for my class in terms of being more diligent about checking for feedback, learning to be clearer in their own writing and beginning to learn how to facilitate written conversation with the adults who have offered encouragement and challenge in equal measures. Some of my marginally semi-motivated writers have become very enthused and engaged in their own digital writing now that they know people other than their classmates and their teacher are reading. The unwritten social expectations about who is a good writer amongst their peers and most likely to attract comments has also been turned on their head. Quieter, less academic, less disciplined students have received significantly more comments than some of the students used to their work being noticed.

But good writing has been recognised. One of my students has even been mentioned as motivation in a Chris Harbeck blog post. (You should have seen the quiet smile of pride on this normally reserved and self-conscious student's face!) From a teacher's perspective, it now really becomes a process of letting go and seeing how they build on their original lists, seeing how they respond to the challenges others give to them in the comments. I wrote about this very promising start in my beginning of term newsletter in an article I'd like to share here. I've added in links where needed and changed student identities back to their online nicknames.

One of the benefits of safely using online technology like blogs is the ability to learn from beyond the classroom. With our new inquiry topic and the class developing into a very good learning community, I felt the time was right to invite other teachers from my own online network in to assist with the class’s learning.

All students have been publishing an initial post titled “ What’s Unique About Being Australian?” where they created a list of ten things they felt were uniquely Australian. Some students added links to specific websites, some added relevant images and others added their own written descriptions.

Then, I promoted their posts on our classroom blog, my own professional learning blog and directed interested educators to add their comments. They were asked to have a read and leave them some observation or feedback about the students’ choices. I noticed a few comments coming into my moderation mailbox Tuesday afternoon before we left for our camp and this was quite exciting for the students.

One of the first students to publish was Alex008 and she received a comment from Canadian Maths teacher, Chris Harbeck who asked what Milo was. The very next day, a student in his class brought a can of Milo and Chris posted a photo of himself with the can onto Flickr and e-mailed me the link to share with the class. As well as making the connection of an unknown name in the comment to a real person with a real face and a real classroom on the other side of the world, it showed the students that their unique Australian point of view does need careful explanation in their own writing.

When I returned from camp, I had over 60 comments to approve from all over the world from educators (some classroom teachers, a few university staff and a couple of retired teachers) all adding in comments about the Top 10 lists, asking questions, making comparisons and pushing the students’ thinking.

Here are several examples:

“Hi Danni from Chardon, Ohio, USA,
I enjoyed your list and the links with explanations!
I have two questions about vegemite. Do you eat it often and do you like it? Is it a spread used mostly by itself or as an addition to complement the taste of other foods?”

Lani Hall, retired teacher.

“Although I live in New York State [out in the country, a few hours from New York City], I admire John Howard and I’m glad to see him on your list. Australia should be proud that he’s a part of your recent history.
I would have liked to have seen him continue, but I’m glad that he has more time to go about and talk to people all over the world about the issues facing Australia and the United States.”

Matthew K. Tabor, education consultant.

“What an awesome list, you have obviously worked very hard on this project. I’m not too sure that I’d like Kangaroo pies either, I think kangaroos are too cute to eat. I teach 10 year olds over in Auckland, New Zealand. I just had one thought though, ANZAC stands for Australian New Zealand Army Corps - so does that make ANZACs uniquely Australian or unique to Australia AND New Zealand? What do you think?”
Kirstin McGhie, classroom teacher.

And some students have really taken to responding respectfully in their own comments to improve their learning.

Anast responded to her commenters in the following way.
"@Chris Harbeck: Anzac biscuits are tasty but sometimes a bit sweet. Hear (sic) is a website for the recipe of Anzac Biscuits: http://www.aussieslang.com/features/anzac-biscuits.asp Your (sic) not the only one who likes chocolate, I LOVE chocolate (but I’m not fat)Yes, In Australia, we do have chocolate chips- I wish I could just get a spoon and eat them out of the packet and a golden wattle is a type of golden/yellow flower. Thanks for leaving a comment on my friends and my blog- do it again sometime!”

She is also planning to modify her list based on the feedback she has received so far, using the internet for learning beyond the four walls of our classroom.

My apologies if I have mis-described any commenter's job description. Our next task is to look at the cultural characteristics of Australians without resorting to stereotypes - and once again, using the viewpoint of others from outside of our classroom will be invaluable. I'll keep you all posted.

On Friday I wearily returned from our double class camp, suffering a bit of dehydration and sunburn (I was drinking water and had sunscreened myself but a few urgent issues took precedent on the Friday morning so my own continuing needs took a back seat to student welfare at that time) but very satisfied at how the three days away had turned out. In general, the students had a great time earning praise from our outdoor education instructors for their involvement, their willingness to try new things and their support of each other. One instructor even said that our students were more like country kids - a compliment in her eyes as country kids are generally less concerned with image, more likely to be willing to try outdoor challenges and make their own fun. I thought the campsite facilities were magnificent - there were so many great options for the kids from the Tarzan swing to the flying fox (described as "the thing that moves" by one of my class members) to the trampolines to the gym with its sports equipment, pooltables and air hockey table. If you are a South Australian teacher looking for camp options, I would highly recommend the site.

My co-teacher in this venture, Maria, and I pushed this as a chance for students to detach from their digitally enhanced world, coming to an agreement that mobile phones and Nintendo DS systems were not needed for the three days. We agreed that portable music players were fine to bring and that digital cameras were actively encouraged. We took two Flip cameras along as well and for the first time since 1998 when I first took a Sony Mavica and five boxes of floppy disks to our Flinders Ranges camp, I spent more time grabbing video footage in preference to digital stills. We're still not at the stage of this innovative school in New Zealand (tweet via hooked_on_think) but playing the assorted videos back on the classroom IWB will be a great way to relive the highlights and see how the camp was from different points of view. 

And eventually, I'll upload the video of myself on the giant swing...


I've been quite pleased with the way my students' blogs have progressed this year, considering the caution with which I have proceeded. I originally had volunteer Blog Coaches from my online network ready to interact with my students but Al Upton's class blog controversy and some advice I received in the aftermath had me re-thinking that concept. It was a shame because I really appreciated the helping hands that were offered to my students freely - and I feel as if I never really showed that appreciation properly.

A lot of online interactions in the edublogosphere are built on goodwill and that may be why many of us (education bloggers and twitterers) are reluctant to criticise (even constructively) others because we don't want to sour the potential to collaborate. And that's what I'd like to leverage now - some of your goodwill.

My students are starting an inquiry unit "What Makes Us Australian?" and I figure that their blogs are the ideal platform from which to explore more about their place in the world. But I need some help. My students don't have an online learning network of their own to help shape their thinking - so I want them to borrow mine. They have created posts that list 10 things they feel are unique to Australia. If you feel inclined pop over to my post on the class blog and follow the listed links to one of their posts, have a read and leave them some observation or feedback about their choices. You will notice that several people have already read and commented on some of the first posts from the class - their participation has already created a buzz and authenticity to the discussion that would not have occurred within the four walls of our classroom only. Having new perspective (especially from outside Australia) will be valuable in forcing them to justify their choices, consider new information and deepen their own understanding of the topic. This is different to the angle Doug Noon and I delved into last year on our Spin The Globe wiki and will be a much more individual exploration.

Thanking you in advance for becoming new teachers for my students - you may even learn a thing or two about Aussies in the process.


This writing of this post has nearly been as drawn as the unit of work that I want to write about. But it needs to be documented as sharing what I actually do in my classroom is an important role of this blog. So, here goes.

I'm starting to feel a little more confident about using the Understanding By Design process when co-planning our inquiry units. I've always used Resource Based Learning methodologies in my classroom (later rebadged as Problem Based Learning) but have never really planned as meticulously and strategically as in the last eighteen months. This is all part of our school wide push that places inquiry and UbD as the cornerstones of delivering a large slab of our curriculum (SOSE, Science, some parts of English and Mathematics as well as Technology) and part of my role as the ICT Coordinator is to model the strategic use of learning technologies in these units of work.

I think I'm getting better at choosing the right tool for the right purpose (Dan Meyer's first vodcast drove home that point pretty clearly) and that helps when other teachers seek out my input on the effective embedding of ICT in their own unit plans. But the practice of co-planning teams planning and implementing our inquiry units has been driven by my progressively minded principal and our talented Assistant Principal who see inquiry as the pedagogical vehicle for managing our broadly defined curriculum. There is a scope and sequence planned that overlays the appropriate outcomes from Science, SOSE, Health and Technology tied to essential questions that guide the unit design.

Maria, my co-planning buddy and I have worked hard to make the last inquiry unit really effective. We have stuck as best as we could to the Backwards By Design principles in using the planning proforma and thought long and hard about the essential understandings and essential knowledge that the identified outcomes required. Our main question was "Can We Really Make A Difference?" and the unit had to cover the SACSA Science outcomes and SOSE outcomes of:

Science - Life Systems
Explains the interrelationships between systems within living things, and between living things in ecological systems. They relate these ideas to the health of individuals and to threats to the sustainability of ecological systems.
SOSE - Place, space and environment
Identifies and describes significant resources, explains the threats which endanger them, and suggests strategies to combat threats.
Interprets and represents data about natural and built environments, resources, systems and interactions, both global and local, using maps, graphs and texts.
Identifies factors affecting an environmental issue, and reports on ways to act for sustainable futures.

We identified the Enduring Understandings:

Students will understand that:
The behaviour of living things are interrelated and interdependent.
Actions by humans can have positive and negative impacts on the earth’s ecology.
It is necessary at times for human intervention to maintain a balanced, sustainable environment.

And the key pieces of Knowledge:

What students will KNOW
Definition of environment, ecosystem, interrelated, interdependent, sustainable, ecology.
Facts about Port River dolphins, their current environment, their anatomy and species, life cycle and identification of individual dolphins.
Facts about the Port River area and general history.

One of my key ponderings that I gained from my global collaborative wiki project with Doug Noon and his sixth grade classroom was whether students at this age might be better off grappling with local issues rather than making the big leap into international connections. He had reservations about the in depth understandings gained about our respective cultures and although my class learnt a lot about the use of wikis, and how to pose more effective questions, I would agree that a deep understanding of our counterparts' lives was not achieved. In fact, the most beneficial thing we did as a class was a day excursion into the city of Adelaide as the resulting documentation of our own immediate surroundings meant a clearer perspective of what worth sharing with others about life here in South Australia. So this year with the key question "Can we really make a difference?" we decided that looking locally was definitely the key to engaging successfully with the key ideas and knowledge behind this unit. My co-planning partner and I decided that the example of the Port River dolphins would be an excellent lens through which to examine the question and the whole idea of human impact on natural environments and existing ecosystems. We started in with a tuning in activity where student groups were given five topic related images that were sorted in priority order and then had to justify their choice back to their peers.

One of the initial catalysts for student engagement was our guest speaker, Ann, from the Whale & Dolphin Conservation Society. Her knowledge and expertise were backed by skillful presentation skills and the students were "hooked" into the concept of human impact on these very social marine mammals. Ann also provided the link to Dr. Mike Bossley, an eminent local scientist who happily fielded questions via email. I also got my students to view some online topic-connected video and got them to draw out initial connections in their blogs.

By this point, the kids were gaining a fair bit of disconnected facts and concepts so it was time to it was time to head out for an excursion to make it all "real life". We took both classes down to the Port River and the Maritime Museum dolphin cruise - the kids were treated to more of Ann's expertise, and most importantly, headed out onto the water to hopefully view the dolphins in their own environment. You can see from some of the images taken by the students that the human impact along the waterway was very evident.

There were more lessons and sessions picking apart the concepts of ecosystems etc. seeking to unpack the ideas and knowledge we had identified as being important but eventually towards the end of last term, we were ready for the final assessment task, designed to see if the students could connect the knowledge to the concepts. Now, in UbD, the final assessment task(s) is one of the first thing designed - the whole point being that way, you are always conscious of the purpose of the whole unit but we did change from our original task as in typical teacher fashion, we were overcomplicating our ideas. Finally, the students worked in pairs with a selected image from the excursion and they had to write some accompanying explanatory information including the location of the photo, facts established by the photo and finally the connections between the Port River dolphins and those facts. It became a very accurate way of assessing whether the students had come to a deeper understanding about human impact on the dolphins.

Of course, all units could be better when viewed in retrospect, and the glaring element missing here isthat we didn't really get to determining whether we can "make a difference". Hopefully, that will improve in this term's effort but I believe that the students really did make headway towards a solid understanding of the big concepts of this unit.


Being able to recall the multiplication times tables quickly is still a skill highly prized by many parents (and teachers). Maybe it's a concrete link between their rote learning chant of their school experiences and the mathematics that their child has to grapple with. And being in confident command of basic number facts does help in the solving of more complex equations and problems. But the job of getting my students to "learn their times tables" has been a hard sell especially for those kids who have to work hard to embed these numerical facts in their memory. At the Year Six level, I've never been completely happy with the way I've been tracking my students' progress in this area.

But last year I found a happy combination of resources and tools that has made multiplication times tables fun, challenging and easy to track. Here's what I do.

I stumbled on this website called Free Mathematics Worksheets which advertises itself as a repository of free downloadable worksheets in pdf format. In the Multiplication section, there are a series of sheets under the banner of Multiplication Five Minute Frenzies. I print these off, photocopy enough for the class and using the Timer Countdown tool on the Activboard, complete the Frenzy twice a week in the classroom. The Frenzy is a grid and I encourage the students to develop tactics to maximise success. Kids premark their sheet identifying their tables they know best to tackle first leaving the majority of their five minutes for the more challenging facts.

The part that seems to be the big motivator is the recording of these results in a class spreadsheet. These results build up time and it is very easy to create a line graph and show that up on the Activboard for analysis. Without fail, all students in 2007 regardless of initial result starting point had a jagged line of improvement and we used these as a discussion point in 3 way conferences with their parents. The students with high level recall hitting 100/100 with regularity also recorded the time taken by checking the countdown timer as they finish. The volunteers to show their graphs on the IWB always exceeds the time we have left in the lesson. This seems to be the most motivating way I've found to tackle the perennial times tables concerns.



I've been keen on the idea of a Digg style site that can be customised for a classroom since last year but the demise of CrispyNews put paid to that avenue. But I'm been using another site, CoRank, to build something similar for this year and it looks promising. I haven't seen much in the edublogosphere about this site so I thought I'd let you know.

You basically set up an account (valid email only required) and then you can choose from a few templates to set up your site. You can then invite others to join the site so that they can help submit news stories and websites that can then be commented upon and voted up or down Digg style. This way you set up your small voting community and watch as topical stories surface and climb or fall according to the preferences of the participants. There are tabs where you can see all stories submitted, they can sorted by tag, rank, and every user can see their activity history as well.

Why might this be useful in the classroom?

I figure it can be useful in a number of ways. Firstly, there is a lot to be learnt in terms of the students sensibly starting and managing a web account and how to be protective of their identity via their profile and the creation of a fun avatar. It can be useful in terms of teaching younger kids how to start contributing to the web without having to author original material but instead getting them to start making insightful comments. It gets them thinking about the wider world and making judgement calls about suitable material for the site both by voting up or down and then via posted contributions.

You can get a bit of an idea by looking at the site I created. I've gone with the SpinTheGlobe theme thinking that we might restart our connection to Doug Noon's class with this as one distributed point where we can find topics of interest together for 11/12 year olds. Already, students have been really keen and have added some articles already, and started the commenting. The voting feature is a hit - please bear in mind that this is barely a week old but it is a tool that is worth a good look in terms of tapping into your students' interests and assisting with information literacy skills and general internet awareness. Check it out.


Spin The Globe Classrooms > Top via kwout