Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Visible Thinking

The start of 2017 has been incredibly challenging for me.

How many of you automatically thought 'challenging' meant bad?! (Go on, be honest...)

Challenging, indeed, did mean difficult in this case.
 But not a bad difficult. 
A different difficult. 
An uncomfortable difficult. 
An 'out-of-my-zone-of-proximity' difficult. 

A challenging difficult.

You see, late last year I applied for the position of IBMYP Middle Years Learning Leader at my school, and to my utter delight, I won the position. I was totally ecstatic, because as any of you who actually know me, would know my love of the IB and my love of enriching curriculum. And now I was in charge of guiding our Middle School in both of these areas.
But with significant change come A LOT of learning. Not even a steep climb of learning - a ruddy big sheer cliff face of rock climbing learning. But luckily, I have amazing support from friends and colleagues to show me the foot holds and to catch me when I stumble.

But enough of that.

The point of this is to set the background of what I am about to share with you now. As part of my role, I got a Guernsey to be a part of the 'Cultures of Thinking' team that had begun last year. I attended a workshop on this with Ron Ritchhart (OMG total nerd swoon! He is the rock star of thinking and just amazing...) and was totally blown away by the ease in which he used his thinking routines and the way in which he delivered them.
Part of our session was to come up with an Action Research Project question, that we would engage with in our classrooms and collect documentation on how the students are responding to it, and also how our teaching was affecting them. My question, may seem somewhat ambiguous, but after a lot of umming and ahhing, I decided to stick with it.
How would it (learning) be different if we embraced student-led curiosity?
I have been challenged on this by a colleague and found it difficult to explain what I meant by it, until I came across this article by Edutopia (GET ON THIS WEBSITE!) that was shared by them through Facebook and Twitter (@edutopia):
Inquiry-Based Learning: The Power of Asking the Right Questions
This article expressed exactly what I wanted to do and with using thinking routines to help guide that questioning and collect my documentation.

This term, I thought I would focus mainly on documenting thinking from 2 units in particular - our English unit on the novel 'Thai-riffic!' by Oliver Phommavahn, and our Humanities unit on 'Water Ways'. I was also going to collect any other visible thinking from other subjects, but these two would be my main focus.

I always start my units by getting students to map everything they know about the topic/ concept, then all the questions they may have about it. I found this idea which I may try next when introducing a new topic to 'shake things up' a bit...
Create a mind map of questions on the topic - a 'question explosion' if you will. Start with the topic/ concept in the middle, then create your questions about that topic on the first set of 'bubbles'. then record questions that come from the questions on the outer 'bubbles' and so on, until you have a mind map of questions.

I then give them the Statement of Inquiry for the unit, and we unpack what that means and pull out the important vocab needed to understand the statement. We add these words to out 'vocab wall'

 From here, we engage in tasks surrounding the topics.
What I would like to happen, is using thinking routines, do less 'talking' and get the students to do more 'learning'. So not let them go nuts and have free reign, but to work with them to follow lines of inquiry that they have developed on these topics.

Hard when you have common assessment tasks at the end of the unit (just sayin.)


So far in our Humanities unit, we have created individual inquiry questions on the River Murray (they just came back from a 3 day camp there, so lots of connections and links to be made!) I helped them form these with the Question Starts Routine and then guided them in the formation of their guiding questions.

They then needed to produce a 'sketch notes' on the information they were finding in relation to their questions. I will post finished products of these later - they are looking amazing thus far. For those who don;t know what a 'sketch notes' is - here's one a made on the topic of 'Sketch Notes'!

In our English unit, we are studying the text 'Thai-riffic' by Oliver Phommavahn. A fantastic text to study for new transitioning year 7 students to a middle school. They need to analyse the text to prepare for the end assessment - a formal text analysis of the themes and main character. So how to prepare them?
Thinking Routines! YAY!

I made a 'graffiti' wall for my kids to explore Connections, Concepts and Challenges in the book. Whenever they wanted to add something, they were welcome to, even if it was in the middle of reading the story. Having this on the wall for all to see made their thinking visible. This was adapted from the 4 C's Routine - I am aware I only have 3 C's, the 4th one is coming...!

After reading a few chapters, we then conducted a 321 Bridge routine on the main character, Lengy, and changed it slightly to:

  • 3 words to describe Lengy
  • 2 questions you have about Lengy and 2 questions he might have
  • 1 metaphor/ simile to describe Lengy
We will then conduct this 321 Bridge again at the end of the book and compare answers. This in turn will help them answer the analysis question of 'How has Lengy changed from the start of the book to the end?' (Notice the 4th C (Change) creeping in here?!)

I have to share my favourite simile explaining Lengy:
Lengy is like an eraser, he gets and feels smaller and smaller every time he makes a mistake.
*Insert tears of joy from teacher here*

So far, my journey has been invigorating. All I can hope is that the kids are engaged and feel enthused to learn too.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Rube Goldberg Machines

This term, my year 7 Class and I have been investigating FORCES and MOTION.

I started this unit by getting the students to conduct their own independent guided learning on Forces by completing a web quest that I constructed (and pilfered parts from another web quest I found - don't worry it's been acknowledged!)
I thought, this could go one of two ways - they'll embrace it and love it because it has games and videos in it and they can do it themselves - or they'll lose interest and bomb out because its new information and they wouldn't be able to follow it without a teacher.

Guess who was made redundant??

The kids absolutely took to it and LOVED it! Not only that, they ACED their science tests on the topic too!
Now I'm not saying it will work for every kid and every class, but this time it was amazing.

And because I am a generous soul - here is the link to the Forces Web Quest (just note, at the end there is a google forms quiz that the kids had to do to test their knowledge - if you get them to do this, I will receive all the results, not you haha!!!)

But onto the part that excites me the most -


I introduced this to my kids by watching the following RGM videos on YouTube:

This one by band Ok, Go! is monstrous in size! But it illustrates the point of what it is.

Secondly, I showed them this one of Audri, a little kid, who constructed his own RGM - but most importantly, he shows how it doesn't always work the first time and that trying again and again and failing are all part of the process.

What a little cutie!

By this time, the kids were totally chomping at the bit to get started. I handed out their task sheets - we spoke a little more on who Rube Goldberg actually was and away we went!

The kids had 2 restrictions in place:
1. The RGM had to perform a simple task at the end (ball into a cup, pour a bowl of chips etc.)
2. They could ONLY use recycled and hom/ classroom resourced materials. That is, nothing NEW was allowed to be bought specifically for this project. They could use anything they could find at home or in the classroom, including old toys, parts of games, Lego, mechano, boxes and rubbish and furniture (no bringing couches in from home though!)

The students need to plan their RGMs and design them. Here's the kicker... they needed to label each part of the machine in their plan along with a description of the force in play at each action point (YES! TEACHING WIN!!!!)

They then needed to construct their machine and VIDEO it in action. These videos will later be posted on their Learning blogs, along with their plans. I will tweet these out later and there will be voting from my PLN twitter people on which ones they like best. The machine with the most 'likes' by the end of the week will be declared Rube Goldberg Champion!

We are yet to video them, but here are some of the plans thus far:

Stay tuned for the videoed final products - you can follow me on twitter for these: @jolantastephens

Monday, June 27, 2016


You would have read in one of my earlier posts that I was embarking on a Global Educators 'journey' and part of that may have been exploring new technologies in presenting some of my students' work.

It was suggested that I explore Aurasma as a tool to do this. I spent sometime reading up about it and watching videos, and honestly I was dubious, as it seemed to work really well with iPads as an editing device, and we were a PC school.

In the end I employed my favourite matra - 'Stuff it, I'm doing it'.

And I'm so glad I did.

The kids absolutely loved using it - it was a way for them to visually explain their learning, whether it be through scrolling text, themselves actually talking and verbally explaining their concepts, or with images/ video/ text.

But I jump ahead.

For those of you who are new to Aurasma this comes from Matt Hollowell's Prezi explaining it:

Augmented Reality For The Classroom. Aurasma is a free app for iOS and Android devices that uses advanced image recognition to blend the real-world with rich interactive content, such as videos and animations, called “Auras”.

So in short, it's a program where you create a 'trigger' image. It can be anything - a photo, a piece of text, and object. Then the students can create a 'layer'. This is generally a video of any type - youtube, homemade, PowerPoint movie - or it can also be a single image or audio. Once it has been all uploaded, created and published, anyone who is following your 'channel' can open up the app on their smart device, hover the screen over the trigger image, and the 'layer' content appears magically on their screen!

 I generally get my kids to create a video explaining the concept that is portrayed in the trigger image. For example, we were studying a rather 'dry' topic - the Water Cycle. I got my students to have some sort of visual representation of the water cycle - a picture they had drawn (by hand or digitally) or some text. They then needed to add a 'video layer' that EXPLAINED how the water cycle worked. Some students chose to video themselves talking it through with visual diagrams on whiteboards, other chose to make movies on PowerPoint with scrolling text and images. My personal favourite was a couple of students who love working with Lego. They made a model of the water cycle using lego, then using a stop motion app on their phones, recorded and created a stop motion animation using the lego to show how the water cycle operated. Talk about higher order thinking, STEAM, and creative thinking all in one activity!

Here is a video example of one my students created:

I love Aurasma for several reasons.

  • It's simple to use and easy to create. I created a class account that allows multiple people to log in and use it at the same time. Saves the students having to create personal accounts.
  • It gives students an opportunity to explain concepts more deeply. 
  • It gives students who struggle to write a chance to show off their knowledge through verbal expression.
  • It's engaging and interesting.
  • If you get parents involved, they can view their students' work at Parent Teacher Interview time. It looks specky and gives the parents an insight into their child's learning. We used it for Grandparents and Special Friends Day - the guests were blown away!
  • It was a chance to teach students about hashtags - how to use them to organise information, but also how to search information using them.
Finally, here are some screen shots of posters I have around the place, reminding students how to use Aurasmas - you are welcome to use as a template :)

Using Lino

I love Padlet, I really do, but sometimes you need something just a bit different. I went on a search for something similar to padlet, that would be easy to use and easy to capture as an image (my biggest beef with Padlet is that I can’t print out an image of the board – it cuts off anything that’s beyond the initial page!)
And thus I found Lino. Lino is a virtual pin up board – very similar to Padlet, but in my opinion, a little more user friendly.
Padlet has the side navigation bar you need to work through to find what you want to do to add images or change background – not really rocket science, but can be a little fiddly to start with. Lino is easy to use with ‘sticky notes’ in an easy ‘grab and click’ format, right there on the page, along with easy access to inserting images, videos, and documents.  You can use it from your PC desktop, or on iPad or iPhones.
The students will need to sign up, but I think if we are using it regularly, it’s a good one to keep. You can create groups too, so you can set up group canvases that you can invite the students to.
The only drawbacks are that you still can’t ‘print’ the board as documentation or export it, I’ve got around this by taking screen shots and printing from there. The other drawback is that when you ‘post’ a sticky, it posts in the same spot each time, so if you have multiple students posting, their stickies might post over the top of each other. The students worked it out pretty quickly to move them around, but Padlet has that cool feature where you can get posts to stream or gridlock them to stop this.
I’ve used Lino a few times now as ‘working boards’ for topics and as another way to get kids to share their information. When I asked the students for their feedback on this, they said they liked it and found it easy to use. They said they liked it as much as Padlet, so in the end, I guess it’s up to teacher preference! I think it’s a useful tool to introduce to the students as they can then begin to use it themselves to set up group canvases for project brainstorming, or for personal project planning.

Maths and Critical and Creative Thinking

Let’s face it, the general sentiments about maths can be somewhat… uninspiring. We hear many complaints about maths and how students find it boring and don’t like it, and we figure that’s because a lot of us teachers don’t feel confident enough (ourselves included!) to teach beyond the textbook, lest we get it wrong and the students are forever ruined in their mathematical knowledge. We personally understand this trepidation and ingrained feeling that the only proper way to teach maths is from the textbook because really, it was written by math genius’s right??
But should this really be the case?
We have begun small, baby steps, in trying to open maths up to some creative and critical thinking. Something to get those problem solving skills and connecter neurons happening. Something to make this fun, and seem worthwhile.
We used to start with the usual ‘What do I know, What don’t I know’ type of questioning at the start of maths units to try to ascertain what the students may be able to recover from mathematical lessons of past, but after a while, this too became slightly mundane.
So we turned to our favourite types of critical and creative thinking templates and questioning. Instead of telling the students what we were going to ‘tackle’ in maths, we gave them an opportunity to explore creatively some connections and prior knowledge through Blooms, Questivities, and Thinkers Keys. These were given to the students as ‘prior – knowledge’ learning tasks and as a way to introduce them to the concepts we would be exploring in maths.
The students were given these tasks as a sheet and they needed to present it in a way that they thought was interesting and informative. Most students stuck to the ‘poster’ presentation method, however we have had a few student starting to delve into prezis, movies and other forms of digital presentations. These were shared with the class and then discussions around the ‘vocab’ we would need for this topic would occur. As students came up with pertinent words, they were given a card to write the words on and add to the ‘Vocab Wall’. This then ensures the students can see and access this language and associated vocab all the time in class.
The result?
Students collaboratively working together to produce some rather thoughtful, engaging, and sometimes hilariously creative ideas! It may seem like a whole heap of fun (which it was!) but with carefully constructed questions and learning tasks, students began to make connections between the concepts and real life. They were able to begin asking those big questions, see the purpose these concepts have in our world and use language that they didn’t know they already had ingrained into their mathematical vocabularies. As a teacher, not only does this practice essential 21st Century skills like collaboration, communication, inquiry and creative and critical thinking, but it gives an insight into the type of language, concepts and ideas the students might have about the topics.
And they’re much more fun to read than a pre-test or list of knowledge points.
You can find the Critical and Creative Thinking prompts here:

Reflective Practices

Probably one of the things that teachers really struggle in is guiding or giving time for reflective practices at the end of lessons. We too are guilty of this!
Reflecting on a concept or topic is an essential skill students need to engage in constantly – not just at the end of term and the unit. It needs to be done virtually at the end of every lesson where a new concept has been introduced or learning activity has taken place. This gives the students an opportunity to ‘take a step back’ from all the new information hurled at them and to sort through what it is they have understood and what it is they need to ask help for. Teachers often tell parents that their students don’t ask for help and need to do so more often, but what if the student doesn’t even know what they need help with? What if they are so overwhelmed with new information that they think they get it, but in reality when it comes to applying it new circumstances they just can’t connect it all together.

Making reflection a part of the classroom routine is essential to teach and guide students to be able to stop and think about their learning and take responsibility and leadership in their knowledge construction.
All sounds good in theory. And we all know the benefits of it. So why don’t we do it?
That great big dirty word.


By the time you have introduced your lesson, review what you did last lesson, introduced the new concept/topic, given time to students to do a learning task associated with it, you’re already running into the next lesson or lunchtime trying desperately to get them to pack up after the bell. So how to fit it in?
We’ve come up with some simple methods. A reflection does not have to be a huge sit down and write essay responses to 10 questions. With appropriate questioning (get rid of ‘what I liked’ questions for now!) you can get a quick and easy reflection from students that help you to see what concepts have been grasped, and what ones you may need to re-teach to the whole class or perhaps just a small group or individual. The students then begin to get into a routine of being able to identify what new knowledge they’ve learned and what might be sticking points for them. We have made these reflective practice cards up so they may be printed in mass amounts and handed out quickly when needed, or they can be posted somewhere and answers can be made on a digital collaborative platform (like padlet or lino). If printed, we usually get the students to either pass them to us to review, or to stick them on the white board/ classroom twitter board – not to shame, but to facilitate discussions. Students can look at each other’s and maybe even help and explain concepts to those who weren’t sure about something in the lesson – an excellent form of collaboration and forming learning networks in the classroom.

321 RIQ

3 Recalls – Students write down 3 things they recall from the lesson, preferably in order. This is important to see if students have recalled the important and main points of the lesson, or whether they have missed the anything. This also helps students to organize the new information into smaller, more manageable chunks of understanding.
2 Insights – students write down 2 new things they have learned from the lesson, or 2 ‘lightbulb/ aha!’ moments. This may not just be limited specifically to content, but perhaps skills as well (for example, how to reference a website, or how to use advance search techniques). The obvious point here is that you can monitor that the students have understood the new topics correctly and that no one has ‘learned nothing new’.
1 Question – Students write 1 question they have from the lesson. It could be a clarifying question about some new content, or how to do something. This makes students really think about something they would like to learn further about. Don’t take ‘I have no questions’ as an acceptable remark – they can find a question about the concepts in the lesson, even if it wasn’t covered in the lesson – something connecting the new information to prior knowledge or opportunities for further learning.



‘Exit Cards’ are given just before the lesson ends and students need to complete one as an ‘Exit Ticket’ out of the room to recess/lunch/home. These are fairly self-explanatory, but the reason we ask students to write down what they did in the lesson in order is to make sure they actually engaged and understood each topic covered during the lesson and the progression of the topics. Again, we get students to hand these to us or pin them for discussion purposes.


These are the simplest cards I use. Students just write down something they need help with – easy! We hand these out at the beginning of a lesson (mainly maths at this point) and students can add to it during the lesson as we go through the content. The teachers can then view these on their desks at their leisure as they walk the room.

Another way these have been used is in  review of a test – if you go through tests afterwards, students can jot down what they still don’t understand the concepts and the teachers can re-teach to either the whole class if there is a pattern of ‘misunderstanding’ or to small groups/ individuals. These can also be used as exit cards.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


My latest assignment in this Flat Connections course was to make a digital 'artifact' that explained and shared a story and some information about 'Maker Spaces'., in particular the impact they had on society and globally.

It seemed far too serendipitous that only the week before I had lunch with another very creative and passionate teacher friend of mine (yeah you Sarah!) and she had begun talking to me about all the amazing work she and another colleague had started doing at their school whilst she was acting teacher librarian for a term. Words like 'making', 'arudino', 'makey makey' started getting thrown around and whilst at the time I had not much idea what she was talking about, the excitement on her face made me think 'I HAVE to get in on this!'

So began the research (total Nerd Alert here, but I don't even care!)

I pored over the web and made myself familiar with terms and what this 'Makerspace' phenomenon was that was taking the world (especially in USA) by storm. When Julie Lindsay gave me my topic to research on 'Makerspaces' I could not believe my luck!

Because I am a really controlled and moderate type of person, I decided that I NEEDED ALL THE MAKING STUFF IN MY CLASSROOM NOW!!!
I moved furniture (much to my students delight!), I ummed and ahhhed, I spent (too) much money with the constant thought of 'Oh well, if it doesn't work then at least I have a 2 YO at home who would love this', and I begged and borrowed from colleagues at school. No comment on the Steal.

And what did I end up with?

Amazingness. That's what.

At the moment the Makerspace is just a bit of free-play, but I hope next year to use it more in the curriculum and with more 'purpose' of problem-solving, thus teaching kids and making them aware of the real benefits 'making' actually has.

Plus, I get to play with Lego yay!

But back to the artifact and the assignment. Part of this assignment was that I needed to include an 'outsourced' piece in my video. Where from? Well, wherever I could find someone to give me one.
So I began with my new favourite PLN platform, twitter (you can follow me at @jolantastephens just FYI :D). I started with asking those I knew were in the making business, and then those who were established educational networks:

Luckily, someone answered my plea for help...

And everyone was so happy (well, at least Tina and I were!)

On a side note, I can't stress ENOUGH how important it is and how beneficial to your teaching it is to have a PLN set up, and twitter is an amazing space. I use mine ONLY for teaching related things and it has opened my eyes to whole new world...

(Disney-fix aside... have a look at the links in my blog reel to find a start for your PLNs -->)

Have a look at my Makerspace Artifact if you want to know more about what Makerspaces are and our journey so far.

So as Mister Maker says...