Never Make Assumptions

My Teaching Was Rubbish

I think that I am a pretty good teacher, and I do my best to always cater for my students individual needs.  But last Monday afternoon, I was nowhere near the top of my teaching game.  I made an assumption about my students, and the resulting lesson was rubbish.  Let me explain …

Just before the holidays, I had joined my students up to the Student Blogging Challenge.  This is a fantastic challenge run twice a year by the fantastic Miss W.  Students and classes from across the globe join up to the challenge run over ten weeks.  Personally I can’t think of a better way for kids to learn about global literacy.

Anyway, unfortunately, when the challenged kicked off, our whole school was in Auckland on our school camp and then for two weeks after that we had school holidays which means that we were three weeks behind on the challenge.  That’s ok, I said to myself, we are already half-way through the year and we had already completed many of the tasks required in the first two weeks.

My Chickens Arent So Pretty
My Chickens Aren't So Pretty

Now just as a side note for those of you who don’t know anything about my school: I am the Principal of a Sole Charge Isolated Rural School – translation: I have ten students ranging from New Entrant (kindergarten) to Year Eight (13 years old).  I am the ‘sole’ full time teacher.  We are very lucky because our Board of Trustees employs an additional teacher to teach literacy to the junior students in the morning from 9am – 10.30am.  As there are only three juniors, they are getting a pretty good deal.  After 10.30am I am on my own with all ten students, therefore I must teach Numeracy (maths) and other subjects to all age levels.  I also get one and a half days in the week in my office to manage the school in the Principals role.  My school is part of an isolated community, which means we are over 27 kilometres away from the nearest town/shop/MacDonalds/Library/petrol station/decent coffee (sigh).  But that’s ok, my community is fantastic and I get to keep chickens 🙂

What Was I Thinking?
What Was I Thinking?

So on Monday afternoon, after half a day in the office, I needed to take my three juniors for Maths.  I said to the senior students that the student blogging challenge had started, we were a little bit behind, can you please go on to the challenge website, read the post about challenge one and complete the five tasks (just to let you know I have some very capable readers, reading well above their age).  Can you spot my fatal mistake yet?  If you follow my twitter account, you may remember my tweet about it.

Yes, I had assumed that my students could read and comprehend a blog post.

They can write posts, insert photos, add comments, colour/bold/centre text, stick in annoying widgets, change their theme, add pages, and embed sound gadgets, Youtube movies and Flickr slideshows.  But they didn’t actually understand how to read a blog post, unassisted.  Now that I think back, when ever I had asked them to make a comment on the school blog I had always discussed it with them and written the requirements on the board.  They had never actually gone in cold turkey!

Arg! Can you imagine the chorus of seven eager voices all chiming “I don’t get, Marama!” with three squirming junior kiddy winkles in front of me fighting over who got to hand out the counters. Double Arg!!  Mayhem!

Now here is a piece of advice for any new teachers out there … sometimes your class will be a total mere, usually in the afternoon, and there is nothing you can do about it.  Don’t worry this is normal, but I can here you asking – “but what can I do about?”  Well sometimes all you can do is cut your losses.  In my situation, I could feel my eyeballs bulging and my palms sweeting so I knew that I was past the point of no return.  I called the school to attention, and explained that if they managed to pack up the classroom in 3 minutes we would go outside for a game.  Five minutes later we were all (myself included) charging up and down the field in a fantastic game of Farmer Farmer.

Me Pleased As Punch!
Me Pleased As Punch!

Now here’s the clincher, the fine line between me being a good teacher and a crap teacher.  While I was tearing around on the field sabotaging the older children so that the younger ones could score, I was analysing exactly what went wrong and how I was going to allow my students to achieve next time.  So today during literacy with my students, instead of using a journal for guided reading, we used the student blogging challenge post and we read it off the computer screen.  And now I am pretty proud to say that it was some of the best teaching I had done in a while 😀

I really believe in this life long learning business.  As an experienced teacher, sometimes you can get complacent and you do start making assumptions about your students because you think you know them so well.  But the reality is that the moment you start taking your students for granted, it is the moment you start doing them a mis-service. Though we are only human, and I am proud to say that I learnt my lesson and made it good.

All images were sourced and used under Creative Commons Licence.

Thanks to:

It was over quicker than a Tua knock-out!

I must first apologise for neglecting my blogging obligations.  It would seem that life is flashing  by and piling up at a furious pace.  Between attending and presenting at ulearn09; preparing my class for term four; PAT and STAR testing for school reports and preparing for my new position as Principal at Pukeokahu School, I have been avoiding this blog with vigour.   However, guilt has raised its furry head and I have decided to just get on with it.

So … ulearn09 was fantastic!  As an attendee it was an energetic experience; but as a presenter it was a blast.

Early on in the year I decided that my Professional Development Goal would be to take every opportunity to present  to a professional audience.  When ulearn09 came up I saw it as a fantastic way to extend my presentation experience.  Though in hindsight, I must admit that the decision to present at ulearn09 was kind of like jumping into the deep end without my floaties!   But, all in all, after all of the stress and sweaty palms, everything worked out well and it was over quicker than … well you can read the title.

My hands-on workshop was about using Web2.0 tools to enhance a classroom blog, like I had done with my classblog – The Wocket Spot Blog.  I decided to design my workshop to be run like the Amazing Race.  Collaborative groups would required to complete as many tasks as possible within a given time frame and publish their completed tasks to a mock classblog – you can check out the finish tasks here.  The point being that Web2.0 tools are quick, fun and easy to use.

All of the information needed to complete the tasks can be found in a website I have developed –  It was my hope that after my workshop the attendees would be able to continue using the site and share it with their colleagues and perhaps even run the Amazing Race for their own staff (I have left The Race page with all of the tasks on the site).

And of course now I offer to you all access to my wee site.  I hope it is helpful and fun to use.  I will be adding to it as time goes by and I discover other funky little Web2.0 tools that enhance learning in a blogging environment.  You are all welcome to use it to run your own Amazing Race, just drop me a line if you need help setting it up. And please let me know if you think there is anything else I should add.

Yes!!! Writers block defeated! Post is published! Guilt is dissipating and next the topic is forming in my mind!

Images sourced under creative commons licence from:

Teaser Three – Watching the Progress Bar turn Blue

Lately I have been using Camtasia to create Screen Casts for my eWindows site.  Now usually I am a strictly freeware kind of girl (well that’s a little bit of a fib because I have paid for Edublogs, Voicethread, Flickr and my domain names, anyway …)  but I am really impressed with Camtasia.  So much so that I may even fork-out for it after my free one month trial (this is awesome, try before you buy!).

Camtasia is easy to use, has great support and tutorials.  It runs seamlessly with my Mac and uploads directly to YouTube.  At one easy payment of $99.00 (Education Pricing) I do believe it may be a keeper, though it may have to wait until after I recover from my little trip to Christchurch (only 9 more sleeps!).  O, and after we wallpaper the living room.  Below is my weekly-ish offering to the Blog-o-sphere.  My third ever Screen Cast on how to add a Word-cloud to a post.  So readers, I would really like some feedback here, how did I do?  It’s a lot harder than it looks.

Teaser One – The Google Empire

Here is my first offering to the blog-o-sphere from my uLearn09 presentation

An eWindow into my Classroom

The Google Empire

Google Logo “Just Google it!”
Gone are the days when Google was just the provider of interesting facts and decider of living room quiz nights. Google is now a vast array of Web Applications designed to pull today’s web consumers into its clever and enticing ‘Googleverse’. And believe me, this Web Nut is banging on Google’s doors screaming “Let Me In”. In fact, while I am typing these very words I am wondering, why I don’t ‘can’ this wiki, and transfer it all over to Google Sites! Maybe I will; we will see …

Now back on track!
A quick run down on a few of the major players in the Google Empire (and don’t forget, one username will take you everywhere!)

Gmail Logo

This little beauty is gold! It’s free, easy to use and one account will service your entire class, or school as the case maybe. Check out the Gmail Page for information on the funky format (thanks Sue Waters!).

Google Docs Logo

The ultimate in collaborative documentation. Create documents, spreadsheets and forms then share with collaborators or embed them into your site. Students can use Google Docs to draft their writing, then share that writing with you to provide instant editing and feedback.  I thought this collaboration gem deserved a page of its own as well! (thanks Nick Rate!)

Google Calendar Logo

A wonderfully useful application that allows you to set up an editable calendar. Keep parents up-to-date with events and deadlines. Add the class birthdays, or maybe a famous date or two your kids and parents may find interesting (thanks Sue Waters!).  Link to my classblog.

Google Maps Logo

I can only describe Google Maps as super cool. Find your school’s neighbourhood, add your markers and embed it on your site! What can be better than an interactive map that uses real satellite pictures? The only draw back is that it is a little tricky to embed and edit. This however, this can be over come with a little practise. Link to my classblog.

Google News Logo

Search hundreds if not thousands of local and international news organisations. Newspapers, Radio Stations, Television and Web-Based News Sites. Google News allows you to search a relatively narrow field of sourced information.

Google Sites Logo

A simple Web Site creator. Embed other Google content like calendars, maps and Youtube or add other third party content. Google Sites is a new alternative to Wikis.

Google Reader Logo

Have you heard of RSS? Are you unfamiliar with the term “Read my Feeds? Do you have lots of sites that you like to read but you can never get around to checking them all? If this sounds like you need to check out my Google Reader Page.  I can’t get by without my Google Reader! (thanks Common Craft)

Youtube Logo

YouTube has had some bad press in the ‘Edu-verse’ lately. Many schools choose to use alternative sites like TeacherTube to avoid the perceived evils of YouTube. However, YouTube wins hands down when it comes to ease of use, quality of playback and upload speed. Why bother with an inferior product when the Rolls Royce of video playback is at your door step. Just follow a few simple rules and all will be well. Link to my classblog.

Google Apps Logo

Google Apps is a free web-based IT infrastructure. With Google Apps you are able to create and manage email, messaging and shared calendars for all of your school community. Up-load videos and documents, which only your school community can view. No advertising, and a safe place for your students to learn about creating their own online identity. Check out this video for a short explanation or this video for a more thorough Webinar.

Preparing for ulearn09


elearn09 is approaching rapidly and I am feeling a mixture of excitement and anxiety.  Excitement because this is my first ulearn experience and I get to have some face to face time with the many awesome NZ Educators.  Anxiety because for some strange reason, must of had one too many coffees that day, I applied to be a presenter and was accepted! Eek! 😮

My presentation is called An eWindow into my Classroom (Breakout Five for any of you who are interested in attending).

Join me as we create a classroom blog that allows parents and whanau to be an active part of classroom learning. We will be using a variety of Web2.0 tools that are free and easy to use. There will be tips and tricks on how to make your blog appealing to students and informative to parents. I will also talk about ways you can engage an audience in the global community. Your classroom blog can be so much more than another publishing platform, it can be an interactive environment that enhances student learning.

(Believe it or not it took me four hours to write that synopsis.)

I am hoping that by the end of the session we will have constructed a mock classroom blog and or set up the bones and a few fancy bits in my ‘victims’ own classroom blogs.  I will set up a fairly open rotation where participants can engage in a variety of cool web2.0 tools that will enhance your classroom blog and to make it ‘blog-i-licious’ (blog-i-licious  – my term for a blog that is engaging, fun, funky, collaborative, communicative and of course enhances learning, thanks Fergie!) My brainwave for this presentation is that all of my presentation’s content will be sourced on a Wetpaint Wiki.  That way participates will always have a point of reference to go back to after the intensity of the conference.

I have found Wetpaint is an easy to use platform, possibly less finicky than Wikispaces (of course this is only my opinion).  My only real bugbare is that you are unable to view the html code, but I can get over that.  Each page on this Wiki will explore a different Web2.0 app.  I will include tips and tricks on how to use each app. in your blog as well as include examples of how I have used it in my own classroom blog.

As you have all probably guessed by now; this post is basically shameless self-promotion on my part.  But it is also me feeling a bit guilty for neglecting my blog for this my newfangled wiki of mysterious means (I am keeping it private until the conference).  Therefore I, in another self-promotion tactic, will be releasing sneak peaks to a few of my wiki’s page as my blog posts during the lead up to ulearn09.  I will have omit a one or two links and leave out a some of the workshop content, but I hope these sneak peaks will pique your interest in attending my workshop (remember Breakout Five) or at the very least consider playing around with creating your own classroom blog, or maybe adding a bit of ‘Bling’ to your existing one.

An eWindow into my classroom

With only one week left in Term Two my classroom blog, The Wocket Spot, is in full swing.  As I mentioned in an early post the goal of this class blog is to provide parents with link into the goings on in our classroom – an eWindow 😉 The hook I decided to use, to entice parents to comment, was a  “My Mum is Smarter than Your Dad” post.  While the kids were over the moon at being able to prove they were quicker than me, it has taken 6 weeks for a parent to post comment.  While I find this disappointing, I am more puzzled about the fact that the parent are on the blog, they have told me while picking up their kids, and they are quite chuffed about beating my score but they still will not add a comment!  Why????

It is really frustrating. Students are constantly telling me how much they and their families enjoy our blog.  One student even brought in their father’s printed out certificate from the Basic Facts Challenge, yet still no comment.  I know it is being used and valued by our class families, they tell me every day, but why won’t they comment!!!!  It’s sad but I chase comments like the paparazzi chase Brittany.

Anyway, it is time to get over myself and talk about the good bits!

Motivation to write and interact with an audience outside of the classroom has been at an all time high since we went live.  Comment boxes are just the right size for Year 3 and 4 (Grade 2 and 3) students. Five super juicy, interesting sentences are always better than two pages of waffle.  We have published two comments this term – one was about their favourite part of The Witches, By Roald Dahl and the second was a descriptive paragraph about a piece of art.

Time to show off a clever idea!  I was playing around with Flickr and embedding slideshows.  I had originally just intended to use the slideshow to display the students art. However, when I had embedded it realised that I had forgotten to label them, DOH.  Now wait for it … here comes the clever idea! I decided to turn it into a guessing game.  The students had to describe their art, a loopy lizard, in a juicy and interesting way so that their parents could guess which one was theirs.  Eureka!  The kids loved it, and their writing was fantastic (some of it was a bit over ripe, but who am I to fence in an artist!). Why not hot have a go yourself, some of them are quite funny in an other written kind of way “It’s eyes are like a crazy cat’s claws closing in the dark stormy night.”

Apart from the comment deprivation from the parents, comments from teachers and other classes are growing in momentum.  Early on in the life of The Wocket Spot, I decided to add a Visitor’s Book.  While perusing through other class blogs, I noticed that there was never a place where I could add a general “Hello” comment to the blog.  The Visitor’s Book was my solution to this little problem. Now our visitors have a place to say hello, and add a face to those anonymous spots on the Clustr Map.  This page is now the most popular page, with the students often checking who was the latest to visit our little blog.  It is here that I must say thank you to my Tweeps (friends) on Twitter! I have tweeted requests for other teachers to visit our site and now have several very interesting people in exotic places around the world visiting the kids.  Thank you all! They really do love it!

As well as adults we now have lots of other classes link to our Friends Blogroll.  I think that this is the most powerful part of blogging – making connections with other kids and their learning.  Here is a list of our friends in case you would like to visit them too (go on … you will make their day, especially if you live in an interesting place!)

While I am still pondering the parent conundrom, I believe that I have finally hit the nail on the head when it comes to a Class Blog that appeals to parents, students and teachers alike.  It provides parents with an eWindow into our classroom and allows the kids to continue interacting with their learning.  I will keep working on those parents (maybe I need to hire a PR guy) to add comments to our blog, however I won’t be too fussy.  Verbal comments are just as good (I can’t share them and show off that’s all) and after all I am doing it for the kids …