Sunday, 23 October 2016

Changes in my Practice

32 weeks ago I began my Mindlab journey, it was something I had seen several friends of mine complete, and I had been eager to join their ranks. To be honest, I saw it as an opportunity to get a formalised qualification to 'back up' all of the informal learning and experimenting I had been doing with regards to e-Learning since I first became a teacher back in 1993 and thought myself very innovative for running a Literacy unit based on the game "Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?" (Which to be fair, was a pretty cutting edge thing to be doing back then). I wasn't completely sure just how much value I'd get from my participation in the course, even my DP said, "Are you sure you won't be bored?". To be honest, no, I wasn't sure, but if nothing else, the promise of playing with robots (if I wasn't a teacher I think I'd love to be a robotics engineer) at some stage in the near future was a pretty big carrot.

PTC 4 " Fully registered teachers demonstrate commitment to ongoing professional learning and development of personal professional practice." 

Well, I'm pleased to say I most certainly was not bored. Yes, there were some things I already knew about, or had been using for a while, but there were also many, many other things that were just as new to me as they were to everyone else. In the case of the former, this gave me an opportunity to help others grow their expertise - good practise for me in developing both my leadership and teaching skills as I had to help through asking the right questions instead of taking over and telling or just doing. When it came to the latter, however, then I have to say one of the biggest aspects was the theoretical and pedagogical knowledge that underpins effective teaching and leadership. Prior to Mindlab, I knew nothing about concepts such as Lean and Agile, beyond thinking maybe they were something related to a diet and exercise programme. These were just two of the many, many new ideas I was exposed to. To be fair, not all appealed, and there are some I need to continue to mull over, but my growth in both knowledge and professional practice has been immense.

PTC 1 "Fully registered teachers establish and maintain effective professional relationships focused on the learning and well-being of all ākonga."

My learners have benefitted from my Mindlab journey as well, at the simplest level they loved to see that Mrs McGhie also had homework, and it took a long time for one wee cherub to get his head around the fact that, "No, teachers don't actually know EVERYTHING, we are still learning and growing everyday, just like you." They have benefitted in other ways as well, whether it has been through me taking back some of the practical activities we did in class and letting them have an opportunity to explore "Mrs McGhie what did you learn this week?!"  - augmented reality being a particular hit - right down to the assignments, which through their very nature challenged me to change my practice and try new things within my classroom programme, and then ask the children for their thoughts on the impact of these changes. I think this reflects my commitment to and development of PTC 1 as I certainly used my new learning to engage with and collaborate with the learners in my class.

In terms of my future professional learning, I know that one of these days I want to complete my Masters, but that will be a dream that has to wait for a while, as I have some other things I need to conquer first. However, I know that I will certainly get there one day, and Mindlab has been an important step in achieving my goal.


Ministry of Education (nd). Practising teacher Criteria and e-learning . Retrieved from

My Interdisciplinary Connection Map

A Current Connection

When looking at the map above, which shows my interdisciplinary connections as they relate to my roles of classroom teacher and learning leader, it is quite eye-opening to note the number of connections there are, and those are just the ones I thought of as I am sure there are many others.

As a school, we are working with Mark Treadwell (one of my identified interdisciplinary connections) to develop and implement a competencies based curriculum, where we start with Mark's work as a base, but mould and shape it to fit the needs of our particular school community. Due to the nature of it's design, there is a lot of potential for we as educators to situate these competencies within an interdisciplinary outline. Barton and Smith (2007) talk about the notion of children having the opportunity to learn something “worth knowing”. They discuss the idea of an interdisciplinary outline, one that “...recognizes that effective planning is...a well-crafted set of resources and activities that can adapt to the emerging needs and interests of students.” One of the advantages of the approach to curriculum that we are taking is our ability to take the teachable moment, or run with what interests the particular students in our class at the time.

As the competencies, and their sub-set of concepts, are cross-disciplinary in nature, this provides us with the scope to look for opportunities to present a concept within an interdisciplinary context.  According to Mathison & Freeman (1997) “ interdisciplinary approach always consciously combines two or more disciplines and keeps them distinct and in focus. It has clear objectives that include both critical-thinking skills and in-depth content, and is typically teacher directed but may welcome student input.”

In their presentation entitled “The Logic of Interdisciplinary Studies”, Mathison & Freeman (1997) discuss some of the concerns that need consideration when considering an approach such as this. They talk about the risk of it being little bits of lots of topics, without any real deep or unifying structure - and go on to discuss the importance of ensuring that important educational goals are met through the use of this form of curriculum design and delivery. This is worthy of consideration, especially when considered in relation to the competency based curriculum we are implementing. With each of the competencies being separated into between 15 - 19 interrelated concepts, and the expectation being that each concept should only need between 20 minutes and 2 hours to develop understanding, I often worry that there is a real risk of presenting a series of isolated pockets of ideas (that theoretically are integrative and cover big educational ideas).  What this certainly highlights for me is the importance of ensuring their is still something tying them all together into a logical and cohesive whole.

A Potential Future Connection

Looking at the diagram, there are a number of potential connections that could be well worth exploring, one that I think could be particularly worthwhile, is that of the local high school. One real limitation I have found when it comes to really exploring things that are worth my learners knowing, is the availability of suitable resources to really deeply explore some aspects of the curriculum.  A good example of what I am referring to would be the area of Science. At it's simplest level, this could mean me contacting a Science teacher/HOD at the school and getting their ideas and input into a lesson I am planning to present, or perhaps connecting with teachers at Albany Senior, where they are already exploring interdisciplinary teaching within their own context, and looking for suggestions on combining Science and Literacy, for example, in a meaningful way that will help promote deep learning.

On a more complex level, it could be taking my learners to one of the local high schools to explore a concept with more depth than I can provide at school, or alternatively, maybe it could take the form of students at one of those schools as part of their learning, preparing and presenting something to help my learners to develop their skills and knowledge, that builds the older students' knowledge at the same time.

In order for this to be truly successful, I think it would be very important to ensure that I am working collaboratively with the teachers and or their students, as at the end of the day, I am the one with the best knowledge of my students and their needs, so full collaboration would be the most important consideration.


Barton, K. C., & Smith, L. A. (2000). Themes or motifs? Aiming for coherence through interdisciplinary outlines. The Reading Teacher, 54(1), 54-63.1.

Mathison,S.. & Freeman, M.(1997). The logic of interdisciplinary studies. Presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, 1997.

Using Social Online Networks in Teaching and Professional Development

I have been a long time user of social online networks both for my own professional development and as a means of connecting my learners with others beyond the four walls of our classroom.

Early Years

My earliest forays into the world of social media began as far back as 1998, when I became a member of a US based teachers List Serve, an online forum, which I also was able to receive in digest format through my email.  It was through my membership in this forum that I became aware of different teaching methodologies such as Four Blocks Guided Reading, and my first introduction to Habits of Mind. I also enjoyed the interaction with other like-minded educators, as they fulfilled a need that wasn't being met by my peers within my school community. This aligns with Karen Melhuish's observations when she noted that "...this ability to share and leverage previously invisible or unreachable networks has brought a new dimension to what it means to be a lifelong professional learner." (2013, p181).
I was also able to see the potential advantages for my children and signed up my Y2/3 class (with permission from the boss and their parents) to participate in a Key Pals project with a class in New Jersey. In those days I had one computer in my classroom and it was not linked to the Internet, so I would have the children write their emails in their draft books and then take them all home to type up and send via my own computer. It was a valuable experience, with my Levin based students learning about how they were the same and different from children across the other side of the world.
From there, this morphed into a variety of online projects with other classes over the years including: hosting and sending several travel buddies, involvement in postcard exchanges, moving on into a Monster Exchange, and in more recent years, maintaining class blogs, Quadblogging and Pass the Blog activities, among many, many others.  The biggest benefits to my children have been in having real life opportunities to develop and perfect their Literacy skills - which aligns with findings by McDowell, (2010) whose research identified
"... that there are a number of affordances of ICTs and effective e-Learning environments that may help teachers provide the conditions needed for literacy learning to occur". (p61)
Social media also gave the children an awareness of the lives of others both nationally and internationally, and of course, improved digital citizenship as I was careful to ensure that the children's interactions online were grounded in key ideas of netiquette and digital safety.

The above is a link to one of my ULearn presentations exploring the different ways I've used social media to connect my learners.

Social Media and My Professional Growth

Professionally, it would appear that 2007 would be the next defining year in my social media journey. October 2007 was the year I attended ULearn in Auckland. Ewan McIntosh was the keynote and he kept talking about Twitter and Bloggers Cafe.  Intrigued I set out to find out more about these, and from there my teaching career was transformed! Literally overnight, I set up a Twitter account, set up this blog as a professional reflection blog, followed my first few kiwi tweeps - many of whom are still good friends of mine today, and I was off on my new path as a connected educator.  The biggest thing for me was discovering that there were others like me and that they were in New Zealand as well as overseas. I was always wanting to do things that were out of step with where my school was at in terms of pedagogy and digital literacy, and it was nice to know I wasn't the only maverick out there (or what Danielle Myberg describes as a lone nut).

 My Twitter feed

As a result of my online participation in these forums I have gone on to present several times at ULearn and other conferences, I have taken my online PD into face to face settings such as EduCamps, I have been exposed to new ideas, grown exponentially as a teacher and as an individual, I have met some amazing educators in person and have learnt from them, and most importantly, the children that have been in my classes have benefitted from my online participation.

For me, social media is a vital part of my professional development tool kit and one I would hate to be without.


McDowall, S., & Team, C. E. (2010). Literacy teaching and learning in e-learning contexts. Wellington: Ministry of Education.

Melhuish, K.(2013). Online social networking and its impact on New Zealand educators’ professional learning. Master Thesis. The University of Waikato.