Friday, 27 November 2015

Using OneNote in the Classroom

My inquiry project for school this year was about using OneNote in the classroom. This is a short summary of what I did and how it worked out. My focus question was:

Does OneNote help students with organisation, note taking and collaboration?
I noticed that students often lose paper, have left notes at home or say they cannot find or access documents. For the School of Apps this year I set up a OneNote classroom notebook and wanted to see if this was a better way for students to be organised and also collaborate together.
I used this as the sole resource document for the class and was trying to have no paper resources where possible. All their resources and their written work was done within the notebook.
I also trialed this in the School of Music, although I was only in there part time.
See my blog on Schools within Schools for how these schools are set up.

My Findings:
I kept a track on how students used the OneNote and what they were using it for as well as putting in resources for them to use.
I surveyed the students from both classes to get feedback on how they found it and what worked well for them over the year. I spoke with students about if they felt it was useful and if they thought it helped with collaboration.

School of Apps:
We used OneNote exclusively as our resource base and also for all collaborative work, and for the students work. From the beginning of the year students were told all their work would be in that one place and that they would use this exclusively. This was for the full 20 hours a week that they were in class.
I found it worked really well in this class. Students were focussed and positive about it and some are now using it for their own personal notes and organisation.


  •              It gave me a central area to store resources for students. This included video, links, audio – anything I wanted to put there.
  •              They had a space to organise work and also to collaborate with each other.
  •              I was able to see work they had done at any time and it wouldn’t get lost.
  •              I could see what they were doing in English and Business Studies as well – giving an overview of all their subjects, not just technology.
  •              Students enjoyed seeing what others were thinking about and what resources they had found and were sharing. They all felt it helped them work productively together.
  •              They said it was easy to keep organised titled pages and easy to find. All of them felt it made a difference in the organisation of their schoolwork.

  •              Sometimes they felt it was frustrating to navigate, but that it got easier as the year went on.
  •              One student felt it needed a better offline version.

School of Music Yr 12 and Yr 13:
My main use for OneNote in Music was for supplying students with links and resources for music theory. Everything I gave them to do was linked into OneNote and all the flash cards and theory sheets were there as well. Answer sheets were loaded on to save on paper and to give them 24hr access.
 I found that OneNote was great in some aspects but not in others within these classes. Some students used it and others didn’t bother. Many just used GoogleDocs and were not motivated to check the theory notes online. Those that used Google Docs said they found it difficult to navigate, while those that just used OneNote said they found it easy and they enjoyed using it. Because I wasn’t using it as frequently with them, and other staff weren’t using it either, I think that they weren’t as used to it as my Apps class were.


  •             It gave me a central area to store resources for students. This included video, links, audio – anything I wanted to put there.
  •             They had a space to organise work and also to collaborate with each other.
  •             I was able to see work they had done at any time and it wouldn’t get lost.
  •             I could see what they were doing in English and History as well – giving an overview of all their subjects, not just Music.

  •       Getting students to write music notation was best done by hand, so resources had to be printed out, although I put most docs online so they could access them if they lost them.
  •       Some of the students used the collaborative area in English but said that students were sometimes making silly comments. This would need to be monitored by staff to enable this to work well.
  •       A couple of students said they lost work which I found interesting as I haven’t had that happen to me, or to students in the Apps class. I’m not sure that students had a full working knowledge of the application.  
  •       I don’t think it will fully work unless other staff use it for all their notes and assignments. If the School of Music is going to go this way, then all staff have to be on board.

Where to from here?
The students who used it frequently and embraced it got a lot from it. It definitely worked in the School of Apps and I will be using the same format for 2016. I will continue to use these with any class I teach and look forward to using it in a different Music class next year to see if it works for all areas of Music, not just theory. I want to use it for reflection of their performances and compositions and also look at other online ways of storing data for students.
I am absolutely certain it helped the Apps students with organisation, note taking and collaboration and believe it could also work in the Music class if more staff were on board.

Using Office365 and OneNote in particular is something I believe we should be using in all classes and with all teachers. Using the student’s school email, using OneDrive to store work, using OneNote for classes and getting students to use all the amazing apps (Video, Sway etc) in Office365 would be great. I am starting this process next week by providing our department with PD in using OneNote so they can all get on board for next year. I am also planning to run PD sessions each week next year to support staff and students.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Most likely to succeed

Tonight was the Christchurch screening of  an amazing documentary about the purpose of school. You can read a bit about the background to this in this article about Ted Dintersmith and his documentary "Most Likely to Succeed". I have been lucky enough to watch this movie today and this is my notes and reflection on it.
"If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow." ~John Dewey
This quote really sums up the movie for me. Change is needed and certainly this was brought home tonight.
It started with talking about how Deep Blue beat Kasparov in chess in 1997 and started the change in what computers can do and what humans can do. There was a very interesting interview with Jeopardy contestant Ken Jennings who came up against the Jeopardy Supercomputer and lost. He talked about how his job of knowing things was one of the first jobs to become obsolete.  A good question was
"What are people going to do when muscle power is not needed anymore?"
The next section was about the history of education and they talked about how education was put into age, ability and subject groups back in 1843. This was related to the Industrial Revolution and then led to the Committee of Ten which was a group of educators who designed the American curriculum back in 1892. This was 120 years ago and very little has changed since. We need to think about what skills we need now - not 120 years ago.

High Tech High is the High School that is the main feature of this documentary. It is a Charter School in San Diego and has a project based curriculum where students are responsible for their learning. There are no bells, classes are not in subjects, teachers are on one year contracts and they can teach what they want - they teach to their passions. The students start with a Socratic Seminar and they have to organise the seating themselves. They struggle with this at first and I love the comment from the staff member:
 "I can micromanage you through this or you can do it on your own"
All projects are planned around a public exhibition at the end, so all students know what they are aiming for. Four words used for the process are observation, reflection, documentation and exhibition. They are looking to  grow students who are resourceful, resilient and have a learning growth mindset. They need to produce creative ideas and try things. The students fail and learn from failures.

One of the strong themes was that education is about retention of skills, not just knowledge. The soft skills were mentioned often and confidence, perseverance and a good work ethic were listed as important skills. One question that came up around these soft skills was:
 "How can you go through High School and never  have been asked to make a decision?"
Discussion was had about the measure of success. If the measure is about passing the SAT then they ask why we teach subjects such as Art and Inquiry. If we are just teaching to tests then we should drill students. When a group of students were asked if they would rather learn knowledge or ace tests, they asked to ace the tests so they could get to College. I understand this as that is the mindset they have. We need to change that mindset and get them and parents to realise that knowledge is worth more. An interesting study was done where a group of students were tested on the same test 3 months after they sat their SAT and the average grade went from a B+ to an F! Not one student actually had a command of the test. They take it in just to memorise it but it doesn't stay. This test preparation is purely a factual recall test and tells employers nothing about work ethics, resilience, learning and working with others. A Google representative talked about the skills they look for, not necessarily taking the smartest people. They want highly creative, curious empathetic people who can give and take feedback.

The students took a lot of pride in their presentations at the end of the project cycle. They had satisfaction in making something that wasn't there before. This means they felt that they mattered and that they added value to things. One student didn't finish in time but learnt from his mistakes and still managed to eventually finish - in the summer break!

The end talked about educating our students for jobs that haven't been invented yet. About giving teachers greater autonomy and giving students a sense of purpose. I loved the analogy that teaching was more like gardening than engineering. We need to nurture and grow the students and if they find something that energises them, we can't keep them down.

After the movie we had some time to reflect and I felt good about what we had been doing in the School of Music and the School of Apps (see earlier blog). My only thoughts at this time were about how we could extend this school wide and how this also transfers into University.

The discussion afterwards from a group of panellists was also inspiring. John Ascroft, Coralanne Child, Kaila Colbin, Dick Edmundson, Janelle Riki-Waaka and Riki Welsh gave some good answers to questions and certainly gave us more to think about. Some of the main points I got from this were:

  • 47-81% of jobs are under threat from technology in the next 20 years
  • John Ascroft from Jade said that they were hiring 85-90% on soft skills rather than on capability
  • The more we compartmentalise, the harder it is to get equality
  • Content needs to be relevant to the student's lives - need a sense of belonging
  • We need to teach decision making skills
  • There is a strong relationship between the Socratic seminar and wananga -  the Maori way of working together
  • Creativity is not born from spoon feeding
  • If you were born today you will likely live to 2100. That's like being born in 1915 to 2000
  • Need to shift from the 'power over' to the 'power with' model
  • There is a disconnect between what is happening in society with what is happening in education
  • We need to redefine success with individual programmes
  • Teachers will be facilitators - the word teacher may not be the right one anymore
  • Problem solving skills would increase resilience against mental health issues

Where to?
The Education Review Act is happening - make a submission and tell them the things that are stopping us from doing a great job.
Let students show their learning in whatever way they want as a first step.
For me - it's about taking what I already do to the next step.

In the words of Riki Welsh:
Reshaping Education is scary. Don't get too scared Christchurch.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Schools within schools

Over the last five years that I have been teaching at Hagley College I have been lucky to have been heavily involved in setting up and running two "Schools within Schools". These were both developed to improve student retention, engagement, learning and achievement.

My first project was the School of Music. Hagley was already running fulltime schools of Fashion, Dance, Cuisine, Early Childhood and the Theatre Company so it wasn't a totally new idea, but these were mainly aimed at students who had finished school and were looking for the next step, whereas the School of Music was to be based at Year 12, then hopefully following on to Year 13 the next year if it was successful. The School of Music was intended to be a separate, self-contained community with a unique ethos, organisation and a distinct curriculum with qualifications based around a student’s passion or interest, and grounded in their world.

The course was designed to cover numeracy at NCEA Level 1, if students did not have it already, and literacy in the form of English and History at Level 2. However, it was with a difference, all of these
were to be taught with music as the basis. Mathematics using tasks such as your budget for your CD or tour, or dimensions of drums relative to pitch - all things that were relevant to music students. English and History covered songwriting, protest songs, large musical events and biographies of musicians as well as music research topics. We were lucky enough to have staff at school in those departments who were also keen musicians and were motivated to give this idea a go. A lot of work went into designing these tasks and assessments and the staff have done an amazing job.

The students have 12-16 hours of music each week, as well as 4-8 of Literacy and Numeracy. The music time is split between 4 music staff who all have their own area of expertise. The students get the benefit of a range of teaching and knowledge and feel they are part of a family, even to the extent of me having been called Mum a few times. Students are given instruction on the work required then
work as individuals at their own pace. Students can be working on a range of standards at any one
time and have the flexibility to work in depth on one then return to another at a later date. A general pattern is followed but most students are flexible in the order in which they finish work.The teacher sometimes acts as an advisor, sometimes a facilitator and sometimes we have transmission based learning.
Not often are staff in front of the class as a whole and when we are it is only for a short time to impart information on how to start the next unit of work, or on a specific piece of knowledge we need to get across.

One of the strengths of the course has been the pastoral care and the communication with home. All students are interviewed with their parents before they start the course and parents are kept informed of all events and notices via email. We have been very clear to parents, who are a big part of our community, that taking the School of Music narrows students tremendously. The feedback we have had is that students and their parents feel that if it had not been for the School of Music, the students would have left school, or been very unhappy.

These are students who live only for their music and struggle with anything else. It is amazing how they manage to achieve Literacy and Numeracy, when in some cases, they have been told they are not capable of doing so.

This went on to Level 3 in it's second year and we are, 4 years on, in a good place to enable our students to gain UE, NCEA Level 2 and 3 and a National Certificate in Music over the 2 years they study with us. The majority go on to tertiary study and those that don't are helped into the workforce, generally with a music focus.

My next project was the School of Apps. This started up just this year so is still in it's early stage of development. The idea for this was thought up by Brent Ingram and Andy Gorton when they were at a conference in 2014. There were many seminars and discussions there about needing more creative skills, especially around digital technology. When they came back to school a small group of us then took the idea and worked out how we could combine it with the School within School idea. Andy and I then worked on the content and I am now teaching this course for 14 hours a week (and teaching the other 6 hours in the School of Music).

The School of Apps is aimed at Yr 13 students who are keen on developing apps and have creative ideas. The idea is to study, design and create mobile apps within a business environment. It is based on 5 guiding principles:

  • Creativity
  • Critical Thinking
  • Self-Management
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
The students work on projects both as an individual and in groups using these 5 principles. We use Scrum which is an Agile Project Management framework which enables us to have good teamwork and a structure for projects.The students also do English, through their report writing, and Business Studies, working on marketing their apps.

The outcome is for the students to have a portfolio of skills and designed apps, as well as the opportunity to gain Level 3 NCEA and UE if they wish to. This year, the students have ranged from age 17 to 70ish and not all have wanted NCEA credits.

We have the most amazing work environment in which students feel very comfortable and are keen to be in all day.
As this is the first year, I am still in the learning process and I know I will be changing things for next year to make it even more responsive to student needs. I have been continually reviewing the course and am looking forward to 2016.

I am a strong believer in the Schools within Schools idea. I have seen the change it has made to people's lives. So many students have been re-engaged with learning and are now fully focused and enjoying school. What more could you ask for?

This blog is also posted on the Christchurch Connected Educators site

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Inspiring Videos and Blogs

Over time I collect a large number of links to things that I read or watch and I find myself being overwhelmed by information. There is so much out there that is relevant, interesting and inspiring. I feel that there is never enough time in the day to digest all the information, and where do I store it all? Where can I keep the best bits and how can I tell others about them? Finally, now I have started blogging, I have found the space. I think I will collect the ones I want to go back to, and every month or two I will write a blog so I keep them in one place.

Over the last couple of months I have been copying and pasting urls onto a draft, waiting for the day when I had time to type them up into some sort of order. There is no link at all between these, they are just some awesome blogs or videos that I found useful and wanted to be able to come back to time and time again, rather than just reading once. So this is more for myself, but hopefully it is useful to others as well.

The first is a video on students designing their own School within School. This relates well to what I do at Hagley College (this will be my next post - Schools within Schools)
Students design their own schools

Charles Tsai wrote an awesome blog with an awesome title "From excellent sheep to motivated elephants" which challenges us to think about what we are teaching and how. I love his quote...
"Education today needs to help young people change the the world for the better — for themselves and for others."
From Excellent Sheep to Motivated Elephants

James Paul Gee has made me think about how I can use video games in my teaching. The power of games to change education is huge. Time to look at this more closely.
Video Games, Learning and Literacy

Grant Wiggins wrote about his experience following 2 students for 2 days. He did all the work they did and sat for as long as them. It has inspired me to make sure my students move more and get some physical exercise as well as looking at what my class will seem like from their point of view.
A sobering lesson learned

15 year old Audrey Mullen shared how she and her peers used technology in the class and provided some dos and don'ts for teachers. There are some awesome ideas in here that I will certainly be using in my classes!
A cat is not a dog and other advice

And finally, my latest read that I know I will go back to often, how to fight burnout. It's been a hard year or three for me and I have been trying to feel motivated lately. This article summed it up for me and has given me some great strategies to use. Interestingly enough, I had already started on some of them of my own accord. The hardest will be the work/life balance - there is always something to do for work and I have to learn to stop.
Fighting work burnout as an educator