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  1. Catching Up

    January 1, 2016 by Mrs Hurley

    Dear Reader,

    Forgive me, it’s been (approx.) 6 months since my last post. What have I been doing in that time?




    I have been absent from social media (other than my personal Facebook page) for many reasons. Firstly, this past year I’ve felt more stretched for time than normal. My time and energy were spent on my classroom and the individuals that required constant attention in there. I’ve also taken on more responsibilities at my school and have been leading a curriculum team for the first time. The classroom has well and truly drained me this year though. It’s funny how different a new group of kids / combination of personalities are from previous classes.

    Personally, I’ve also spent a fair chunk of time planning my upcoming wedding (Yay!)

    I’m sure I’ve said this before (in fact, probably as a New Years resolution from last year?) but I am aiming to publish more posts this year and take the time to reflect on stuff that is working or not. Classroom blogs themselves are going to be reinvigorated at school this year so I will (hopefully) be reigniting my passion with blogs and all of the wonderful possibilities.

    I hope you have all had a wonderful Christmas, New Years and Summer break. I look forward to learning with you again this year.

  2. DigiCon15 – What I’ve Learnt

    July 29, 2015 by Mrs Hurley

    It’s Monday morning and I’m still coming down from my 2 days at Digi Con 2015.

    Digi Con is an annual conference, hosted by the DLTV. The conference spans 2 days but you can choose either/or/both to attend. There is a mixture of workshops to attend, keynote speakers and the popular Spark Talks, a 12 minute TED style talk. More information on the sessions that were run this year is here.

    I attended a couple of workshops, all of the keynotes and a few Spark Talks. One of the good things about Digi Con is that, even though you’ve signed up for workshops, you can be in charge of your own learning and go wherever you want to.

    I’ve decided to reflect on my experiences in a different way, purely because I don’t want to bore everyone with a recount but also because I believe that the most valuable lessons I learnt over my 2 days were from my PLN (Professional Learning Network).

    So, without much further ado, I present…

    Lessons I learnt from my PLN at Digi Con 2015

    From Rick Kayler-Thomson (@rakt) I learnt that being a regular teacher is OK. We can’t do everything but that doesn’t stop us from trying! It’s OK to fail sometimes.

    From Adam Lavars (@AdamLavars) and Lee Burns (leeburns82) I learnt that the connections that you make are important. If you put in the effort (especially to group assignments!) what you get back is far better.

    From Hamish Curry (@hamishcurry) I’ve learnt (amongst many other banana related things) that feeling shit is OK – it’s part of the creative process.

    From Anthony Speranza (@anthsperanza) I learnt to never stop trying to disrupt the education system. Don’t be the ostrich with your head in the sand – be the meerkat!

    From Narissa Leung (@rissL) I learnt the importance of taking risks. I also learnt that there are some things that you can’t change but there’s no point in worrying about them – change the things that you can.

    From Michael Ha (@Nerdyphyseder) I learnt what it means to be a lifelong learner. The Sydney-sider who took many risks!

     The main take aways from DigiCon were nothing to do with technologies. The messages that I took away were;

    • Take Risks
    • Develop Curiosity and Creativity
    • Make It Happen

    There are many others in my PLN that I have learnt from – the best part about it is that I continue to learn from these wonderful people all the time. So the last thing that I will encourage you to do is to get connected, expand your PLN and learn from them every day.

    Big thanks and congratulations to Mel Cashen (@melcashen), Bec Spink (@BecSpink) and the rest of the wonderful DLTV Team for a wonderful conference.

    To the rest of my PLN whom I haven’t mentioned by name here, that certainly doesn’t mean that I haven’t learnt from you! My brain hurts thinking of everything at the moment so I need a rest.

    Stay tuned for more posts on DigiCon…

  3. Collaborative Problem Solving

    August 4, 2014 by Mrs Hurley

    The following is an 800 word essay that I wrote for the MOOC “Assessment and Teaching 21st Century Skills” run by the University of Melbourne through Coursera.

    I found this assignment to be difficult at first but easier as I wrote more. The peer assessment was valuable but I’m not sure how valuable my feedback would’ve been to others. I could tell that other students lacked understanding of the assignment itself and collaborative problem solving skills, based on the three other assignments that I peer assessed.

    “After Sugata Mitra conducted his famous “Hole in the Wall” experiment in a New Delhi slum, he studied for 13 years on the nature of self-organised learning. At the 2013 TED Conference, Sugata invited educators of all kinds to create their own self-organised learning environments (SOLEs). I decided to take this approach in my classroom as a way for students to discover how continents were formed. Large, open, difficult and interesting questions often make the best “big” questions for SOLE inquiries. Instead of posing a “big” question to my students, I made a statement that they had to find evidence to either prove or disprove – “Continents were formed by one man digging many holes and filling them with water, thus separating each continent.” SOLE inquiries employ the basic parameters that students can choose their own groups of approximately four and they can change groups at any time. Students can talk with other groups and see what each group is doing and participants must have the opportunity to share their learning at the end. These were the only instructions given to the students, thus making the task very ambiguous. Each group had access to one computer and one handheld tablet, as well as note taking tools. The SOLE inquiry required collaboration between students because each student was able to take on a different role and bring different resources to the task, all of which are required to solve the problem. Each student brought a different perspective to the task, the task required negotiation skills and agreement on a plan to tackle the problem. The collaborative problem solving SOLE task presented to my students required both social skills and cognitive skills. Students chose to stay in their original groups, despite constant reminders that they were allowed to change. In the beginning, students were sharing information and resources with other groups and started to focus more on their own presentations in the end. One of the major foci for students was using collaborative tools, such as Google Apps, to assist with the collaborative nature of the task. Students exchanged information and discussed vocabulary that they wouldn’t have had the chance to discovery without the SOLE investigation – or else, they would have had this knowledge imparted to them instead of discovering it for themselves and sharing with each other. Such diversity and demonstration of collaborative skills was wonderful to witness.
    Educators play an important role in both teaching students how to think, and giving them room to feed their curiosity. My role as the classroom teacher in the SOLE investigation is purely as a facilitator. The most effective educators are great witnesses, supporters, and structure-providers, but not answer-suppliers. In this SOLE investigation, due to the diverse ability levels and social groupings, it was inevitable that each group would demonstrate differing skill levels in collaborative problem solving. In one small group was a girl who struggles with the concept of student-centred learning and has to be encouraged to discover answers for herself. As I watched her work with her partner, I noticed the low level collaborative problem solving skills she was displaying. Socially, this girl has difficulties anyway and collaboratively solving problems proved no different. She reluctantly participated in the task, contributing very little herself and expecting her partner to complete the task for her. She could not seem to focus due to the lack of structure and or scaffolding given by the teacher before undertaking the task. When sharing her learning with the class, she tended to let her partner divulge all information and made small contributions but did not take into consideration what her partner had already mentioned. This particular girl found it difficult to understand the task and therefore could not resolve differences with her partner to achieve a common goal. Her problem analysis was almost non-existent and she was unable to respond to such an ambiguous situation. Small facts were recorded instead of a wider understanding of the information and how it related to our inquiry focus. With prompting, she was able to undertake the task but did not have the foresight to see the end result or consequences of her inaction. On the other hand, this particular girl’s partner was displaying high level collaborative problem solving skills. He constantly attempted to engage her in order to solve the problem collaboratively. He listened to her contributions and was able to tailor his own contributions and ideas for solutions based on his partner’s understandings. He persevered in the SOLE investigation and prompted input from his partner. Throughout the task, he was able to evaluate his own and his partner’s performance. He attempted to assist his partner by dividing the investigation into smaller tasks and he identified patterns between multiple pieces of information and their sources.”

    My feedback for the assignment:

    Suggest any elaboration of the example that could have made it more clearly an example of a collaborative problem solving:
    peer 1 → This task clearly identified that an individual could change groups at any time. In a collaborative problem solving exercise, if it is a requirement that the problem can’t be solved without the input of different people/resources, having members move in and out of the group (even if in this example the teacher noted that they didn’t despite being urged to) would seem to defeat the purpose. What happens to the group if a high functioning individual chooses to leave? If the problem could be solved without the involvement of all members, is this CPS? In this example, if the boy who demonstrated high CPS skills left, most of the group’s ability to solve the problem would go too.
    peer 2 → The text indicates the truism that behaviour cannot change overnight. The two collaborators represent extreme skills in CPS according to their behavioural responses to the situation. Perhaps for the sake of illustration, I would want an instance when the girl with low-level CPS rises above the level she’s at and encourage and affirm her partner by getting more substance into their joint solution to the problem. We are allowed, anyway, to fictionalize a bit.
    peer 3 → A fantactic description of a collaborative problem solving at school. A good example to follow. One suggestion. How about to think of some subtasks to motivate students “not to stay in their original groups”?
    7. Say what you liked best about this example as an instance of collaborative problem solving.
    peer 1 → This example was clearly structured and identified a problem for which there were many possible answers. The process allowed students to discover knowledge for themselves, and to share this with other members of the group. It also identified that not all participants in CPS are ready to be able to contribute at an effective level, and may require other scaffolding to get them to the point of readiness.
    peer 2 → The problem and the CPS skills and the corresponding levels demonstrated by the collaborators are clearly described. Thanks.
    peer 3 → This example is so close to my own professional career. I’m a teacher of English in Ukraine. I often engage my students to work like this. Most of all I liked the level of professional competence of the author because such replics and observations “My role as the classroom teacher in the SOLE investigation is purely as a facilitator. The most effective educators are great witnesses, supporters, and structure-providers, but not answer-suppliers.” prove this. The author knows all the tiny aspects of collaborative problem solving,in particular, how to observe, analyze, interpret and develop CPS skills.

    What do you think? What examples of collaborative problem solving can you think of in your own classroom?

  4. Mid-Year Resolutions

    July 3, 2014 by Mrs Hurley

    I’ve been doing a lot of reading over these school holidays that is really making me start to think about how I run my classroom. I’m starting to see and rebel against this traditional method of teaching and learning so widely accepted by schools. These “non-negotiable codes of conduct” which dictate what our classroom should look like and how the curriculum should be delivered. Every piece of reading that I’ve completed (or am in the process of completing) goes against what these archaic codes tell us.

    I’ll be the first to admit, I am very easily swayed when it comes to new ideas and opinions. There are some ideas which I will just jump on and run with and not stop to think about alternative opinions or different ways of doing it.

    Sometimes, this head first approach really works in my classroom. However, as with anything, sometimes it doesn’t or I haven’t thought it out enough to make it work.

    I am not the most articulate person in real life. I find writing things down gives me a better perspective and makes me sound like I know what I’m talking about. For example, if another teacher was to ask me why I blog with my class, I would give a short-handed answer that really doesn’t convey my passion or extraordinary benefits that I’ve witnessed while blogging with my students. I bumble through answers and sound quite unintelligent and I’ll be the first to admit that.

    In a conversation with a member of my PLN, I asked him how long he had been teaching for as he really seems to have a handle on things. I had mistakenly assumed he was the same age as me and had the same amount of teaching experience but he was always so knowledgeable about everything in education. (Seriously, if you haven’t added @mrkrndvs to your Twitter PLN, do so now!)

    Which brings up another point – I love how age is never a barrier to new learning and never an excuse to improve your classroom. If you have 1 year, 10 years or 35 years teaching experience, you should always be striving to improve yourself as a learner and your practice.

    I asked my PLN member, am I too ambitious for someone with my amount of teaching experience? His self-reflective reply sums everything up perfectly; “I was never ambitious enough. Always thought that it was someone else’s job. Until I realised it was mine for the taking”

    And so, once again, I am feeling inspired. I am going to spend next week working out a plan to totally and radically change my classroom and change my practice to improve learning for my students. My students don’t need set reading groups with one text for all of them to respond to (Not that I’ve actually followed this code of conduct for awhile… Oops!)

    They need voice, they need choice and they need to be able to collaboratively solve problems!

  5. Education Bucket List

    June 29, 2014 by Mrs Hurley

    Inspired by Alex Semmens (@AlexSemm) and the #EduBucketList, I’ve decided to create my own bucket list for “education stuff I want to do before I retire” So, here is a list of goals that I want to achieve before I retire. I have no doubt I will change my mind on a couple of these goals by the end of the year or next year!

    • Attend ISTE Conference – International Society for Technology in Education. These conferences are held annually in the USA and I’m always jealous of those who have attended. I follow the Twitter hashtag (#ISTE2014 or #ISTE14) which helps alleviate my envy a little because it feels like I’m there.  This is the conference that has inspired both mine and Alex Semmens’ #EduBucketList
    • Attend a Google Apps for Education Summit – I came oh-so-close to attending a Summit this year. I actually attended a Boot Camp for Google Apps with the idea of taking my exams and hopefully becoming accepted as a Google Trainer. Attending a Summit (from what I’ve heard) is an amazing experience and the exposure to the possibilities of using GAfE in schools is incomparable to anything that can be found on the internet.
    • Complete GAFE exams and become a Google Educator. Create video, get accepted as Google Trainer!
    • Attend a DLTV conference (formerly ICTEV) either as an attendee or a presenter…
    • Become a team leader
    • Become an eLearning leader and coach staff in my school (either still working in the classroom or just part-time)
    • Make my name known in Education circles
    • Present at a conference
    • Complete my Masters in Education
    • Continue blogging with students
    • Keep learning and keep changing my practice to best suit my students

    I think because I am still an Early Careers Teacher, I should have much, much more on my list!

    I guess I can’t really add any other conference opportunities or anything because I’m not entirely sure what is still out there!

    Do you have any other “must do” suggestions for me? Tell me a little about them!

  6. C is for Challenging

    April 27, 2014 by Mrs Hurley

    This blog post is part of a series of posts following an A-Z theme, as adapted from the A to Z April Challenge.

     C is for Challenging

    Challenging students who constantly challenge you!

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want this to be a long, winded complaint.

    Having dealt with a variety of challenging students (and I’m sure others have had it much worse), I am curious to know about strategies that others have used that work with these students.

    I have had challenging behaviour students – those who want to argue every instruction, direction, suggestion, consequence and every piece of advice. (I did teach 11-12 year olds for a long time!)

    I have had academically challenging students – those who are so far behind in their learning that they’ve already given up. Or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, those who are so far ahead that catering for their needs within activities that the rest of the students are doing is impossible. (In the eyes of parents, anyway. More on this when we reach letter ‘G’) See my post A is for Advanced.

    I currently teach a student who refuses to do anything in the classroom, cannot sit himself down, cannot work independently, cannot begin work on his own. He has fallen so far behind and he can see this and constantly compares himself to the other students. His confidence is so low that he won’t even attempt anything for fear of failure. He cannot deal with looking “stupid” or different to the other students.

    I know that challenging students are what make a school and really, they are the reason why we teach – to be able to reach these students, to make a difference in their lives.

    But are we making a difference? Are we reaching these students?

    Have you experienced behaviour or academically challenging students? Do you have a separate program for them in your classroom? How do you make it ‘work’ for them?

  7. B is for Blogging

    April 14, 2014 by Mrs Hurley

    This blog post is part of a series of posts following an A-Z theme, as adapted from the A to Z April Challenge.

    B is for Blogging


    I have always wanted to learn how to utilise a class blog. When the opportunity arose to attend “Technify Your Teaching in 2013” as run by the team behind Tech Tools for Teachers, I jumped at it! Myself and my teaching partner attended both sessions run by Kathleen Morris and Kelly Jordan. They showed us their class blog and it was completely inspiring. I knew I had to begin immediately!

    I could sit here and re-type my journey since starting a class blog and my own personal blog but I think I covered it pretty well in this post.

    Instead, after blogging for a year and a bit with my class, I think I am ready to analyse the benefits of blogging in the classroom, as based on my own experiences.

    While there are many, many possibilities and benefits of blogging with a class, I have noticed improvements in;

    • Literacy
    • ICT Skills
    • Classroom Community
    • Home/School Partnerships
    • Internet Safety
    • Global Connections and knowledge

    Let me explain how and why.

    In teaching how to post good quality comments and demanding well written pieces for guest posts, these high expectations mean that students are determined to improve their literacy skills. Somehow, knowing that what they are writing will be available on the internet for everyone to see, students acknowledge that poorly punctuated and written comments are not acceptable. Nor should they be – in anything they do! I have seen dramatic improvement in writing – better use of punctuation and expanded vocabulary – and also in reading skills because there is a purpose for students.

    ICT Skills:
    Self explanatory, really.

    Classroom Community:
    Most mornings, we look at our class blog in our community circle. I can see the excitement on my students’ faces when they notice our ‘global visitors’ counter (Clustrmap widget) has increased. The students feel more connected as a class, and you can certainly tell by the amount of their own personal time that they spend on our blog leaving comments!

    Home/School Partnerships:
    Not only do the parents love having a window into the happenings of my classroom but so do siblings of my students! I know parents are extremely grateful to have the opportunity to see what we’re doing in class and participate in online conversations with us.

    Internet Safety:
    I love having the opportunity to teach my students how to be safe on the internet and create a positive digital footprint in an authentic setting!

    Global Connections:
    I have never seen my students so motivated as when they are collaborating with other classes on projects. We have worked with classes in New Zealand, Japan, Malaysia and Australia on a variety of projects. We have used Skype to help us form connections. We even had the chance to organise a day where my students met their blogging buddies in person! Not to mention the opportunities for my students to develop their knowledge of other places in the world. This is probably my favourite reason for blogging – flattening those classroom walls!

    Do you blog with your class? Why? Please leave your address in the comment section below!

  8. A is for Advanced

    April 9, 2014 by Mrs Hurley

    I am not completing the AtoZ April Challenge as I was too late to join. I hadn’t even heard of the Challenge until a day or two ago. But I like the idea of posting every day (except Sundays) with an alphabet theme. You can read more about it here.

    This blog post is part of a series of posts following an A-Z theme, as adapted from the A to Z April Challenge.

    A is for Advanced

    More specifically, advanced students.

    I have always had such a large spread of abilities in my classes. I know at my school, classes are formed based on a number of requirements; friendships, parent requests, gender and general capabilities. We try to spread across the classes as much as possible.

    Somehow, though, I always end up getting a class where a majority of the students require intervention in literacy, maths or both! Very rarely do I get to teach students who are quite advanced. I’m talking a year or more ahead of their peers in any area. Once, I taught a boy who had literacy intervention but could complete complex maths equations in his head in a matter of seconds. He was a brilliant kid who just blossomed in the 2 years that I taught him.

    But I digress.

    This year, I have a Year 3 student who is working at Year 4-5 level for both Maths and English. He is very similar to the Maths Whiz boy I once taught. So the challenge is, how do I cater appropriately for this child in my classroom? (Where I also have a students working at Year 1 level). I know this is the struggle that teachers have daily because differentiation is essential.

    I also have a Year 4 boy who, according to his December report, is working a year or two ahead in most areas as well. That being said, I can’t say I’ve seen enough to actually believe his previous teacher’s judgement. That sounds awful doesn’t it?

    I know I can pair these two boys up together to complete tasks, but I find that there is always more emphasis on “at-risk” students and that we, as teachers, have to be doing everything in our power to get these “at-risk” students up to scratch. Quite often, these advanced students get ignored as they are not the priority.

    I am planning on creating a rubric type thing for these boys for those times where I feel they are way above what is being covered by their Maths/Reading group so that they can go and complete an investigation or other task.

    Does anyone already do this in their class? Any resources or tips you can share to get me started?

  9. Feedback vs. Correcting

    April 8, 2014 by Mrs Hurley

    Well, it’s been a long time in between posts, hasn’t it? Good to see that I stuck to my goal of posting often! (And also my goal about posting goals for 2014!)

    A tweet caught my eye this morning from Judy McKenzie (@judykmck) in relation to publishing student’s work online. She stated that when uploading work onto their class wiki, she doesn’t correct as it is a record of progress.

    I went along this path for awhile. Lately, I’ve been a little swamped and haven’t looked at student’s books in great detail. I recently requested that they take home their writing books and complete typing up their writing piece onto a Google Doc (which we had already begun at school). A parent (who also happens to be a teacher at my school) unfortunately had an argument with her child because she wouldn’t let my student type up her writing without it being seen by me (as she noticed many spelling mistakes in the writing piece).

    My plan was to leave comments (or highlighting) on the Google Doc notifying students of spelling errors and adding possible improvements.

    When it comes to spelling in particular, I have always been a big believer of notifying students of their errors but not correcting them myself. How will the students learn to spell when they are always told? I have introduced a “Have a Go” booklet this year for Spelling, where students attempt a word 3 times (with different spelling choices) before I will look at their booklets and assist them with the correct choice.

    While I have been trying to be better with it this year, my downfall has always been writing down feedback and correcting work. I vowed to be better this year with the implementation of Google Apps but my students are not yet skilled enough to be solely using Google Apps without paper alternatives.

    A non-negotiable at my school is the use of an exercise book for drafting writing. Having attended a professional development day last year on Holistic Writing, I can see the benefits of keeping all writing together in one book as it is “a record of progress”. I feel trained enough in the Holistic Writing program to able to give effective feedback at the conclusion of the writing piece.

    I do not, however, feel confident enough in writing feedback for other areas. Nor do I feel that students pay enough attention when books are returned with future directions scribbled in the corner. Other than saying “Next time, blah blah blah” I’m not sure how effective my written feedback is and how many of my students pay attention to it and use it to further their learning.

    Which is now making me start to think about the value of written book activities. Although I try to steer away from worksheets, there are factors which make this impossible at times. But that’s a whole different blog post!

    Now I feel I’ve rambled on and completely missed the point that I was trying to make. When thinking about this post, I was mainly thinking:

    How important is correcting work for students? How important is written feedback on every single task?

    How do you make your written feedback effective? Are there other methods of feedback that you use which are sustainable and effective in your classroom? Please share!

  10. Friday Afternoon

    February 9, 2014 by Mrs Hurley

    As my first full week back in the classroom drew to a close last week, I was enjoying my Thursday morning APLT (Applied Planning & Leadership Time), ironing out the last couple of lesson for the week when it suddenly dawned on me.

    Friday afternoon. The kids will be in the classroom. I’ll have to plan something for them!

    This might sound a little crazy to you, but I’ve never had to plan for a Friday afternoon in the classroom before. For the past 3 years, every Friday afternoon has been 5/6 Sport, which means I’ve had to supervise and coach sport teams but I get to run around with the kids and really wear them out.

    This year, I have younger students (Grade 3/4) and am still learning about how they learn best and hat they’re capable of.

    I got away with it as we had a little bit of “finishing off time” (which I hate) and then we did some Zumba and Just Dance in our classroom. (It was also boiling hot outside so we couldn’t really venture out there). We then had reflection time in our closing circle.

    So, PLN, I’m asking for ideas & suggestions.

    What would you do on Friday afternoons with 8-10 year olds??

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