The Backwards Brain Bicycle … and change

Brain neurons
Brain neurons

I follow a YouTube channel called SmarterEveryDay. This channel contains over 100 videos of the host exploring the world through science (I’ve posted about this before: Smarter everyday). There really are some great videos included that could be useful in the classroom as well as being simply, interesting!

Last week they posted The Backwards Brain Bicycle, in which they have to learn to ride a bike where turning the handlebars to the right turned the wheel to the left and vice-versa. It made for some interesting experiences.

Watch the video here:

As well as being a potentially good resource for the classroom, this video made me think about the change process and how difficult change can be. In regards to anything we try in the classroom, often we have to push through the difficult stage until things work appropriately and try not to slip back into the comfortable what we’ve always done frame of mind. Not to say that what we’ve always done wasn’t good, but sometimes if we want to go beyond that we’ve got to step out of our comfort zone and move into the unknown. The video showed that to learn to ride the backwards bicycle took great time, effort and a rewiring of the pathways in the brain.

Bringing digital technologies into the classroom can be a bit like that. It can be easy to question why we need to use technologies when the students were already learning. But perhaps we can take things a step further using technology. There could be opportunities for further learning and creativity around a concept or topic that only a digital device can offer.

It’s not about thinking that things were already working. It’s about thinking where else can I take my students in their learning? Where else am I willing for them to take themselves?


Image by Fotis Bobolas – CC-BY-SA 2.0 

Stop finding solutions!

How To Escape Problems
I mentioned in an earlier post that I want to question more. This includes in my general day-to-day work. I’ve still got a long way to go with it, however both as a facilitator and virtual mentor I see the need to ask good questions and even answer questions with a question to guide whoever I’m working with to find their own solutions.

I was just thinking about how I seem to be hard-wired to try to find solutions. It’s a bit like what the marriage/relationship books say. When your wife comes to tell you a problem she doesn’t want you to fix it! Except… I think that often when teachers/school leaders are telling me a problem they are wanting me to come up with a solution.

But is that my job? Am I there to solve their problems or perhaps to help them see things in a different light?

While I’m not likely to come out with a, “this is the answer you’ve been looking for!”, I do suggest things that they could try or give examples of other schools or teachers that might help. But perhaps I need to be putting things back on them a little more? Should I be questioning their questions? Or maybe paraphrasing or rephrasing what they have told me so that they can hear a slightly different perspective?

Somewhere I can work on this is at home. My children often come to me and my wife and tell them a problem they have. They often don’t ask for help or sometimes even try to find a solution to their problem. I will often try to guide them to find their own solutions (with varying degrees of success).

I know that sometimes I just need someone to bounce ideas and thoughts off of. Perhaps we should be doing this more. Help guide those we work with, whether they be children, teenagers or adults, to find their own solutions instead of relying on others to always be there to help them out.

What do you do when people come to you with their problems?

Virtual mentoring

This year I have joined the team of Developing Virtual Mentors (DVMs) as a part of Virtual Professional Learning and Development (VPLD). This is a reflection as a part of my learning during this new journey I am on.

Coming into the virtual mentoring role for the first time this year is a little nerve-wracking for me. In some ways I feel like I don’t have enough experience to mentor someone else, yet at the same time I believe my nature, skills and the experiences I have had will help enable me to develop into an effective virtual mentor.

My nature is generally quiet, reserved, introverted. This of course could be an advantage to a virtual mentor as I have often been perceived as a good listener and sounding board. I also (usually) think before I speak and so will take time to digest what has been said before responding. Of course this could also be an issue in a synchronous online space as those silences can be quite deafening sometimes and the desire to fill the void may come to the fore.

I have a lot of experience in working online, running webinars and supporting people online, so my skills in this area could be quite valuable.

The biggest barrier for me may actually be finding a quiet space. With mentees generally available after school hours, my children will be out and about the house during this time and can often make quite a noise! The other barrier of course is my confidence, but that will increase over time (and in fact has already increased during my first virtual mentoring meeting.

While slightly nervous, I’m quite excited by this new role and am looking forward to the learning that will continue along the way.

Soaring high

I’m writing this post on an Air New Zealand A320 heading up to Auckland for a hui (not sure why the aircraft type was important) and thinking some more about reflecting on my practice.

One of the difficulties we can have when considering a class we’ve just taught is that we’re too much in the moment. We can be caught up in the good or bad things that happened and not really see the various places or things we could work on.

Often it is useful to take a step back or get into your helicopter and soar above the class you have had. This might require a break of a few hours or even overnight. It could also require a look at some of the data collected whether it be anecdotal—what you noticed—or actual student achievement information. It might even occasionally mean sitting down with a colleague or other critical friend to talk about the situation and help clarify things in your own mind.

Everyone is different and will find different ways of reflecting work better than others. Or even different ways work better at different times. It’s important though to get out of the zone and soar high above your class to get the full picture of what was going on.

Looking in the mirror

As educators we’re often told that we should reflect on our practice, and to be honest I believe we all naturally do this. There’s no possible way (at least from my experience) that you could teach a class without thinking back on it and what went well and what didn’t. But what happens with that quick “thought” reflection? I know that for myself, I’ve done a lot of thinking about classes or days that I have just had but I couldn’t tell you how often that those reflections led to a change in practice for me. To me that’s the key. Reflection should lead to a change or improvement in practice otherwise what’s the point in doing it except to either feel good or bad about yourself or what has just happened?

I want to make my reflection more meaningful. I often end up writing blog posts as a part of my reflecting, but I haven’t written that many posts that have come about through reflect on a teaching or facilitation experience that I have just had. Most of them have come about through something I have read or viewed and have pondered over for a few days. To make my reflections more meaningful this year I want to reflect regularly on my practice and get it into writing – sometimes on my blog and sometimes just privately. I guess in this way I can also reflect on my reflections. It gives me a chance to go back and see what I’ve done, what I was thinking of doing about it and also how I’ve done since then, giving me another opportunity to reflect on my practice (remembering to also link any reflections to the registered teacher criteria).

It’s time for me to do more reflecting on my practice and ensure it’s not just an in the moment thing but leads to something more.

How do you reflect on your practice? How do you capture your reflections? Do you go back to them and see how you’ve done since?

What will learning look like this year?

I’ve been reading through the report, Supporting future-oriented learning and teaching – a New Zealand perspective by Bolstad et al (2012). I actually thought I’d already read this report but it turns out I’d only read the executive summary and skimmed through it. There is a lot of good stuff in here!

One of the things that stood out to me was in Table 3, entitled What we know about learning (p 15). We are aware that learning has and is changing. It’s no longer just about consuming information/knowledge that is fed to us by an expert in that area. There is much more to it than that (and probably always has been to some degree but our model of school has been like this).

It’s almost cliche now. The industrial model of education is so last century! 

However, it’s so easy to fall back on this tried and true method of imparting knowledge, particularly when things aren’t working well, or time is getting tight (eg. close to exams). 

The summarised list from Table 3 (p 15) is here:

  • Learning is much more than simply adding new concepts (or knowledge) to one’s existing repertoire.
  • Learning involves thinking.
  • Experiences are critical to learning.
  • Learners need to develop in-depth knowledge in some areas if they are to go on learning.
  • To learn, people need to be actively engaged—they need to be doing something, thinking something and/or saying something that requires them to actively process, interpret and adapt an experience to a new context or use.
  • Learners have to want to learn the material.
  • Learning has to be a personalised experience.
  • Learning (usually) needs structure.
  • Learning involves interaction.
  • Learning needs to take place in a wide variety of settings.
  • Intelligence—or intellectual capacity—is not fixed, but is expandable (through the right kinds of experiences).

Being the beginning of a (school) year, I’m finding it a good chance to consider what learning will look like this year for me and for those I’m working alongside, whether they be children or adults.

A lot of my own learning takes place on line through reading blog posts or articles. I’m not a big reader so I find it quite difficult at times to focus and find I drift off (occasionallly to sleep!). So one thing I need to work on this year is ensureing that my learning involves thinking. That I stop after a section or chapter and think back and reflect on what it said and how it might relate to me and my work. This highlights the second and fifth points in the list above.

Even thinking about this now, I realise that when I’m learning for me I’m not always engaged! How much more is this likely if I’m pushing things on to my learners!

Thinking about my learners (who are mostly adults), how will I ensure I’m doing the best job for them? I will I know that learners what to learn the material? One way is to ensure they have a voice into what they are learning. Adult learners in particular need to be involved in deciding what they learn as they don’t like things forced on to them (this is not to say we should do it to children!). By working alongside side the learners to help them to voice their needs appropriately, ensuring that they have a voice in to any learning that I’m involved with, I can support them with learning that is relevant, useful and desired by them.

These are very much just my initial thoughts. I’m continuing to reflect on this list and what it means to learning in 2015.

I wonder what learning will look like for you and your students this year?

Bolstad, R., Gilbert, J., McDowall, S., Bull, A., Boyd, S., & Hipkins, R. (2012). Supporting Future-oriented Learning & Teaching: A New Zealand Perspective. Ministry of Education.

Looking back ~ Looking forward

I didn’t want to write one of those cliche reflect on last year, set goals for this year blog posts but I think that’s what I’m doing. I wanted my focus to be on looking at what might be ahead this year. Reflecting on last year is an important part of that.

Looking back – 2014

Looking backPersonal highlights

2014 was an eventful year for me both personally and professionally. Some of the highlights include:

  1. Celebrating my 10th wedding anniversary.
  2. Completing and submitting my Master’s thesis. This was the end of two years work and boy was I glad to get this done!
  3. Accepting a new job with CORE Education. An exciting and challenging career move for me which also includes now working alongside some of the people I have looked up to in regards to e-learning and education.
  4. Getting a passing grade on my thesis. I found this out in the same week as being offered and accepting my new position. It was a good week!
  5. Having the opportunity to be involved with some great PLD through Virtual Professional Learning and Development, Ulearn, Connected Educator Month, and Twitter (including #edchatNZ).
  6. Graduating with Master of Education in E-Learning with Merit.

    A pic of my capping photo. #graduation #Massey
    Graduation at Massey University – 28 November 2014.
  7. Getting the #edblogNZ hashtag up and running. It’s not hugely used yet, but it’s growing. The main reason I tried to get this going is that many blog posts were being shared on Twitter and disappearing quickly due to the busy-ness of the Twitter feed or #edchatNZ stream.
  8. Being voted onto the BLENNZ school Board of Trustees. This was unexpected, but as I have two children who are supported through BLENNZ I thought it would be a good opportunity to give back to this fantastic school!
  9. It was also exciting to celebrate my Dad’s 70th birthday, my sister-in-law’s wedding and my youngests 5th birthday (no more pre-schoolers for us!).

Okay, so numbers 2, 4 and 6 are really all part of the same thing, but they were all separated by time and each one was a separate highlight for me.

NZ education

There have been three stand-out happenings in NZ education in 2014 from my perspective. None of them are necessarily new, but have been areas of growth.

  1. The first one is the increase in teacher-led/teacher-driven PD. This has come through a couple of avenues. Connected Educator Month certainly had an impact on this as we saw a huge amount of PD available for free during a single month. There appeared to be a huge growth in the number of teachers trying out twitter, webinars, online discussions, blogging, and more! The other BIG part of this was the continuation of the #edchatNZ Twitter chats as well as the #edcchatNZ conference that was fully run by teachers. I was disappointed not to be able to attend.
  2. The second thing I’ve noticed is the shift from looking at/implementing Modern Learning Environments to using Modern Learning Practices. This has come about a lot through many schools simply being unable to create large open plan spaces as they are limited to single-celled classrooms and/or prefabs. It also takes the emphasis off the space and the furniture and puts it back on the teacher and their practice.
  3. The final area of growth that I’ve seen is around Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Interest for this, I believe, grew through Katie Novak’s keynote at Ulearn. While it’s far from embedded, having such a well presented/facilitated keynote that demonstrated some of the principles of UDL has certainly raised awareness of it.

Looking forward – 2015

Blogging goals

Claire Amos in her recent post Reflections and Resolutions has decided to write a weekly Ed blog and has asked who wants to join her so I’ve decided to join in on this and write a #weeklyedpost.

Along with this I’ve decided to set another blogging related goal. That is to comment on at least one blog post every week. The comment must also go on the blog and not on Twitter or elsewhere.
So this is my first #weeklyedpost.


Question Everything / Nullius in verba / Take nobody's word for itI’ve noticed too that many people have decided not to have goals/resolutions for the New Year. Instead they’ve chosen one word that they will focus on/live/do for the year. So my #oneword2015 is QUESTION. I want to question more. This might be questioning people, ideas, concepts, theories etc. It might be physically questioning someone, or it might be questioning in my head. I already do this to some extent but I want to do it more, take it further, and seek out more information on certain things that I’m just not sure about or not happy with.

I also want to grow my questioning skills with people, particularly with the adults I’m working with. I want to learn to ask questions that help others to think and, wonder, ponder and perhaps question themselves and their own thoughts and beliefs.

NZ Education

In regards to NZ education in 2015, I think we’re going to continue to see growth particularly in modern learning practices and UDL. I think these two things go together so well, as MLP allows for much great student-centered, personalised learning and UDL give opportunity for students to learn in ways that are most appropriate for them at the time.

Introverts and Social Media

Over the past year or so I’ve also developed quite an interest in understand introverts more. I am one. Since I first read an interview of Susan Cain on the TED blog I’ve started to understand myself better and why I do what I do. I’ve also realised that we need to consider introverts in education much more than we do. Both students and teachers. Throughout the last few years there has definitely been an emphasis on collaboration and group work. While I think this is valuable it doesn’t suit all students all of the time (actually in my Masters research, most of the students I interviewed who liked to do group work also really liked to work on their own). I believe UDL could help with supporting the introverted student and I hope that we see more of an emphasis put on introverts throughout 2015. E-learning can help some introverts, even in group situations. I’m interested in exploring this much more and how introverted teachers like myself can manage in situations like open plan, team teaching, modern learning environments.


So that’s it! I’m really looking forward to see what comes through this year!
Have a great 2015 and keep sharing, reflecting and learning!

Collaboration through twitter?

Last Thursday’s #edchatNZ has had me thinking a bit. The focus was on Collaboration. This in itself is a great topic and I’m really keen to see much more collaboration amongst teachers. However, there seemed to be a lot of people saying that the Edchat and Twitter were some of the best collaboration they had.

This really bothered me.

I did a quick search and tweeted this:

The problem I was having was that I could see that twitter and twitter chats are great for connection, for discussion and networking, but I couldn’t see much collaboration going on.

Twitter might start the discussion that lead to collaborative opportunities but I question how much collaborative work is being done “to produce something”.

Now, I’m not saying that collaboration cannot occur through twitter, I just wonder if true collaboration is occuring. How often is discussion/collaboration through twitter happening that results in an end product?

I want to see much more collaboration occuring amongst teachers. Particularly collaboration amongst colleagues within their own schools. I think that often this doesn’t happen to the extent that it should. I love hearing stories of where it is happening and hope that it’s spreading.

I also love hearing stories of the connectedness that is occuring thanks to Twitter, the VLN and other online (and offline) sites. It’s really exciting. I often wonder though about the ratio to those educators who are truly connected to those that are not yet connected (particularly online). Those that read great blog posts and get involved in the twitter chats that get them reflecting and improving on their own practice is probably minimal. Are the people that read these posts the ones that need to hear the messages? It’s a bit like preaching to the converted sometimes.

On the other hand, it’s good to keep sharing as if even one person takes something from a comment on twitter or a blog post that they can reflect on or take away to improve their practice then that is a great benefit not only to that teacher but to all the students that they teach.

I’ve got a bit off topic here, so maybe there’s another blog post to come at some point. Oh well. I’ll keep writing and hopefully some of what I say sometimes will resonate with someone!

Thanks for reading!


EduIgnite Wellington – My presentation

I had the enjoyment on Thursday evening to take part in EduIgnite Wellington. This was a relaxing evening connecting with teachers and educators from across the region for fast-paced presentations – 5 minutes each with 20 slides auto-advancing every 15 seconds.

EduIgnite evenings have some rules (other than 5 minutes as above). The first evening is a freebie. You can turn up and just enjoy the evening. From then on, if you attend an evening you must either present or bring a friend. As I had been before I had to present something.

I decided to present on my masters research, which as it turns out was probably not the wisest decision! Getting 30000+ words and two years work into a 5 minute talk is not possible, at least not for me. I managed to fumble my way through though and I think a couple of the key messages got out.

Here are the slides for my presentation. EduIgnite presentations are recorded also and will be made available soon.

[slideshare id=40984977&doc=nathaniel-engagingstudentsonline-141031224720-conversion-gate01]

Others that presented had some great messages to share! Check them out on this Storify (thanks Karen!).