uLearn17 Preparation

In the past I’ve found it really useful to synthesise lots of information about the upcoming conference through preparing this kind of blogpost (see uLearn15 and uLearn16). It develops my prior knowledge giving me the opportunity to get more out of the conference. This is just a post to process some of the prior information about the keynotes and key threads to get me in the zone. I’m doing this in a self-beneficial way but something might be interesting here – the preparation for ulearn16 post that Anne Kenneally put together is a much better general audience resource.

Conference Themes

  • Connect: Sharing knowledge and ideas
  • Collaborate: Working together and developing relationships
  • Innovate: Innovation and sustainability

Conference Strands

  • Learning digitally / Te ako ā-matihiko
  • Learning in communities / Te ako ā-hapori
  • Learning for success / Te ako kia angitu


The four keynotes this year have a range of exciting topics and perspectives to share:

Eric Mazur – Innovating education to educate innovators

I will show how shifting the focus from delivering information to team work and creative thinking greatly improves the learning that takes place in the classroom and promotes independent thinking.

Eric Mazur has a long successful history of promoting ‘interactive teaching’ or ‘peer instruction’. His website contains some previous keynotes which all link back to these themes. He is part of a team that developed Learning Catalytics, “an interactive student response tool that encourages team-based learning by using students’ smartphones, tablets, or laptops to engage them in interactive tasks and thinking.” It would be great to see this approach modelled in a uLearn keynote!

Dr Ann Milne – Colouring in the white spaces: Cultural identity and community in whitestream schools

She will challenge us to find and reflect on the white spaces in our own thinking and practice, and to actively work towards changing them.

I had the pleasure of reading Dr Ann Milne‘s book “Coloring in the White Spaces: Reclaiming Cultural Identity in Whitestream Schools” recently and was absolutely blown again by the ideas in it. She talks extensively about colonisation, white privilege, systemic racism and has a very practical approach to changing things. The video below (plus a companion blogpost) and the her Q&A with Core Education give context to where Milne’s thinking is at. I’m expecting her keynote will lay down a real challenge to the NZ teaching profession.

Brad Waid – Engaging the globally connected student of today: A look at emerging technology, gaming and digital citizenship

Brad pushes us to look at the engaging factors students are faced with on a daily basis and how to leverage them in a learning context.

Brad Waid is a futurist with lots of experience with technology and education. His website shares some impressive achievements, recognising his leading thinking and ideas around technology and education integration. It is exciting for me to read about his interest in Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality as this year is the first time I’ve been exploring using immersive technologies in my Media Studies classroom. I’m interested in how his ideas might align or challenge Richard Watson’s book Digital Vs Human.

Abdul Chohan- Changing belief: Apple technology in the classroom

Abdul will discuss how the transformational redesign of learning with Apple technology has been essential for the success of every student and wider community.

The 4 minute video below captures Abdul Chohan’s educational perspective, which is clear through his journey of turning around ESSA Academy.  The story of what they achieved through mobile based learning is captured in this article and this conference presentation. To me the story speaks of the democratising power of technology and the importance of access in order to achieve equity. I’m interested in what angle Chohan brings to uLearn and how the story might be different for schools in 2017.



Media Studies – Class EduCamp

I often preach that the students in my class have the experiences, knowledge and understanding to teach me as much – if not more – than I am capable of teaching them. This year I tried a new way of walking the talk by taking the time to run an in-class EduCamp. We took the time as a class to understand the EduCamp, un-conference style of learning and each prepared a slide for the smackdown:

To listen to the students talk about their area of interest and their questions about the world was fascinating. It was authentically student centred and it revealed more about some individuals than any google form could.

The class responded to the topics and contributed postits to the board with things they wanted the opportunity to explore further. We made a timetable based on these areas of interest and voted with our feet – at one point all migrating into the one room for a tutorial on how planes fly.

The sessions contained fascinating conversation about road ranging topics including how schools can best support mental health issues, the nature of leadership, photography and drones, film and empathy, doing exchanges to other countries, and using the science of microwaves to transfer data from Wellington to Auckland. The opportunity saw several students have a chance to facilitate, jump on the whiteboard, share their knowledge and have their understanding and experience validated.

This to me speaks volumes about not only the value of student voice, but also the EduCamp structure as a means of creating space for it. That’s my highest possible endorsement on the eve of #EduCampWelly17.

Promoting Well-Being – LGBT Students

Fully registered teachers demonstrate commitment to promoting the well-being of ākonga/learners.

Key indicators:

  • Take all reasonable steps to provide and maintain a teaching and learning environment that is physically, socially, culturally, and emotionally safe.
  • Acknowledge and respect the languages, heritages, and cultures of all ākonga/learners.

Of all my roles and responsibilities around the school, it is my role as Dean and the focus on promoting the well-being of all students that I have become most passionate about. This includes all students of different backgrounds, and most important in promoting their well-being is promoting acceptance, diversity and tolerance.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students are over-represented in a range of statistics centred around the well-being of teenagers. This includes over-representation in depression rates, self-harm and suicide. Therefore it is essential that we as a school provide structures and support for students at risk of adding to these statistics. In the research and anecdotally, school can be a terrible place to come out: the fear of rejection, the lack of maturity and understanding and the threat of homophobia can make the process so difficult. It is all very well to use the mantra ‘it gets better‘ (because it does), but what schools have to do is make it better.

With the support of colleagues we have established a gay and lesbian support group and gained membership through the guidance counsellor and other supportive staff members. After working with these students in regular meetings where GLBTI issues could be discussed without judgement or stigmas, we made the next step – advertising in assembly. Below is our presentation, which represents a major step in supporting students dealing with questioning their sexuality.


At the beginning of the year I was born, 1987, it was illegal to be gay in New Zealand. Anyone found to be a homosexual could be imprisoned. By the end of 1987, this had changed. 10 years ago when I was 16, sitting in school assemblies, I never heard anyone talk about gay or lesbian people. Today, it’s quite clear that this has changed too.

At the beginning of last year 2013, no gay couple had the right to be married, to adopt a child together, and this has also changed. Today is a completely different world. There are gay and lesbian people everywhere, and it is normal.

Consider English cricketer Steven Davies, Labour Deputy Leader Grant Robinson; NZ author Witi Ihimeira, Welsh International rugby player Gareth Thomas; Big Bang theory’s Sara Gilbert, ex world no 1 tennis star Amelie LGTBMauresmo; renowned artist Frida Kahlo, NZ TV news presenter Alison Mau; Morning DJ on The Edge Mike Peru, Hunger Games star who recently said he wouldn’t rule out dating a guy Josh Hutchinson; Ricky Martin, NBA basketball player Jason Collins; Ian McKellen, Adam Lambert, Ellen DeGeneres, Cara Delevinge; Jesse Tyler Fergussen, Chris Colfer… bisexual women such as Drew Barrymore, Christina Aguliera, and Angelina Jolie; Neil Patrick Harris, Tamati Coffey, T R Knight, Ellen Page, Portia De Rossi, Jane Lynch, And we’ve only just scratched the surface.

At Newlands College we want to be supportive of every member of our school. And for people that know that they are gay, lesbian or bisexual, for people that are questioning their sexuality or for people that want to understand more about this, we want to support you too.

Our message to you today is simple. You are not alone. Our world today is filled with visible people, some of whom you’ve just seen on the screen, who have gone through the same feelings you are going through now. These people are on the Internet, in the news, on the TV, in your communities, your neighbourhoods, they may be in your homes, your families, they are in your classrooms, in this assembly hall, and they are speaking to you now today.

Statistically speaking, about one in 10 people all over the world are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender and therefore statistically speaking, there are 96 students in this school who are or someday will be dealing with this issue. We want those students to know that they are safe here.

We stand here today proudly representing these people and offering our support to anyone else who is in need of it. If you do identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual, or you are questioning your sexuality then support is here.

A support group has been running for almost a year now. This group has been formed from people that have already identified that they are dealing with these issues. If you want to find out more about this group, approach one of us, Mr Pegram, or make an appointment with Ms Montgomery the guidance counsellor. Or approach any teacher you know well…

Finally, no matter what it is that makes you different, whatever it is that makes you unique, whatever it is that makes you stand out from the crowd, be proud of who you are. Don’t let anyone tell you that have to be something or somebody that you are not. Celebrate the diversity of our school, our society and stand up for accepting one another for who we are. Gay, straight; tall, short; just be proud to be yourself.

Goodbye Walls – Hello World

For four years I’ve maintained my teaching e-portfolio in closed communities. I’ve protected my reflections by only letting colleagues at my current school see what I was thinking. I suspect no one read one post.

The shift in my thinking this year is that I want to go public. I want to participate in online communities as I develop my teaching practice. By embracing this world, I want to publicise my successes, my failures and my journey. This blog is the first step in that journey. I aim to continue writing reflections and using – what I find to be – the cathartic process of writing about what is going on in my classrooms.

I can’t promise to do this a lot. My first year of blogging my practice resulted in a post per week. The second year, was more fortnightly, and I’ve maintained that average. Hopefully this blog will help me create a self-portrait of me as a teacher and act to highlight the passion I have for teaching.