Enhancing the relevance of new learning

It is not surprising to see relevance of learning in the effective pedagogy section of the New Zealand Curriculum. A lot of research was undertaken in the 1990’s in New Zealand on this and hence teachers in New Zealand have long discussed how relevant and meaningful learning will increase interest, engagement and motivation for learners. What is of interest here though, is that the NZC explanation expands from just relevant contexts for learning to include ideas such as curiosity and learner agency.

Effective teachers stimulate the curiosity of their students, require them to search for relevant information and ideas, and challenge them to use or apply what they discover in new contexts or in new ways.

Curiosity is a bit of an enigma in schools. Speak to any teacher and they will say they value it, but often it is not high in our priorities when designing learning experiences for our classes. Susan Engel’s research found that students’ curiosity decreased as they grew older. She does believe that adult influence is a factor in this. This paper by Engel suggests 4 ways that educators can help students become more curious again.

Sparking curiosity in Science

Continue reading


Agency and Ownership

Last week I attended uLearn15, an epic conference in Auckland with 1700 teachers and 250 sponsors and exhibitors. On the first day I ran a Breakout session called Agency and Ownership: Why the How? Initially planned as a smallish interactive workshop, it proved very popular as people chose their sessions so it grew into a large presentation to around 250 people with a lot more of me talking from the front.

Core Education filmed this presentation and streamed it live from their conference website. You can watch it here (jump to 11.50 where it actually starts):

Or, if you don’t have an hour and a half spare, this post will cover the highlights.

We have all heard the terms Learner Agency and Student Ownership of Learning. We all have the same vague understandings of what these are about. This presentation was focused on working out they actually look like in the classroom. What the practices are that we as teachers can implement to enable and empower students to truly own their learning.

Continue reading

Developing Student Questioning

I have a strong belief that developing student’s questioning abilities empowers them to take ownership of their learning. Strong questioning can open up learning paths and is also an important skill for being an active citizen.

Last week, our SLL team offered 3 different workshops for the Friday Staff PD session. This post is sharing the Questioning strategies I covered in my session.


QuestionStorming is exactly what it sounds like. Instead of a brainstorm where people put down as many ideas as they can, questionstorming is writing down as many questions as you can. It is a great strategy for developing students abilities to generate questions. Continue reading

Ungoogleable Questions Update

By far and away my most read post on this 2 year old blog is a post on Ungoogleable Questions from almost 2 years ago. I have been meaning to update this for quite some time and #28daysofwriting has finally given me the prompt to do so.

Since I ran the workshop with staff and generated the questions shared in my earlier post I have focused on helping students develop their ability to inquire into ungoogleable questions (major shout out here to Ewan McIntosh who set me on this journey). I have used a variety of prompts, provocations and question development frameworks over these last 2 years. I have continued to read blogs (Kath Murdoch and Bo Adams blogs have pushed me in this) and books (Can Computers Keep Secrets by Tom Barrett, The Falconer by Grant Lichtman and A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger being the most influential for me) to further my thinking and practice and it is about time I share my tips now. Continue reading

An Awesome Day of Design Thinking

Tuesday proved to me just how much Design Thinking is the way I approach all aspects of school (and increasingly life) these days. In reflecting on what had happened this week I realised that Tuesday was an entire day of Design Thinking.

I started the day with my Hub completing the redesign of our space. Last week I had realised that things needed to improve with my Hub teaching so we had completed a SWOT analysis of our Hub and everyone had drawn how they would design our space to make it work for us. It was pretty clear from all the pictures that a common theme had emerged. So, away went our old space:


And in came our new design:


We have still kept the seating we like for Hub time – mainly ottomans and a few beanbags. But now we have got rid of any other form of seating, created a break out area and swapped the unused table that was a dumping ground for a low table that we can work on from our low seats. Early days but it has definitely created a better feel for us as a group.

After this was finished we Continue reading

Why Change My Question Quest?

Regular followers of my blog will have noticed that my Question Quest came to a halt last week.

I have thoroughly enjoyed asking these questions and have loved the discussions that have been provoked by some of the posts. Lately however, I have found that some of the questions have been rushed thoughts at the end of a long day rather than properly thought out questions. It is for this reason that I will not complete the challenge as originally set out – 1 post a day for July and August.

Instead, I will continue to post Question blogs infrequently but indefinitely. My aim was to role model questioning as an example for students and to develop my questioning ability. I have done that through regular questioning but feel it is now time to focus on asking questions worth asking.

I will try to show how the questions have developed to their final blog form and the posts that support them will end up longer. I feel this will still allow for a modelling of effective questioning strategies whilst allowing me to focus on the issues I consider truly worth pursuing. Hopefully, this will also allow me to return to more of my reflective narrative blog posts that help me process my thinking (the actual reason I blog regularly).

Thanks for following this blog series and I hope to still discuss many of these issues with you all in future.

What If your latest off the wall idea actually succeeded?

So often when we have a light bulb moment / hare brained idea / I wonder if that could work type thought we immediately start thinking of the reasons why it won’t work. Next time you have one of these innovative ideas/thoughts why don’t you try thinking – What if this works?

If it comes off as you think it could, what would be the benefits? The outcomes? The changes it would cause?

If these outcomes/benefits/changes are positive then you can start thinking “How might we make this really happen then?”

By starting with the positives it opens up the possibilities, then by moving into the 2nd How Might We stage it reframes this possible into an actuality and it is just a case of getting the right people working on it to make it happen.

Wouldn’t it be great if instead of focusing on risks and barriers all the time we actually focused on the possibilities and started having more of these innovative ideas take off!

This post is Day 15 of my Questioning Quest.

Why? (x5)

Day 10 of My Question Quest is reserved for a very small but powerful word – why?

Whether as a one word question or as the start of a longer question it holds enormous power for digging deep into a topic/issue/situation.

I hear this continuously at home from my 4 1/2 year old daughter (most recently into the minute details of Frozen). It has also held enormous power at work though as well – for my students, for me, from parents and for us as a whole staff.

One of the most powerful uses of this is when the question is asked 5 times in a row. Next time you (or your team) are making a decision, test your solution by asking why. Then after you answer that, ask why of that answer. Repeat until you have answered why 5 times. An awesome check for if the decision meets your vision and values!

Any major decision, inquiry, problem solving or design thinking situation should start from why. If not, you may be on the completely wrong track.

What If school wasn’t compulsory but learning was?

How would schools need to change to stay a part of learning pathways?

What do we lose by not having compulsory curricula?

What do we gain by not having compulsory curricula?

Who else would start becoming a major part of peoples’ learning? Businesses? Churches? Community workers?

Would there be impacts on health and welfare?

How would learning be evidenced?

Why? (for all of the questions above!)

This question storm is Day 6 of my Question Quest.