Reflective Practice

Initially, signing up to Mindlab seemed like a massive adventure, I had known staff who had raved about their experiences in the course and I was looking forward to the possibilities of future learning pathways – unfortunately, life got in the way.

The course, although demanding, really encouraged collaboration. Yet less than a quarter of the way into the programme I accepted a position at another school and suddenly – with conflicting timetables and an increased workload – the possibility of collaborating on assessments went out the door. Consequently, the adventure quickly became a massive grind as I struggled to complete activities on time while performing professionally within my new position.

That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the group activities that were presented in the class based part of the course. In each of these activities I was paired with different groups of staff and it really opened my eyes to new ways of thinking and relationships. This early collaboration around new and inventive IT (though largely irrelevant in a university entrance course), did show me the benefits of collaborative learning and the strength of digital tools as a part of the assessment practice.

The Ministry’s Practicing Teaching Criterea (PTC), number 7: ‘Promote a collaborative, inclusive, and supportive learning environment,’ encourages teaches to implement collaborative learning pathways within their classes. Vygotsky (1978), emphasised that increased intellectual success could be attained through collaborative mediums and it would seem rudimental that teachers include collaboration in their own classrooms. Mindlab has clearly shown this intellectual gain to be the case, and has been instrumental in helping me address my own weaknesses in delivering collaborative learning.

Osterman, & Kottkamp, (1993) note that reflective practice is a key aspect of personal development in a teachers’ pedagogy and forces us to address our own shortcomings. Indeed, when the experience is problematic, it is most likely to ‘lead to behavioural change.’ In this case, I was forced to look at the implementation of collaborative activities within my own class: why was I not achieving the desired results? what were the shortcomings of my programmes? how could I more effectively engage students in the learning process? and, what could I do myself to improve my own delivery of collaborative learning elements?

Peers within the Mindlab class experience some success after collaborating to build a robotic arm.

These questions led me on a path that helped to address Criteria 12 of the PTC: “Use critical inquiry and problem-solving effectively in their [sic] professional practice.” During the online component of Mindlab, I undertook research into flipped classroom practice with a view of better enabling collaborative activities within my own teaching. My work on the literature review quickly identified issues with my own understanding of group dynamics and the implementation of a student led classroom with a facilitating teacher. I quickly discovered that my scaffolding of group work needed a lot more detail, and I had to train my students in collaborative aspects, rather than just expecting them to have a basic collaborative tool kit.

Consequently, my future goal is to really hone the delivery of collaborative elements of my learning programmes. In this fashion, I intend to take greater control of group dynamics and how I assign different people to groups. I also realise that early on in the process, I need to more intensively model, clarify, and guide students through areas of group responsibility. Lastly, I need to improve student accountability to ensure that all students within a group are actively contributing.

Ultimately, Mindlab – despite its frustrations – will undoubtedly create change in my professional practice. Going forward, my biggest goal next to collaborative learning, is to investigate better ways of assessing students and using collaborative forms of summative assessment in NCEA.

Exiting times are ahead!

Ministry of Education (nd). Practising teacher Criteria and e-learning . Retrieved from

Osterman, K. & Kottkamp, R.(1993). Reflective Practice for Educators.California.Cornwin Press, Inc. Retrieved on 7th May, 2015 from

Vygotsky , L. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes . Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Interdisciplinary Connection and Collaboration

I am in the very fortunate position of being a Religious Studies teacher and in terms of inter-curriculum collaboration and flexibility, I think that you would be hard pressed to find a better subject than mine.

At its heart, Religious Studies presents its students with a way of looking at the world through a variety of different lenses. One particular area that I would like to see co-construction around is our unit on bio-ethics.

At year 13, we have a major unit of work that looks at bioethics with choices ranging from stem cell research, fertility treatment, and assisted suicide. In an ideal world, I would envisage that with a flexible timetable and supportive teaching staff the following links between the subjects could lead to deeper learning and skills acquisition among the student body.

When looking at how to make this form of collaborative education occur, Mulligan, & Kuban, (2015) state that three conditions must be met to ensure success. Firstly, the Qualities and Attitudes of the staff must align. In this manner, staff need to trust in the professionalism of each member, and roles must be equitable with a large amount of enthusiastic cooperation. Secondly, the Workplace Conditions must also be favourable. Tied into this is the necessity of timetabled planning time with fellow collaborators and time for other administrative requirements. The physical aspects include well-resourced classrooms with adequately sized work spaces and reliable infrastructure and IT. Class time and student teacher face-to-face time also slots in here. Finally, the Common Goals of the collaborating teachers must also be in sync.

Mulligan, L. M., & Kuban, A. J. . (2015). A Conceptual Model for Interdisciplinary Collaboration.

One major challenge with NCEA, despite its flexibility, is that we are still geared towards assessment. Thus when we look at a subject and its choices, potential buy in from other staff can be best facilitated when the common goal is a lot clearer. The chart below demonstrates the available links afforded by an assessment end-goal between three different subjects.

For example:

Unit Topic: Stem Cell Research

Curriculum Area

Learning Outcomes

Skills being developed

Religious Studies (AS90826, Level 3 NZQA. 6 Credits) •      Investigate a contemporary ethical issue, by breaking it down into components or essential features.

•      Develop conclusions about the response of the religious tradition to the issue, supported by evidence.

•      Research

•      Literacy

•      Source interpretation

•      Critical thinking

•      Note taking

•      Scaffolding text and arguments.


(AS91602, Level 3 NZQA. 3 Credits)

•      Integrate biological knowledge to develop a reasoned informed response to a socio-scientific issue.

•      Select and collate relevant biological knowledge to develop an informed response.

•      Research

•      Note Taking

•      Scientific Analysis

•      Understanding of cellular processes.

•      Data analysis and evaluation.

•      Calculate and apply formulas.


(AS91476, Level 3 NZQA. 3 Credits)

•      Create and deliver a fluent and coherent oral presentation which develops, sustains, and structures ideas and commands attention. •      Research.

•      Oral language.

•      Presentation.

•      Information technology.

•      Writing Structure.

•      Making links (synthesis).

•      Drawing Conclusions

It is clear that when looking at a topic such as stem cell research, there are very clear links between these senior subjects and how they can operate alongside each other to form a pathway for deeper learning. So any issue is not going to be with the topic and the broken faculty silos, but rather with the assessment and implementation of teaching strategies.

At a summative level, all three subjects can be assessed via an oral seminar with the use of IT. While it may take a few tweaks to ensure that all three subject’s standards are met, it shouldn’t be too difficult for a group of teaching professionals to create the right conditions for this end-goal.

The biggest barrier to this mode of learning will undoubtedly be in regards to preparation time. While most teachers have little difficulty in preparing learning programmes for their students individually, having to work with a range of other staff – often with differing timetables – poses many problems.

From a management perspective, this kind of project will need dedicated in-school planning time to ensure that the staff delivering the programme are able to collaborate, weed out, and develop learning pathways and facilitation techniques. This planning time is easily the most important variable in the successful implementation of this form of endeavour. Consequently, the timetable coordinator needs to try and align non-contact time among the facilitators to give them time to work together. The school’s leadership also needs to allow time for whole planning days in the build-up and development of this form of project.

I firmly believe that if there is a will, there is a way, and a programme such as the one outlined in the chart could be a success as long as teachers are willing to compromise and work collaboratively to foster an open learning pathway for their students.

Mulligan, L. M., & Kuban, A. J. . (2015). A Conceptual Model for Interdisciplinary Collaboration. Retrieved from


Social Media in the Classroom

Sharples, (2016) note that “social media can bring learning to life by summoning up different times, spaces, characters and possibilities. They can support creativity, collaboration, communication and sharing of resources.”

Within my classes, I have been working hard to create lessons that embrace modern technologies that the students can engage with and create meaningful learning. Some of these technologies include media creation tools such as video making software, and the use of social media platforms.

Due to some recent study, I have quickly realised that I have not been using social media to its full potential. Instead, the social media I have used has been in an administrative capacity and has only just touched the surface of its potential.

Firstly, I have used Facebook as a means of creating class groups where I can create online conversations and remind students of deadlines. In terms of creating benefits within the learning of my students, it is something that is very difficult to measure. I know that articles and information that have been posted on the site has received likes and the odd comment from students, but as a lot of the information is classified as extra reading, I am unsure if the students are actually reading them or just hitting the ‘like’ button to give the illusion of them working.

I know that some students make use of the extra readings, as references or allusions to them often appear in their writing or discussion, but for the most part, this evidence is anecdotal and I need to develop a better system of assessing student engagement in the readings. One possibility would be to include the tool EdPuzzle in my readings. EdPuzzle as a tool allows you to set questions and analyse who is engaging with the text and how successful their comprehension of that text is. Although EdPuzzle isn’t strictly a social media platform, when used within a Facebook group as a tool within a tool, it will give a much clearer indication of student learning than the Facebook platform alone.

Recording and editing a YouTube video for publication and peer critique.

One challenge that I initiated this term, and am still awaiting the final submission on, is a documentary styled video assessment on the First Crusade. The students have been working on this with the knowledge that it will be published on YouTube and shared amongst the class for comments. The class will then be encouraged to comment on each other’s videos, and provide feedback and advice. This discussion will also form a part of their assessment. In this way, I hope that YouTube will become a place where ‘meaningful dialogue’ (Bolstad, Gilbert, McDowall, Bull, Boyd, & Hipkins, 2012) can occur.

Ethically, there are a huge range of problems that are created with the use of social media. From my own standing, I must weigh up what students can see of me, and also how I interact with them to protect my own credibility (Mazer, Murphy, & Simonds, 2007). In this way, I have a separate Facebook account through which I interact with students. The student pages that I am linked to also have other teachers as members so that we can all read and see what is going on.

Students working on creating a documentary in class. Jesus’ ascension perhaps?

On YouTube, there are also questions around student visibility, parental consent, and harm from social media bullying. With the current class project, when the students upload their work, they will do so through my own teaching account that is operated in a safe mode that is undiscoverable on the YouTube search engine. In this way, only by sharing the link can people have access to the videos. I have also emailed all the parents asking their permission to have their students publish something online. Finally the students also have a choices, with camera shy students opting to work on the script writing and research part of the project while more extroverted students have chosen to be the public face of the video.

Going forward, I would like to be able to create links with similar classes around New Zealand and ultimately the world. In this way, the students could get feedback on their projects from a range of other students, and in the same way, provide advice to the learning peers elsewhere. This would contribute to a shared culture of learning and innovation that is without borders (Melhuish, 2013) and one, that I hope, will lead to a deeper and more fulfilling learning experience.

Bolstad, R., Gilbert, J., McDowall, S., Bull, A., Boyd, S., & Hipkins, R. (2012). Supporting future-oriented learning and teaching: A New Zealand perspective. Wellington, New Zealand: Ministry of Education (NZ). Retrieved from

Mazer, J. P., Murphy, R. E., & Simonds, C. J. (2007). I’ll see you on “Facebook”: The effects of computer-mediated teacher self-disclosure on student motivation, affective learning, and classroom climate. Communication Education, 56(1), 1-17.

Melhuish, K.(2013). Online social networking and its impact on New Zealand educators’ professional learning. Master Thesis. The University of Waikato. Retrieved on 05 May, 2015 from

Sharples, M., de Roock , R., Ferguson, R., Gaved, M., Herodotou, C., Koh, E., Kukulska-Hulme, A., Looi,C-K, McAndrew, P., Rienties, B., Weller, M., Wong, L. H. (2016). Innovating Pedagogy 2016: Open University Innovation Report 5. Milton Keynes: The Open University. Retrieved from