Teaching as inquiry 2019 – improving student achievement Level 1 Geography (Focusing and developing a hunch)

At the beginning of Term 1, 2019 I was looking for a focus for inquiry. Starting my first term teaching at a new school I initially thought I would like to focus my inquiry on finding ways to include and incorporate student and whanau voice into the geography program. However, I quickly Continue reading “Teaching as inquiry 2019 – improving student achievement Level 1 Geography (Focusing and developing a hunch)”

Changes to Level 3 – global issue

I made some changes to the Level 3 program this year. Last year for AS91432 – Analyse aspects of a geographic topic at a global scale we looked at Malaria. While students found this topic interesting enough I wanted to make the Level 3 program a little more exciting for students. At SOC CON 2017 Geostuff were selling resources for units and one that caught my eye was a unit on Maritime Piracy. I tried this with the Level 3 class this year and what I liked about it was this brought unit presented the course content in a really clear methodical way which made it really easy to teach. As I am still in my second year it was a really useful resource to help me get my head around the standard.

Furthermore, as noted in previous posts its important to keep course content up to date and fresh – as it is just as important for the teacher to be excited about the material as it is for the students. On reflection, it also reminded me that the presentation of material is important – where possible teaching needs to be made explicit and ideally content is presented in clear sections. While the Malaria unit was rich in content there was perhaps a little to much collected over the years which meant it was difficult for students to focus in on key points or key ideas. Sometimes less is more 🙂

Level 2 research trip – where to build an ice-cream shop?

For the research standard AS91244 “Conduct Geographic Research with Direction” in 2017 my Level 2 class looked at “Where to build a new coffee shop?”. For the field work in previous years the class had gone to Auckland’s CBD (Queen Street) to determine where we should build a new coffee shop? Students did pedestrian counts and surveys in several different locations over a day. However, my first year planning this trip I decided to take the class to Glen Innes shops. The logic behind this was that this would be an environment that students had some prior knowledge and could hopefully make some meaningful connections to their research.

However, I learnt this was not the best decisions – the class expressed their embarrassment about researching in their own community. I realised I had missed up and let my own perspective cloud my judgement. To me Glen Innes was an interesting place to research (I had written my MA thesis on Glen Innes). I quickly regretted this decision and admitted my mistake to the class. They were pretty understanding and didn’t let their embarrassment get in the way of their research project. This year I knew I had to think more carefully about the research location. I also realised that deciding where a new coffee shop should be located wasn’t the most culturally responsive topic for Tamaki College students. To my students coffee culture was really limited to a cup of instant coffee in the morning and the concept of going out to buy coffee was pretty foreign to most students. However, I had already made a lot of significant changes to the level 2 program this year (Ihumatao and hip hop)and didn’t feel like I had the time to create more resources and design a whole new assessment.

I spoke to my HOD about this during our regular catch ups and she agreed designing new content was too much work. We looked on the AGTA website but the resources on their didn’t really speak to our students either. We both contacted some other geography teachers but didn’t hear back and eventually I emailed the AGTA asking for some material. They provided me with resources for “Where to build a new ice cream shop”. The field trip was planned out for 4 locations on Auckland’s North Shore. I was initially reluctant about taking students to the North Shore (again letting my own perspective cloud my judgement) because to me the North Shore was a bit like Glen Innes was to my students as this was where I grew up and therefore to me wasn’t really an interesting place to research. However, I decided to try out the field trip that had already been tried and tested rather than coming up with my own locations. This turned out to be a really good decision.

On the day students arrived early and were ready to leave by 9am – this was particularly impressive since there is often an issue with lateness for period 1 and 2 classes. We hit the road and arrived at Orewa (our first location). Students had a booklet to work through that require them to make specific notes on the location, count pedestrians and interview people. Students were working closely together in groups to complete their tasks. 45 minutes was a good amount of time because it kept the class busy and focused and engaged in the activity. We then moved to the remaining locations; Silverdale, Takapuna and Devonport. By the end of the day students were buzzing they were having a great time and for some this was their first time ever crossing the harbour bridge! One student asked another student who was sitting up front to change the radio station to “Mai Fm” – the student replied “I don’t think you can get 88.6 out of Auckland!!!

This comment in particular made me realise how important taking students out of their own environment was. I needed to be more aware that my lived experience was very different to the kids I was teaching – some very rarely leaving GI – taking students to new places to explore is really something geography has to offer students at Tamaki and I really needed to remember that when planning field trips in the future. While we were in Devonport a couple of students mentioned they had never been on the ferry. Perhaps this is an experience I can give students next year on the Ice-cream shop field trip!

Literacy strategies – Year 10 Amazon paragraph writing

Literacy is a significant issue for students at Tamaki College. Students tend to be well below the National Standards for both reading and writing. During Term 1 the Social Science department met with the Literacy Specialist at Tamaki College (Marc Milford) to discuss his writing plan for 2018. During this session he shared his plan with us and discussed strategies would could use in our Social Studies classes to improve literary.

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During this session Marc gave some suggestions of strategies we could use in our Social Studies classes. One I liked in particular was the “Judge group writing task”.

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I decided to try this with my Year 10 class latter in the week. I asked Marc to come along and observe and help judge. During a double period I set this up as I had already planned to get students to write a paragraph on the Amazon. I explained they could write the paragraph in groups and then we would write them up the next day and “judge them”. There would be a small prize (chocolates) for the best paragraph. Students took the task very seriously and began writing their practice paragraphs in groups.

The next day Marc came in and gave the class a little more guidance and some tips on how to improve their paragraphs. Students seemed to be excited to get into the writing. Once they had revised their paragraphs students wrote there one up on the board. Marc gave a quick explanation of strengths and weaknesses of each paragraph and then gave a grade out of 5.

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Some refections: Overall, this was a really fun engaging activity that students enjoyed. When I asked students about how they felt the task went they said they enjoyed it but needed more time. Perhaps this task would be better over a double period rather than a single to allow students more time to write. It would be useful for students to do this fairly regularly and then gradually build up to students judging each others work (with guidance).

Child poverty in Aotearoa, New Zealand – new unit level 1 geography, 2018

In my second year of teaching I wanted to make some changes to the level 1 program. Previously at level 1 students looked at the Waterview Connection as a contemporary issue. However, this felt slightly outdated as the Waterview Connection was build in 2017. I wanted to try something new that would be a little more engaging for students at Tamaki College. I decided to try a unit on Child Poverty in Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Students were required to describe the issue, explore different perspectives and discuss solutions. I found this to be particularly fun to teach since students in my Level 1 class seemed to feel passionate about the issue of child poverty and were keen to participate in class discussion (something I struggled to get students to do with the Waterview connection unit).

While the class were able to describe the issue in detail (perhaps an issue a little closer to home for many TC students than the Waterview tunnel) I noticed exploring different perspectives was a bit of a challenge. I asked a friend of mine from Auckland Action Against Poverty (AAAP) to come and speak to the class from her perspective.

This was an awesome experience as the class were engaged and interested in what she had to see. This perhaps made it a bit easier for students to identify a unique perspective as it was being told to them first hand.

My HOD asked her to come to her Level 3 Social Studies class to talk to some students who were looking at the issue as well. The feedback from these students was incredibly positive and students felt inspired to make positive social change in the future. One student even said to me “Was that your friend, she’s so cool. I want to be like her when I’m older. How did she get into working for AAAP”.  Having guest speakers is definitely a great way to bring perspectives and current issues to life and see how real people are making positive change in New Zealand’s society.

Changing the unit also reminded me it is important as a teacher to teach topics that you as the teacher feel passionate about – students definitely pick up on enthusiasm (or lack of it) and being genuinely interested in a topic can contribute to a positive and engaging learning environment.





Changes to Level 2 – hip hop unit some reflections

In my second year of teaching Level 2 Geography at Tamaki College I wanted to make some changes to the Level 2 course content. As mentioned in previous posts I had already made some changes to the program. I wanted to the program overall to be more engaging and culturally responsive to the students I was teaching. A lot of the current content had come from text books or from the AGTA (Auckland Geographers Teachers Association). I wanted the program to be a little more relatable for the students I was teaching. At SOC CON 2017 I looked at the resources provided by Geostuff and a unit on hip hop grabbed my attention. A lot of my students listened to hip hop and RnB and felt this could engage a number of students in a more meaningful way.

This new unit was for AS91426 – Explain a geographical topic at a global scale. Students were to identify the global pattern of hip hop, explain the causes and significance for people. Perhaps a little more exciting than HIV/AIDS.

Some reflections – the class really seemed to enjoy the topic and the content. However, the pattern and causes were a little challenging – especially since a lot of the class were new to geography and had no prior knowledge. Secondly, the way I presented the content was a bit all over the place – I really needed to break down the causes and give students more examples of this rather than getting them to identify these themselves from the resource booklet. This was perhaps ok for the students who had taken geography at level 1 or students who were a bit more academic but I had a really diverse group of learners in the class this year and could have perhaps provided a lot more scaffolding for some students to make the pattern, causes and significance for people a bit more explicit. Especially considering this was the first unit of work we had covered for the year and the key geographic concepts were very new to a lot of my students. For next year I will scaffold more and take more time on key concepts – especially patterns (which can be a bit challenging)!

Reflections on geography exam results 2017

The results for the 2017 NCEA geography externals have recently come back. This is an important opportunity to reflect on how my students went and what can be done to improve for the 2018 externals. Prior to these results coming back I knew there were 3 key challenges my students faced when sitting their NCEA externals:

Attendance was a concern – not just in terms of turning up to the externals but also attendance in class prior to the externals – particularly level 3 students who had missed a significant amount of in class teaching and learning. Unfortunately, the students that hadn’t been turning up to class for a large chunk of time throughout the year (to their credit) made the effort to turn up to the external. However, this unfortunately meant these students were likely lacking a lot of the material required for them to do well in the exam. However, a number of students who had attended class decided to not turn up to the external.  Here is a break down of the 2017 exam attendance:

Level 1: Overall, 10 students were entered in 2 externals 91007 and 91009 on the day 6 out of 10 students turned up to the exam and only 4 students sat 91009 and only 6 sat 91007. 2 out of the 6 students received and achieved grade for both external.s

Level 2: Overall, 19 students were entered in 2 externals 91240 and 91242 and on the day 6 students turned up to the exam with only 5 sitting 91240 and 6 sitting 91242. Only 2 students achieved in these externals (1 achieving 91240 and 1 achieving 91242).

Level 3: Overall, 12 students were entered in the 2 externals 91426 and 91427, on the day only 5 students turned up with most students only sitting one external (despite preparing for both). 3 students achieved in these externals overall.

Takeaway learnings/reflections: Based on my conversations with students after the exams – the majority of students at level 1, 2, and 3 despite intending to sit both externals on the day students were thrown off after reading the exam question and although some students were simply unprepared (due to the previously mentioned lack of attendance in class). The remaining students were prepared but lacked confidence when the wording of the question differed from their practice exams. This is something I will be working with students on during 2018 and I would like to explore this further as part of my “Teaching as Inquiry”.

Teaching as Inquiry – Literacy in Year 12 Geography – Term 3, 2017 #5

While my Year 12’s geography class’ writing had significantly improved since term 1 with the focus on structure; in particular topic sentences and evidence. As noted in post 4 (term 2) the class were still lacking skills to link and focus their key points. While after marking their research assessment I felt their explanations were a lot stronger than they had previously been this showed me they perhaps had a better level of understanding. However, after completed there 3rd assessment I noticed their explanations were still lacking significantly. I reflected on why this might be the case.

As the research assessment reuqires students to summarise their explanations may have been stronger in this context because this was their own data and information they were drawing from. We had collected the data in Glen Innes over 2 days and since the context was familiar students may have had a lot more confidence in writing about this environment. This pointed me to look at the level of reading comprehension for the Year 12’s. Perhaps a lack of understanding was coming through in their written expression. While students seemed to be able to give good examples or evidence the why seemed to be missing.

This lack of explanation linked to reading comprehension made complete sense to me. I thought about my own writing experience. If I don’t know about a topic I struggle to write on it but if I feel confident then the words seem to flow a whole lot better. This reflection is further supported by literacy data at Tamaki College with a significant number of students being well below the national average. I was teaching some Year 9 students (13 year olds) where a reading age of 7 or 8 was pretty common. Even if these students just went up a minimum of one reading year per school year level (without our accelerated reader program) by the time they reached Year 12 it was possible a number of students in the class were reading at a 12 year old level. Although this may not be entirely representative of the students in my geography class it was a useful rough guide to help me think through what I may to change within my teaching practice. A lot of the text I was providing this class were adapted from a text book aimed for Year 12 students – this meant that there were likely to be some issues with comprehension for a number of students in the class – this made sense as to why they were struggling to explain ideas in their written expression.

Next steps from here – I needed to change what I was doing in the classroom in the way I was providing content. I needed to adapt to suit the learning needs and literacy levels of student in my Year 12 class at Tamaki College.

AGTA “Doing things differently course” -2017

On the 27 November I attended the end of year Auckland Geography Teachers Association  course as part of my professional development. This was a day long course and was useful for several reasons;

  1. We discussed the 2017 externals and changes to some of the wording in Achievement standards. This was something I had not heard news about previously so it meant I knew what to look out for in 2018.
  2. We also had a speaker from the Auckland Lantern Festival come and talk to us as a number schools teach this as their “Event”. At Tamaki we look at Polyfest as this is perhaps a little more relevant to our students. Nonetheless, this got me talking to other teachers about what they do – some teachers told me that they let their students choose – which I liked the idea of and this may be something I explore in my classroom. It also allowed me to think of other events that might be interesting to students at Tamaki College.
  3. We listened to a speaker from the University of Auckland talk about Tourism in Auckland – I found this particularly interesting since it got me thinking about the possibility of working on a tourism program at Tamaki College in the future as I believe a lot of students take geography because they are interested in working in the Travel and Tourism industry.
  4. I learnt about using tour builder  this lets students annotate and create tours using google maps. I also learnt about an  app called pursued which is a game where students guess the location – if they don’t guess on time they get “kidnapped”. I also learnt some stuff on google earth about tours that students can go on that have already been created with information about a particular place. This could be a fun way to provide students a bit more insight and deepen understanding about place. Especially for topics like the Amazon where students are unable to go a visit. After the course, I took these fun activities to my department and we used this for a lesson we planned collaboratively for Year 8 students from Pamure Bridge, visiting Tamaki College. Apparently the primary students had a lot of fun playing around with maps. While I haven’t used this in my classroom yet I think these tools will be useful – potentially for pepeha or mihi (tourbuilder). I also think I will try using it for spatial patterns in Rotorua as this provides a way for students to annotate and map at the same time.
  5. Another geography teacher spoke to us about updates with DOC (Department of Conservation) at Tongariro National Park – this is where a lot of Level 2 Geography classes go for their large natural environment (we cover the Amazon). This helped me reflect on our course and think about different field trip opportunities for the future. Perhaps studying somewhere that we can visit may help Level 2’s feel more engaged and deepen their understanding.
  6. Net working- it was great to spend the day with other geography teaches and hear about their programs. I also spoke to the HOD at One Tree Hill College who has offered to be involved in the moderation process and check assessment templates and share resources.

In summary, this was an inspirational PD. I left feeling excited about planning and reviewing the geography program and hearing different ideas from other teachers has inspired me to try new things and be a little bit more creative with content. After this PD I decided to talk to my HOD about a collabrative social studies program working on several standards together around Ihuamatao (in Mangere).

Teaching as Inquiry – Literacy in Year 12 Geography – Term 3, 2017 #6

As mentioned in my previous post after reflecting on students lack of explanation in their written expression and the realisation this may be connected to low- literacy which meant that some students in the class may be struggling to understand the content I had on the level 2 geography site . The majority of this content had been adapted from Year 12 geography text books aimed at students who had reading levels that aligned with the national average- as many of our students at Tamaki College did not read at this level I really needed to adapt the way content was delivered.

We were beginning our Urban Pattern assessment based on Detroit and I decided to adapt my teaching style to suit my students. I did this in a number of ways;

  1. Although I still wanted to encourage students to read I decided to “chunk” this. I would get students to read sections of text from the website, followed by a class discussion. This worked well as it let students clarify their ideas and it meant students that hadn’t quite understood particular points could get this information elsewhere. Here is some notes from a student led discussion:20170727_132540
  2. I continued to discuss paragraph structure with a focus on key points to deal with issues around clarity and linking back.
  3. I provided audio visual alternative to text – as a class we watched a number of documentaries that focused on particular points – once again followed by class discussion
  4. An added benefit was that as the teacher I could check student understanding through discussion and questioning and clarify points that students didn’t get. This provided more teaching opportunities than simply getting the class to read information in their own time.

Students responded well to these strategies and keenly took part in class discussion and in fact started to ask for this more frequently. I asked the class whether the discussions were helpful and the majority of students felt this was a useful approach.

In conclusion, alternative strategies are necessary for teaching and learning. This provides multiple platforms for students to engage with content and therefore deepen understanding.