Revisiting student goals

As mentioned in a previous post I set goals with my students at the beginning of the school year as a way to get to know new students and have a conversation about strengths, weaknesses and hopes for the future. However, my senior classes in particular level 2 and level 3 students seem unmotivated in class and struggling to submit their assessments.

A number of students seemed to have pretty much given up – perhaps this was because they were new to geography or they found the subject challenging (some didn’t even have level 1). However, some other students who were more than capable were lacking motivation as well. I decided the goal setting we had done earlier in the year was a useful starting point to a conversation. I sat down with each student in the class one on one. Brought up their goals and ask them how level two was going? I emphasised it was not yet halfway through the year and they could still turn it around. I also asked questions about what their plans were after school. While most didn’t know – we talked about the value of keeping opportunities open rather than closing doors. One student in particular was reluctant to take part in the conversation and had done absolutely no work all year. I decided to take a different tactic with her and asked her to think about how she wanted to use her time in class productively – it didn’t have to be doing geography just doing something! She was still just saying “I don’t know”. So I said we could revisit the conversation on Monday. With the rest of the students in the class we talked about next steps moving forward and how I could best support them. Another student without any credits at level 1 and 2 decided to work on her level 1 rather than level 2 so we came up with a individualised plan for her.

Overall, the reflection of goals conversation was a success. The majority of the class began to re-engage with some of the struggling students taking ownership and sending me work for feedback. A few sitting right next to me so I could help with their work during the lesson – including the student who I gave the opportunity to tell me what she wanted to do during class time.

On reflection revisiting goals is a powerful way to re-motivate students and find out where students are at. While this is useful at the start of the year it is hard to have realistic conversations with students about where they are at this point in the year. In the future I will have this conversation a little earlier on in term 2 in the hopes this shift in attitude and newly found enthusiasm could emerge a unit or work or 2 earlier 🙂

Social Sciences Study Class

As noted in an earlier blog post the Tamaki College Social Sciences Department implemented a strict deadline policy for 2018. However, I wanted to provide students with an opportunity to catch up on missed work or if they were falling behind. I had held a geography study class for the majority of 2017. Since there are a number of students who take more than one social science Mr Brown (a history teacher) and I decided to hold this together. This meant students could come after school and get support for one or more of their classes. At the beginning of the year we sent a letter home to ALL students studying Social Sciences letting them and their parents/caregivers know this support was available.

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Nearing the end of term 2 it is important to reflect on this study class. Ideally, students could come and get extra help (or time) spent on their assessment and therefore this would support them with course content and therefore assist students in meeting deadlines. However, students seemed to come in the first half of term 1. Since then it has been just myself and Mr Brown. Perhaps I need to remind students more regularly that this class is on. Or perhaps check in with students about preferred days since I asked students in term 1 but sports and other extra-curricular activities may be getting in the way as the year moves on. Nonetheless, having a regular time where support is available is useful. Often students will ask if they can come see me after school for help with stuff this way there is a clear time I can make myself available for them outside of class.

PLUG Groups PLD 2018

As mentioned in earlier posts at Tamaki College teachers meet regularly (every 2 weeks) to discuss and collaborate on how to best help priority learners with their academic achievement. In particular, students who have 0 credits in a number of subjects. In 2017 we focused on Level 1 and Level 2 students. However, in 2018 we will just be focusing on Level 1 students. As my Level 1 class only has 7 students there is only one student I am focusing on within the PLUG group discussions who prior to meeting in our groups had 0 credits in Geography.

I wasn’t really sure why this student wasn’t achieving  in geography. While attendance was a bit of an issue she worked hard when she was in class and cared about her academic success. I mentioned to her Science teacher who is also in my PLUG group that I had found her writing to be a bit of a problem. This student’s writing was at times overly descriptive and perhaps better suited for creative writing or perhaps speech writing. However, this didn’t really work in geography. Her science teacher also commented on some issues with her writing.

After this conversation I decided to pursue this further by talking to the student one on one and giving feedback. I suggested she use grammerly and regularly share her work with me so I could comment on her writing (as well as content). We have been doing this were possible and since then this student has achieved 3 credits in geography and I have noticed a vast improvement in her writing style.

Reflections on Rotorua field trip, 2018

P1010412.JPGI took my level 3 Geography class to Rotorua for 4 days in Week 7 of Term 2. I made a few changes based on my learnings and reflections from the 2017 trip. Here a few things I adjusted:

  1. Based on the results from both the exams and internals tied to the trip I decided to establish a criteria for students attendance on the trip (80% attendance and 3/4 assessments submitted prior to the trip) – see more on this here 
  2. I changed the days from 3 days to 4 largely because I felt the time there was too rushed and it didn’t leave my time for students to reflect and plan their field work. In 2017 there was only one opportunity to collect field work data but the locations students choose wasn’t appropriate so there was no space to fix this. This year the extra day allowed for 2 research slots. After the first data collection I got students to reflect and then re-evaluate their research plan for the following day – including location. E.g. if they went to an area where there were no tourist they could then reflect and change their location for the next day.
  3. I included more fun activities e.g. the ogo and white water rafting – this is based on my reflections of 2017 and the professional development I attended at the end of 2017.  I wanted to take a more holistic approach to teaching and learning.
  4. I included more cultural based activities – as this was something maori students appreciated from the 2017 trip (seeing their culture valued). So we spent more time at Te Puia, Mitai and Kaitaki Adventures (run by iwi).

Some general reflections on the trip this year:

Putting criteria in place was a positive step to motivate students prior to the trip but also meant that some students missed out. However, we were left only bringing the engaged students on the trip which meant we had less behavioural issues etc on the trip.

The research over 2 days was definitely better and allowed students to critique their own research process. However, a couple of students skipped a significant number of classes prior to the trip which meant they really had no idea what their research plan was. Getting students to actually carry out the research in the mist of all the fun activities was a bit tedious I will need to look at solutions to this for next year – perhaps not allowing students to come if they haven’t planned in advance and making this really clear with students. I could also find ways to get students to evaluate their group members to avoid some students “carrying the weigh of others” on the trip. Having morning briefings with students prior to starting the day will also make sure the schedule is clear and everyone knows what is expected of them.

The first and second day were good in terms of students following instructions and showing up on time. However, by the end of the second day I started to feel a little like a nagging mother getting students up and ready in the morning. Perhaps an incentive for students displaying RISE values could help address some of this issues. Again regular briefings with students could also provide opportunities to reinforce expectations around behaviour and attitudes.

Overall, the trip was a success – especially in terms of getting students to do their research and critically reflect after each data collection. Students had a really great attitude (most of the time) and enjoyed the trip. However, there are still some organisational and structural issues I need to tighten up for 2019.


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!

Changes to Level 2 – Contemporary Issue. Ihumatao, Otuataua, Stonefields.

In my second year of teaching Level 2 Geography at Tamaki College I wanted to make some changes to the course content. In particular to AS94245 – contemporary issue. Last year students had looked at whether or not a rail link should be built to Auckland’s International Airport. However, students (and myself) were not really engaged in this issue. As noted in my previous post about teaching Child Poverty in my level 1 class I feel it’s important to teach content that I find interesting and exciting to teach as enthusiasm can be contagious – this is especially important for issue related content. One of the reasons I think geography is such an important subject is for it’s potential to engage students in the world that we are living in.

Students are Tamaki College, living in Glen Innes are living the realities of a significant redevelopment project happening in their community. When I have discussed this in class with students this seems to be an issue they feel passionate about and are keen to discuss and debate in class. The Level 2 Social Studies class looks at this redevelopment and the perspectives around it and since their were some strong parallels between what is happening in Glen Innes (in particular with the Point England reserve) and Ihumatao.  I felt that this might provide students with an opportunity to draw links and think about issues a little deeper – especially for those who were taking both Social Studies and Geography.


Additionally, Ihumatao is a good example of the Treaty of Waitangi in a contemporary context. Highlighting to students the Treaty is not simply a historical document that has been left behind. Rather, that is has implications in todays society too.


Since Ihumatao is a local issue (located in Mangere, Auckland) this also provided an excellent field trip opportunity. I contacted organisers from SOUL (Save our Unique Landscape) to see if they were willing to take the class through and discuss their various perspectives with students. SOUL were happy to accomodate us and we organised a trip to visit the land. This was a fantastic way for students to see the land, hear stories and gain a deeper understanding of the cultural, archeological and historical significance of Ihumatao. Students then returned to school with a deeper understanding of the issue and heard a variety of perspectives on the issue (SOUL had 4 different speakers talk to the class!).

On reflection it is important to reflect on and change units of work in class and attempt to find issues that engage students and me as their teacher especially in a subject like geography that allows students to explore the world we are living in. Using locally based issues can be a powerful way to bring the issue to live for students especially when field trip opportunities are available. This can allow students to explore the issue and different perspectives first hand rather than reading off a website – this is especially valuable for students whose literacy levels are not good. Lastly, it is important as a teacher of social sciences to keep topics fresh and relevant!


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”.

Tracking sheets a reflection

Over the course of 2017, I used tracking sheets to track where students were at with their work. This was initially particularly useful for teaching content as I could see where a student was at and I mostly used this to track attendance. That way when I student turned up to class I could keep track of what they had missed.

Here is an example of a tracking sheet I used with my classes in 2017:




As noted in my earlier blog post  this was a useful tool and a way to keep track of students work. I started using this also for assessments and with the students consent I would bring this up on the projector at the start of the class. Informing students where they were at in relation to deadlines, other students and marked red if they were really behind (usually lack of work or missing lessons). However, I reflected on this mid way though the year and realised this didn’t really work. It wasn’t motivating students to get work done and if students saw they were ahead this will stop them from completing tasks in a timely fashion. I realised by visually displaying the tracking sheet I was actually letting the class set their own pace which wasn’t necessarily a good thing. I also got some feedback from another teacher that students felt pressured by this approach.

I started to use the tracking sheet just for myself – I would attach students work and use this as a way to ensure I was systematically checking each student and providing feedback. This way there was no surprises if a student was falling behind or hadn’t completed work. I also knew which students hadn’t started tasks at all and this way there were no surprises when they didn’t hand in anything on the due date.

In conclusion, tracking sheets provide a useful way to track students progress but rather than a viable tool this is more useful as a way for teachers to manage students work in a digital environment.