Sunday, 6 September 2015

Task One: Introductions

Kia ora and thank you for taking the time to visit my teaching blog, as part of my Applied Practice in Context course for Mindlab.

I am a science teacher at Mission Heights Junior College, a Y7-10 school that has a vision of 21st century, collaborative learning. I've been here since 2013, after visiting the school as part of the NMSSA research team carrying out work on Science and writing progress in 2012. Prior to teaching here, I worked at a school in south Auckland for four years, and in various roles and schools in both London and Glasgow. I graduated from the University of London's Institute of Education with a PGCE in 2006, and a Bachelors in Marine and Freshwater Ecology in 2004.

I started teaching because I realised that just having a rather ordinary marine biology degree wasn't nearly enough to find work out in the field, and teaching seemed like a good way to make use of my degree while I decided what I really wanted to do. Ten years on, and I think I'm finally starting to get the hang of being in the classroom, and my stop-gap solution has turned into a vocation and a passion.
My class teaching a Primary school about water quality testing
I am committed to making Science as relevant and contextual to my students as possible, and make good use of the local woodland, streams and parks. My classes have been involved in tree planting, water quality monitoring, invertebrate sampling and pest control. I see preserving the environment as the greatest Science context of our time and the education of how to be kaitiaki to our whenua, awa and moana an essential part of my work. Thankfully, working in a school that emphasises contextual and collaborative learning allows me to weave this responsibility into my classes and allow this understanding to grow as part of learning the subject. 

Since arriving at Mission Heights I have had to critically examine my attitudes towards teaching, my pedagogy, and my personal practice. Moving from a traditional school where the lesson plans were rigid and there was little opportunity for personalised learning to here required a lot of "deprogramming", and a critique of what my teaching could, and should, actually look like. Whilst I'd always thought of myself as a fairly relaxed, open teacher, moving myself from the centre of the room to an advisory position at the side was challenging, as was moving from a rigid course with a succession of knowledge and skill building to one where I had to build my own courses within a context. It's been an incredible learning journey and I am lucky to have the opportunity to teach in such a creative, challenging environment. 

Eel trapping in the local waterways

An example of this contextual learning would be the work my Y8 classes are doing right now. They are learning about geometry and measurement in Maths, and their teachers have tasked them with building a model of a community centre for the area where they live. As we have a policy of integrating our assessments, I have been teaching them about materials, and their assessment will be to explain what materials they would use to build their finished community centre, and what properties those materials have. In social studies, their teacher has asked them to consider how the design of the centre could incorporate the different cultures and backgrounds of the community using the centre. My teaching this term has therefore included the Periodic table, the structure of the atom, metals and non-metals, reactivity series of metals, making (and destroying!) concrete and the environmental impacts of construction. Having a contextual focus for this work is a great way to keep students engaged, and with three teachers able to help manage the building of their models, the quality of the work is very high. 
Co-constructing our success criteria for a speeches evaluation

I signed up to Mindlab as I saw it as the next stage of this professional evolution I was undertaking. In my next post, I'll be talking about how the course has been for me, and consider the next steps I'll be taking once the course is finished. The Mindlab course has re-ignited my love for study and it's been wonderful having the opportunity to study again. 

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