Thursday, 18 September 2014

Build Our Culture - bringing together the important ingredients


When starting a brand new school, you are creating more than just a brand new learning environment, you are creating a brand new culture.  In addition, at Hobsonville Point, we are opening in a brand new community.  This in itself is an authentic situation that allows for students to contribute and participate in meaningful way.  Helping to develop a new school culture is a task worth tackling.  So with this in mind, the first 'big' Big Project at HPSS was a challenge to our students...

A WORTHY CHALLENGE: Help build a positive new school culture through the exploration of our very own Hobsonville Habits and promote these in our wider community.  See Sally's great poster of our habits here.

(note: Challenge based learning is a great concept - check out this website for some ideas - CBL)

In addition to this challenge, help meet the needs of construction companies in this area, by helping to create a positive community spirit and hide the visual pollution of very large construction site!

This project was developed with two community partners...


AVJennings - a large property development company responsible for designing and building a range of housing projects in the local area.  And...   

Hobsonville Land Company who are responsible for the entire re-development of this historical airbase site.  They have a responsibility to also develop a positive community spirit.  

In partnership, we worked together with representatives Joanne and Kathleen from HLC and AV Jennings to create a Project Brief:
    • Designing banners (1.8m x 3.0m) to be printed and displayed in the community next to construction sites, to reflect the past, present and future of this new community using HPSS Hobsonville Habits
    • Exploring this context collaboratively, developing technical and thinking skills alongside conceptual understandings of community and cultural values.  Modes of exploration can be wide-ranging such as performance, design, writing, visual, action based, history, sculpture, sport, etc. Non picture based contexts will be captured in a photographic visual for the banners.
    • Exhibiting and sharing these new skills and understandings in an Exhibition at the school and Hobsonville Point Farmers Market - where the community can see our learning journey and final outcome of this Big Project.   

To ensure the most authentic 'real world' partnership, an artist and consultant (Naomi McCleary) was commissioned by AV Jennings to work with our students.  Naomi provided guidance and feedback, throughout the project, on a range of elements such as billboard and banner impact, colours, shapes, themes and overall design ideas.  


To ensure every student could engage with the project we developed a range of project contexts in which to explore the Habits. Sport, sculpture, robotics, drama, music, dance, conservation, design, photography, poetry, and outdoor education were some of the areas we offered opportunities in.  Personalisation and student voice came as the original project idea EVOLVED with our students.  Our project guides 'co-constructed' what the project finally became along with their students.  Some examples include: 

Sally, who chose 'contributive' and helped her students develop coaching skills to use with the local primary students.  They worked hard to develop drills, game plans and taught a range of skills including how to work as a team. 

Cindy chose 'responsive' and helped her students audit and restore the native wildlife around our community. Activities included a community survey to gauge community beliefs and awareness, tree planting in the wetlands area, installing pest tracker tunnels around the school and testing water quality of local stormwater.  

Others, such as Liz and Kylee took on the role of the physical banner construction - teaching students valuable skills in design, photography and Photoshop which lead to the projects all being photographed and 11 banners being constructed!   Collaborating with all other groups, these students were responsible for the habits being expressed in a visual medium.  They took other student groups work and actions and formulated the concept we see in the community today.


Our Build Our Culture Exhibition Invite

Our final exhibition evening was a fantastic way to see everyone's hard work and celebrate all that we had accomplished.  Liz, our wonderful exhibition coordinator, professionally 'hung' the printed banners with the help of her design students.  We had over 250 parents attend the event.  They met with students, asked questions about their projects and discovered a little more about our Hobsonville Habits.  They also had the opportunity to give our students feedback using our exhibition  feedback form.  

Our music, dance and drama projects also put on a small performance during the exhibition.  


A Build our Culture website was created (linked to a QR code found on all the banners) that shared not just the final banners but the LEARNING STORIES  of our students.  The website achives the full story behind the 15 week project , where a range of ideas, experiences and outcomes are shared.  Here we can find videos, websites, blogs, brochures and many other ways in which students have shared their project journey with the community. The website also symoblises the 'we' not 'me' values of Big Projects - everyone together meeting the challenge and working with our partners.  

An article in the local paper helps share the project further.


With all Big Projects there is a critical reflection and analysis of what was achieved over this time.  Our students could do this in a number of ways, but for many the structure of a Final Look Activity Sheet really helped their evaluations and reflections.  

MY OWN REFLECTIONS: As a 'project director' I learned a great deal during this time. One would think 15 weeks is a very sufficient amount of time for project learning, with time being a very important component of a projects success.  But, when you include an entry event, a planning phase, time to create a quality outcome, a learning journey to record, inquiry to undertake, expertise to connect with, an exhibit to plan, collaboration to do and reflection to make... 15 weeks kind of flies by!!!!

I think for a first project for our Year 9 students, the efforts of everyone should be be celebrated.  Students were engaged and the feedback was incredibly positive. Students enjoyed the challenge, developed a range of skills and felt a strong desire to do a 'great job' for our partners.  

Like all learning experiences, there is room for improvement.  Limited time left our design team highly stressed and struggling to ensure a quality outcome for every project group.  While some groups struggled to keep the momentum going for the entire length of the project.  Not all groups produced a learning story to share with others, leaving gaps in our understanding of how the project was undertaken.  But with no exemplars and a very first effort, I feel it will only get bigger and better!

Our team of project guides were fantastic and they took on the challenge with energy and enthusiasm consistently each week... amazing!  

Finally, John Larmer and John R. Mergendoller from ASCD have produced an interesting article entitled "the seven essentials of Project Based Learning".  I feel we incorporated these in Build Our Culture, some more deeply than others, but all in some capacity.  We may not have the 'need to know' within a curriculum subject area, but we have a 'need to know' in an authentic context with an accountable outcome for our students to meet.  Instead of a driving question, we had a meaningful challenge - both provide the same thing, a framework to help engage and inspire our students.  Our Hobsonville Habits were in full force throughout! 

I look forward to our next Big Projects... yep, next time there are two on the go!

Sunday, 11 May 2014

How do we evaluate Big Project learning?

Our values, the rubrics and some co-construction....

Where do we start with assessment in Big Projects?

There are three key elements to the "timetabled" learning at HPSS; hubs, learning modules and the Big Projects.  Big Projects have been identified as having the framework and learning outcomes that allow for the growth and development of ALL our school values, in a truly authentic, real world context. These values are:    


Excellence - both academic and personal.

Inquiry - the process that engages life long learning.

Connectedness - relationships between learning and being connected to the world students live in.

Collaboration - working effectively together to create outcomes greater than the individual parts.  

Innovation - addressing and embracing worthwhile challenges through thinking creatively, differently, strategically.   

Big Projects brings these 'values' to life in a tangible, and hopefully student-centred, way with relevant, engaging contexts for learning. How many schools can honestly say that their underlying values are explicitly developed and nurtured within their students? Would they be able to measure/track the development of these values?  Some values perhaps, but certainly not all!

The Big Project vision is an assessment framework which is holistic, relevant, meaningful, and involves more than just one voice.  I have a goal, to involve everyone; students, project guides, outside partners, audiences, all giving each individual student feedback on their learning and outcomes which have been documented and evidenced.  Not only that, but embracing the mantra of 'so what and what now?' by giving useful, realistic and truly helpful advice on how to improve their project based learning in the future.  

Looking at the research and practitioner advice:

One of the wonderful things about Big Projects is this is not a world first.  For years really innovative and inspiring teachers have been engaging students in project based learning to help make education more meaningful, relevant and purposeful.  In developing our own Big Project assessment structure, we have looked at others who have already forged a path in this area.

Of course, the Buck Institute of Education (BIE) was my first port of call, with 25 years of experience and a huge data base of resources on assessment in project based learning. It may not completely align with all the Big Project elements, but the ingredients around student centred learning are the same. 

A blog from Cady Smith really helped put my mind at rest - assessment should be co-constructed, it HAS been co-constructed, and it improves student outcomes.  Her ideas are found here. Her blog also contains a webinar that explores student and peer assessment and the role of a public audience in assessment - just what I was thinking - audience assessment!  John Larmer has made some insightful observations about quality of work in project based learning - His ideas are found here.  

It was really important for me to have academic, evidenced based research guiding decisions about Big Project assessment. Beyond BIE, Edutopia (while based in the Northern Hemisphere again) was able to provide even more of that research - the link is here. 

Rubrics and Exemplars - the key to assessment success...

More than any other strategies, using rubrics and student exemplars have been identified in the academic research as being the most powerful tool for enhancing student learning and achievement outcomes.  So, we shall embrace these in Big Projects. 

Here at HPSS, we are working with SOLO taxonomy - a model that describes levels of increasing complexity in a students understanding.  My colleague, Megan Peterson, has written her own insight into SOLO in her blog - which can be accessed here (thanks Megan).  So, trying to merge SOLO into my rubrics was my first challenge.  I am new to SOLO, but have quickly seen the huge value in empowering students with a meaningful language and simple structure they can use to track and evaluate their own learning and achievement.  It is a tool.  

Produced by Pam Hook (@arti_choke)

So, with the following in mind...
1) This is our first year of Big Projects and we have a cohort of Year 9 (13yrs) students.
2) Our assessment criteria should begin with small steps and build over the years as the project complexity increases and the skill base of our students grows.
3) The school is new, staff are finding their feet.  Keep things simple and straightforward as much as possible.
4) Embrace the start, but make it a 'work in progress'.  Let it evolve through a process of co-construction with our students and let it be personalised.

... I (along with lots of help from my colleagues - thank you Di,Megan,Liz and the PPT team) developed the very first BIG PROJECT RUBRIC...  the aim was to allow students the opportunity to see how their project learning would be commented on, judged, scrutinised, evaluated, assessed, etc etc. Personally I sometimes feel uncomfortable trying to label this, however, at the end of the day, this is a form of assessment.  

And it looks like this: 

The whole 3 page document - including 'unpacking the language' can be seen here - HPSS BIG PROJECT ASSESSMENT RUBRICS VERSION ONE 2014

This is truely a work in progress.... and I look forward to the feedback and feedforward we get from students and staff after the first Big Project finishes at the end of this term - 2nd July.  

But it needs so much more... co-constructing this with our students.

While a rubric in itself is useful and helps everyone understand the learning, skills, tasks and outcomes required, it is not what will generate a quality Big Project.  Project guides are required to unpack the rubric with their project teams and re-build them again BUT together and with the specific project context in mind.  

So what does THAT look like? The first initial stage could look like this....

Unpacking the Big Project rubric with my Restore Our Region students
What is this?
I'm afraid I have yet to explain the first fully fledged Big Project at HPSS. Look out for a "Build Our Culture" blog post soon. 

This image above represents the unpacking of the initial rubric (shown previously) in the context of a Big Project called "Restore our Region".  It involves a small group of students with a passion for being outdoors, at 'one' with nature AND destroying weed species with sharp implements!  However, to ensure this project fits the criteria of 'making a positive difference in our community' , these students are using their experiences to inspire others in Hobsonville Point to do the same.  They hope to educate locals about weed species, special native plants that live here and the importance of protecting areas of forest on the point.  

BTW - This is my team in action (another Blog in the pipeline about these guys!) 
Nikita, Jalen and Nick proud to be out attacking our weeds.  Watch out Wattle!
The co-construction of ideas involved in our group discussion whereby the students identified how their plan of action involved the HPSS values of inquiry, connectedness, collaboration and innovation. They came up with their ideas and I helped develop others that perhaps they had overlooked.  In the end, they felt like all the values had been 'engaged' within their project.  They also focused on Excellence - a value that will be judged on the level of authentic difference or the significance of impact a project will make.  They feel they have the components to show 'excellence' but they will need to accomplish all they have planned to do... and there is a mere 7 weeks left.

Next week we will work together to turn our initial ideas into a "Restore Our Region" rubric, based on the SOLO taxonomy.  For example, developing criteria around the value of inquiry.  We can move from the uni-relational stage of 'asking a question about plants' to a more extended abstract skill of 'engaging in purposeful questioning with local experts about native plants and weed species to provide the knowledge needed to fulfill our goals of producing informative resources for the community'.  We will need some outside help to get it right and it probably wont be perfect the first time around.  But over time lessons will be learned and the co-constructed rubric will become more powerful.

I'll keep you posted on that one....

What about the student exemplars?

Hmmm, this is slightly more problematic.  Over time we will collect a wide range of excellent student work that will inspire others and help students see the potential within project based learning.  We have a focus in Big Projects around telling the story and recording the journey.  These can be shared and give so much more of the picture than a final product.  That is exciting.  But for now we have little in the way of quality exemplars.  Over the next few weeks I intend to find some relevant ones.  In many ways they will not be for students as unfortunately it will be too late for our first project.  But instead, I hope to use them with our project guides, to help us all gain a similar understanding of what our values and quality project based learning looks like.  We need to make judgements in a fair and consistent manner when it comes to assessing the true outcomes, or as Pete would say - the story, of a Big Project.  I hope to turn to Albany Senior High School, a neighbouring secondary school that has had a Project Based Learning programme, in place for just over five years.  Hopefully, with exemplars from globally renowned teachers and our local expert colleagues (in the process of developing their own best practice), I will find the exemplars we need to ensure the first assessment of Big Projects is as close to 'our best practice' as we can possibly make it.  

I'll let you know how it goes!

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Big Project Showtime... our big move!

Showtime - celebrating our first day at HPSS!

Showtime is all about the celebration of the development and efforts students have made during their Big Projects.  It involves sharing the learning journey with an authentic audience, students presenting their response to a challenge (or their action to make a difference) for the whole community to see.  Showtime will come in many different shapes and sizes in the future, depending on the project.  But they will always add something to a project's success and be authentic in both delivery and participation!  

On Monday 3rd of March 2014, HPSS was the newest school in the world! And we used our Big Project time to celebrate moving into the school. Students were creative, innovative and passionate.  As a result, we had so much to experience on the day and the challenge of making it special was met! 

Moving In day was definitely news worthy!

Showtime was our moving in day.  The itinerary looked a little like this:  

09.00 am - Meet with Primary students and say thank you for having us! Gift of Kauri presented.
09.20 am - Walk over to the secondary school together (with primary school).
09.45 am - Official opening of the school - Maurie to cut ribbon (with messages) and Balloons
10.00 am - Official school photo taken and presentation of flags, banners and cake!
10.10 am - School Exploration Treasure Hunt - using QR codes.
10.45 am - Obstacle Course race.
11.00 am - Shared Morning Tea in community colours.
11.30 am - Auditorium presentations - Meeting Arohanui students, documentaries, school 
                mascots, dances, music, presentations!
12.30 pm - Off to our learning modules to begin the 'normal' school day!

Pictures speak louder than words...

Adriaan gifts one Kauri for the Primary and we'll plant the other!
Walking down the road, to our brand new school!

Banners, ribbon, students... we are ready!

Excitement is definitely in the air...

Finally, Maurie our principal cuts the ribbon and balloons with messages are released!
Here we are!  The foundation students and staff at HPSS!

Showtime was a celebration

Students had a lot of fun and were an integral part of making the experience special and meaningful.  There was a lot of learning that came as a result of this project - for both the students AND for us, the team organising Big Projects.  But this will be explored more in the next blog - our Final Look stage, where we review and reflect on the process and think about the so what?  and the what next? This is the last stage, but is most critical!

Sunday, 2 March 2014

the Plan and the Action... we are DOING things here at HPSS

"What is the PLAN, Stan?"  

So, we had our Moving In Kick Off two weeks ago.  Maurie inspired our students to take up the challenge of making the first day of HPSS the most memorable day possible.  

The next stage is making a PLAN....

For Big Projects to be a success, a very through, reflective and well researched plan must be formulated.  It is co-constructed by project team members and a project guide and in the future authentic outside partners will also be involved.  The Plan stage asks students to think about the important questions- the what?, how?, when?, where? and who?  The questions could be 'endless' but are mostly based around... 
  • What are we going to do?
  • What do we need to find out? 
  • How will this address the challenge?
  • What roles do we all have?
  • Who will we need to make things happen?
  • What resources and skills do we need?  
  • When do things need to happen by? 
  • Where will we work?  What space do we need? 
To help put these answers (ideas) in a structured way, that can become an artifact and evidence, our Big Projects team have developed a Planning Template (drawn and produced by our wonderful Liz). This tool helps students to refer back to prior thinking, reflect on ideas and to see the many different components /requirements of their Big Project.. getting the big picture. 

Planning Template sheet for our Big Project teams

This template will continue to change and improve over time.  We already have a different layout for the next Big Project planning sessions.  Watching this tool evolve and develop over the year will be interesting... well for me at least!

So with a plan in place, it was time for action....

Our students haven't had much time, but in the 2 weeks they had to plan and put this into 'action' there has been a 'hive of activity' in the school on Tuesdays - Big Project time. 

Some projects our students have been working on include:  

All the amazing project ideas from our Yr 9 students for Moving In

So, lets see the students in action....

Megan's hub making a banner of foundation students and staff

Steve's hub trying to contact Eminem to send a 'good luck' message! 

Bryce's hub making Hobsonville Habit popcorn - chilli flavoured = adventurous!

Pennets designed by students in felt

Some groups worked together from many different hubs

Getting the signage together for our community shared morning tea!

Phew.. so many students engaged and worked hard!  Such a short time frame for this challenge means that students had limited ability to carry out the inquiry and connectedness needed for Big Projects in the future - but innovation and collaboration was found in bucket loads!!!  There have been successes and failures this week - but even when a project falls over, the learning is powerful and students have all understood this and embraced it.  Some have realised the importance of communication and that working together means more than just doing tasks the team needs... there will be plenty to think about when we do our Final Look.  

Tomorrow is Showtime!

Tomorrow we move into the newest school in the world! It will be the first day of this school and this day will never happen again.  Our students have worked hard to make this day as special and memorable as possible (given the limited time and resources) and I am confident they will love every minute.. and the legacy will be long lasting and one they can be proud of...

I'll keep you posted!


Sunday, 16 February 2014

Here we go! Big Projects begins at HPSS

MOVING IN - Big Projects Kicks Off

There are many different ways we could introduce Big Projects to our Yr 9 students.  We could stand in the front of a room and bore them to tears with a power point presentation on the different aspects of this new curriculum area OR we could just get on with it. Big Projects is about DOING, so lets start with the doing and look back and learn from the process. We can do this when we reflect in the "final look".  

What does our project involve? 
Moving In is about making the first day in our brand new school the most memorable we can.  It's about sharing with our community who we are, acknowledging the importance of being the newest school in the world and ensuring this once in a school's lifetime event (the first day!) is as meaningful as possible.  

So what was the Kick Off?
We felt that Maurie (the principal) was the best person for this job.  Who else has the charisma to inspire our students.  We marched off down the street from the primary school (where we are currently based) and headed to the secondary school site.  Maurie gave a stirring speech!

Maurie explains the importance of our moving in day!

Exploring the possibilities
Students trundled back to the primary school, enthused and excited.  We sat in our hub groups and brainstormed all the opportunities for making our move special.  Students went wild - carnivals, balloon rides, banners, dances, parades, water slides... the works!  Careful conversations with their project guides (teachers and hub coaches) led to more refined and perhaps realistic ideas - important considering the 2 week deadline!  Students in their communities shared their ideas.  Connections were made, groups aligned and new ideas emerged.  

In previous blogs I have discussed the key ingredients to a great Big Project.  This has many of them, starting with a meaningful challenge - making our first day memorable.  It involves a partnership between staff and students, who are working together to make this experience as impressive as possible.  It allows for a wide range of learning opportunities and students can take their unique talents and interests and use them for a positive outcome that everyone is contributing to.  We have a common goal and we are working as a team to make it happen.  Students are participating, contributing, using their inquiry skills, managing themselves and being innovative!

Kick Off lead to ideas and these ideas have groups, teams, partnerships and  plans - banners, flags, kites, shared food, documentaries, treasure hunts, websites, cultural performances, QR codes, music and more... our first few hours at HPSS will be special.. for everyone!

As we move from Kick Off to Plan I will keep you posted!

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Big Projects: On your marks.. get set.....

...we are almost ready to go!

So, 2014 is upon us, and Hobsonville Point Secondary School is now filled with engaged and excited Year 9 students.  They are enjoying getting to know their coaches, their peers, their future opportunities and the unique 'ways' of doing things at their new school.  

This week they will be introduced to the concept of Big Projects using the authentic and meaningful scenario of "moving into the world's newest school".  On the 28th of February students will be involved in a once in a lifetime experience.  How do we mark such an event? How do we acknowledge it's importance, celebrate it, and make a noteworthy first 'appearance' on the school grounds?  This is our first Big Project challenge at HPSS.  

To truly understand the HPSS Big Project framework students should experience it themselves, by engaging in the process, rather than being 'told' and 'shown'.  In doing so, each of the stages will be explored - by students their peers, guides and coaches -  and a more rigorous, meaningful understanding will emerge... hopefully!

To help parents and the community learn more about Big Projects, a short, very basic PPT presentation has been developed.  It describes and explains the fundamental aspects of Big Projects and it's importance in our students learning journey.    

So, on Friday students will be engaged in an initial small scale "Kick Off" that should inspire them to take up the challenge.  

Watch this space....