Lee Hewes

is totes becoming a teacher…

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Project-based learning, group work and natural differentiation.

If you’ve ever heard it said that PBL ‘naturally differentiates’ and wondered how, I can give you an example of how this has worked for me with my class of kindergarten and year one students and the project we’re currently winding up. It’s a collaborative research project about Australian animals, with the final ‘product’ to be a bunch of paper slide videos to share with another kindergarten class from Promise Road Elementary over in Indiana, America. We’ve just finished the first of five videos, with the rest to be filmed at different points throughout the upcoming week.  So anyway, what of all this group work stuff?

I can’t remember where I read it, pretty sure it was in a research article in some educational research journal a while back, but it went a little something like this – for any task to truly be defined as group work, it must involve the completion of something to which all group members must contribute, and something that without any one individual’s contribution, all members of the group will fail to complete the task.

Paper slide videos are a fine example of such a task. They typically involve a number of slides in excess of around five, so that each member of the group must create at least one slide. These tasks also require students to decide to commit to one of a number of roles such as paper slider, narrator or camera person. So paper slide videos necessitate collaboration. Without a meaningful contribution from each individual the fate of the whole group is doomed to failure. This necessity for each member to contribute, coupled with the varied nature and number of roles is what lends this task so well to differentiation. Let me explain.

To successfully complete a paper slide video, students need to plan ahead of time what is going to go on each slide so that they know which art to contribute and which lines to write. They also need to decide who is going to narrate each slide, writing out lines based on whatever the topic is that they have been researching. We’ve been using the proforma you can see below, completed by one of my students. Now with students of the age group in my class, not all will be capable of the writing necessary to complete the proforma below, some may not be capable of planning ahead in such a way, either. So it is naturally the case that the more capable students in this area either step up for, or are assigned this role, as was the case on our current project. Have a look at all the planning that was done by the leader of The Platypuses.


Now whilst not all students are going to be capable of this amount of writing, all students should be able to contribute some artwork for at least one of the slides, some more so than others. Below you can see that one of the students in this group, whilst being unlikely to do much of the talking in the final video, nor much of the writing in the planning or scripting, was able to contribute a whopping four out of seven slides worth of artwork!

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The two kindy kids in the group contributed one slide each, you can see them below.

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With all of the planning done by the student who completed the proforma, he didn’t get around to creating a slide, so he’ll be completing the opening slide at some point before his group can go on to film their video. When it does come time to film, students will need to commit to roles that provide them a suitable challenge and that contributes adequately to the overall group task. Not all students will be comfortable or capable of speaking for an extended period of time on film, so they may be given only one slide to speak over. Others will be quite comfortable speaking, so may be given a number of slides to speak over. Someone will also need to be the camera person whilst another will need to be the paper slider.

All of these different roles provide a range of differentiated opportunities for students to contribute in a meaningful way to the project and feel successful and comfortable with what they are doing at school. Plus it’s fun.

Whilst a paper slide video can be made by students outside of a PBL classroom, the fact that I’ve designed this project around a Driving Question and have been lucky enough to find a public audience has really driven the relevance and motivation for students to complete this task. I also believe that it has added to the quality of the end result. I can’t wait to get the rest of the videos filmed and uploaded so that we can share them with Promise Road Kinder Panthers. I know also that my students are gonna be proud of all their hard work, learning and collaboration. PBL win!






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Kindy PBL: paper slide videos.

This year I have been fortunate enough to be given a temporary block with my very own class of kindergarten and year one students. For this term I have designed a project around the weird and wonderful creatures that are native to Australia. It’s been a joy to implement and watch as my students have been engaged and learning about some of the creatures we have here in our country. They have been researching with stage 3 students, using a range of paper and web-based texts, compiling their information and are now at the stage where they can put all of their learning together to make an informative video for some kindergarten students in the US who know very little about Australia in general, but much less about the creatures we have over here. If you look at the video below, you’ll see what I mean. Polar bears! #Lulz, #adorable.


Anyway, we’ve been working really hard to get all of the videos planned, designed and created so that we can upload them all before the end of term so that the Promise Road Kinder Panthers can view them when they get back from spring break. We’ve used this rubric, and whilst the language of the instructions is probably not suitable for children as my students, I didn’t bother changing it as the basic concept is all they need to understand. Put down your plans for each slide in the boxes provided, write down what is going to be said and who is going to say it. In future, I’d probably simplify the language but I don’t think it’s a massive issue as all of my groups have managed to plan their videos. You can see some examples of the planning below. It’s actually been quite good as a formative assessment tool to see how much students have learned about the content, as well as for basic reading, writing and spelling skills.

Paper slide unce Paper slide unce unce IMG_3901

As is always the case with project-based learning, I’ve found that some groups are progressing through the project more quickly than others. So as it stands at the moment, I have some groups who have yet to finish their slides, some who are practising for their video, and one group who has managed to finish their video. You can see it below, I think they did really well!

I love how you can hear them collaborating and whispering to each other as they remind each other of who is the next narrator! To make things fair and to ensure that everybody gets a role, I’ve made sure that the kindy kiddies in each group have been assigned at least one slide to illustrate and narrate. In this video there are two kindy kids in the group. One kindergarten kid narrates the opening slide and the slide with the information about what bilbies eat, whilst the other (quietly) narrates the final slide, followed by a repeat farewell from the whole class! The rest of the slides are narrated by year ones.

So anyway, there you have it, children can engage in project based learning as early as kindergarten. And they can enjoy it!

Thanks for watching!

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My class totes has a theme song!

I love singing with my class. One of the first things I did with them was establish a call and response chant that we regularly sing on the way back to class from recess. I go down to the COLA, get them all lined up, choose a couple of kids to carry the lunchbox tubs and it goes like this.

Me: “We are going back to class.”
Class: repeat
Me: “We will get there really fast.”
Class: repeat
Me: “1, 2…”
Class: repeat
Me: “3, 4!”
Class: repeat

When it’s time to sit down for fruit break/news time we all sit in a circle and get ready for the speaker to speak. Before we do so, we all put our hands on our knees and chant “Ooooh Aaaah Ma Neee” in unison. It’s ridiculous, I know, and based on something silly Ross Noble said during a live performance I once saw on DVD, but the students think it’s hilarious and a fun daily ritual.

I’m often putting a rhythmic or melodic spin on some of the things I say and the kids usually laugh and repeat this when I do. Wherever possible, I like to include music in some way into our whatever we’re doing. One of the greatest @K1MEPS this term has been this phonics song for the letter c.

It was delightful to see the sense of humour one of my students come out as he let out an uncontrollable giggle at the idea of a cat with a cap riding a cow to California and back, hilarious! Whenever I played the song he would say, “I think it’s funny.” When the song asked, “What do you think about that?”

Anyway, with the kids responding so well to music, I thought it would be a cool idea to have a class theme song. So on Saturday night I sat down and wrote a simple chorus that we can add more stuff to later.

You can see the chords and lyrics below.

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We practised it today and the students responded really well. We had our first go with the song to start the day, another run through just after recess and a final run through just before the end of the day. By the time we were ready to go home we even had a chance to give a little performance to a couple of teachers who happened to be walking by. Most of the kids have the timing sorted and, of course we’ll need to try to get everyone in tune, but for our first song I think it’s sounding awesome!

I gave the students some ideas about what they could include in their verse lyrics, but I think these may take a while to get into song. Especially as the kids will have to do these solo and that can be quite nerve-wracking, especially when you’re only 5 or 6!

I’m really happy with it though, stoked my class has a theme song and can’t wait to get them singing it to some of the other classes in the school!

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So we’re all eggs? Collaborative levelling up, @K1MEPS stylez.

Last year I had a go at using the K-2 teamwork rubric, generously provided by BIE, with the class I was working with at the time. I wrote about it, you can read it here.
Anyway, after my experiences working with the rubric there were a few things that I thought I might like to change a little to make it more effective for my class.

Some of these were:

Changing some of the icons to make them a bit more visually appealing, relevant and perhaps more personalised for any of my future classes. Don’t get me wrong, the icons on the BIE rubric are fine, but as with anything, it can always be better adapted to better suit individual contexts. If you read the post I linked to earlier, you would have learned that one of students had asked, “Why is the man shouting at the lady?” when we were discussing the ‘share my ideas’ icon, bless!

So with what I’ve just created, I decided to go with pictures of the Australian echidna at a few key stages in its life cycle. I did this for a few reasons:

1. We’ve been working for a little while on a project about Australian animals so I knew these images would be relevant to my students.

2. We recently learned that a baby echidna is called a ‘puggle’ and I couldn’t resist incorporating that word into our regular classroom discourse into whatever way possible. For those of you who don’t know (as I didn’t until a week or so ago) ‘puggle’ is the name given to a baby monotreme (echidna or platypus).

3. The different stages in the life cycles of monotremes show quite visually the levelling up process that I’m hoping to occur as students get better at collaborating with their peers. It goes: egg < puggle < echidna. My students are very young and respond well to visual cues, so I thought this would work quite well.

From experience, last time I also thought it would be helpful to add a space to put some comments and suggestions on how to get better. Last time we ended up flipping over to the back of the rubric and using that space for comments. However this time I added some space under each of the criteria to put some goals for the next time students work in teams. It’s not much but I think it will help.

One of the other changes I decided to make was adjusting the criteria for what constitutes a good team member. Again, it’s not that any of the criteria on BIE’s rubric are in any way deficient. it’s just that I think that any specified criteria would be more powerful, effective and relevant to students if they came up with the criteria themselves. My theory is that students are more likely to take ownership over any criteria and be more committed to working toward it if they themselves had come up with it, rather than having simply been given it at the beginning of a task or project and expected to live up to it. So that’s what we did.

We had a class discussion about what it means to be a good team member. I reminded K/1L that we’d be beginning to work increasingly in teams as we draw nearer to the end of our project, and that success with their paper slide videos would be dependent upon everyone in the team working together to complete the video. I reminded them that if any individual failed to complete their part of the video, they would be unlikely to get it finished, so we needed to consider how best to work in a team. This is the criteria we came up with:



So at the end of today we went over the criteria again. I explained that we’ll be referring back to it regularly and that as we all get better at teamwork we’ll get greater team privileges and responsibilities. We discussed the progress from egg through to echidna. I think it was received pretty well.

One of my students asked, “So we’re all eggs?” and I said “Yes. Even I’m an egg. We’re all on the same team here and we all need to get better. I need to listen to you, you need to listen to me and we all need to work together.”

You can see the current version of the rubric below. I’m looking forward to us all becoming collaboration echidnas, with our epic spikes of teamworky goodness!

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#20WC – The 20 word challenge.

Last year I was lucky enough to work with Michael Sky and the Phenomenal 15 – AKA The Outback Turtles. Whilst there I learned about the 100 Word Challenge,  a cool initiative to give real world purpose and audience to the writing that students do in school. Having seen how well Michael’s students do with this task, and how well their writing has developed over the last year since I was there, I thought it would be cool to do something similar with my class.

Now, my students are very different to the students up at North Star, predominantly from backgrounds in which English may not be the language spoken at home, and they are also much younger, in kindergarten and year 1. Due to these facts, I thought that 100 words might be a bit too much of a challenge, especially at the start of the year, and I didn’t want my students to become overwhelmed or anxious by the daunting prospect of an overly onerous  writing task. I want them to love writing and to want to keep doing it!

So with these things in mind I set up the 2o Word Challenge with K/1L. Here’s how it works.

Each Monday my lovely wife, Bianca Hewes gets her year 7 students from Beyond 57 to come up with a writing prompt for my students. This could be a sentence starter, a question, something visual, anything for kids to write something about. I then show this to the class and we have a discussion about what we might be able to write about the prompt. What does it look like? What’s happening in the background? What colours can you see? What do you think might be going on? Is there anything random that could possibly occur in the next instance? What might have just happened? Whatever.


I then get my students to write 20 words in response to the prompt in their writing books. They then bring it to me, I mark it, give them some formative feedback and they edit their works and bring them back to me again. I give them more feedback and then I log each one of them in to the nearby computers, open up a Google doc and get them to rewrite their work on that document. This week was my first week running the #20WC and it was hilarious to see how the students reacted to the fact that they were all editing the same document on several different computers! I don’t think they’d ever seen anything like it, so cool! :-)

Michael has been given access to the document, so after my year one students have completed their writing he gets his year 3 or year 4 students to go through what they’ve written, to edit it and give my students even more feedback! I then read through the edited works on the IWB with my class before posting the writing to the class Weebly.

Bianca’s year 7 students then read though the posts and choose a ‘writer of the week’ who I give a book to keep. Literacy Central!

This week it went really well. My students were engaged and invested in their writing and the most confident year one writers in my class were able to get their writing on to the Google doc. I was able to also sit with other students in my class and get them to respond verbally to the prompt so that I could write their individual responses down for them to copy. This week I think I’ll have more of them ready to get their writing on to the G doc. It’s been really cool.

The other thing that, as fortune would have it, has really pleased me about the 20 Word Challenge is that the writer of the week this week was a student who had told me in response to a previous blogging activity that he “didn’t like blog cos it was hard.” When I told him he had been chosen as the writer of the week his face visibly became excited and happy. I don’t think that he had thought he would ever receive any recognition for his writing, particularly from other children. #EduWin! :-)

My net connection is being totes lame atm so I can’t upload anymore images than the one below. When it’s not being totes lame I’ll upload a couple more photos of my legendary little learners completing their 20 Word Challenges!


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#Kindersunite! Sharing our learning with kindy kids from across the globe!

So last week I blogged about the Awesome Aussie Animals project I’ve been doing with @K1MEPS. If there’s any greater testament to the power of social media for providing an avenue for engaging students with exciting, real world learning for an authentic audience than what follows, I’d kindly request that you send it my way so that I can be privy to such inspirational work.

My blog post was retweeted by a few lovely tweeps, and by the powers of the Twitterverse that be, managed to come to the attention of some lovely educators from Promise Road Elementary in Noblesville, Indiana – which seems to be an epic, newly established PBL pilot school over in America.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, this is what happened. I got into a Twitter conversation with Callie Moore, an enthusiastic and easy going kindy teacher from Promise Road, and we decided to become each others authentic audience for the animals projects we are both learning through with our classes. Promise Road kindy are learning about animals in Indiana, and @K1MEPS are learning about native Australian animals. Below you can view the cuteness of our introductory videos that have come about as a result our chance meeting.

If the link above isn’t working properly, the direct link is here. Yay!


K/1L spent a lot of time on Friday preparing and recording the video below for the kinders at Promise Road. We had loads of fun!

I love it, I love PBL, and I’m so looking forward to all of the learning we’ll be doing together! Enjoy!


Project-based learning in kindergarten (and year 1): Awesome Aussie Animals

I’m a first year out primary school teacher. Relatively inexperienced, enthusiastic and perhaps fool-hearted. This year I’ve been lucky enough to have been placed on a composite class of kindy/year one students. I’m really happy to have finally been given the privilege of starting my first year of teaching with my very own class of beautiful students, and all of the challenges which this entails. I’m excited to be learning with them throughout our time together, and as daunting as this whole process seems to be right now, I look forward to looking back later on how much we’re no doubt going to achieve. Whilst, of course, our learning will span across the curriculum, one thing we’re doing at the moment which I’m particularly stoked about is our Awesome Aussie Animals project. You can see the outline below.

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I heart PBL. In addition to working with kids who are choccaz with imagination, inquisitiveness and creativity, helping them learn, project-based learning is up there on the top of my list of ‘reasons I became a teacher.’ This particular project, whilst having a science (living things) focus, and as is naturally the case with PBL, also requires students to master several fundamental aspects of Australian Curriculum and NSW syllabuses. You don’t have to be a genius to figure it out.

Kids must learn about Australian animals, they have to read, critically analyse and respond to texts. The final product requires composition of their own text addressing the DQ. To get there my class must collaborate with their peers, not only from their core class but also with students from other classes. The final product (video) is a predominantly creative activity and whilst most of my kindergarten students aren’t yet capable of writing anything of great volume, they’ll be contributing to the video by producing Australian animal themed artworks. All of this will require a great deal of collaboration, sharing and discussion and I look forward to facilitating and observing these skills develop throughout the course of this project. We plan to share our paper slide videos on YouTube, and also with some year 7 students from Davidson High School.

So far it’s been ticking along nicely. To launch the project we had a cinema arvo in my class where we watched a few videos about Australian animals and discussed which features about each animal we thought were most interesting. Prior to this we also played a ‘Guess the animal’ drama game where some in the class (including me) pretended to be an animal and we all had to guess which animals were being enacted. To finish the lesson kids created artworks of the animals we were learning about. Year one also had to write as much as they could about which animal they thought was coolest, and why.  Fun times!


This week we had some stage 3 students visit from across the playground and they helped kids in @K1MEPS research some Aussie animals using some books I’d borrowed from Mona Vale Library. I saw this as a cool opportunity for students to work in groups with kids from another class, as well as allowing them some free choice in terms of what they were studying. Each group, with the assistance of their older mentors, chose which animal they were interested in and filled out the proforma below to later present their findings to the class.

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I’ll update this post tomorrow with some of their responses. Some of the animals were quite interesting, and I was honestly quite impressed with how this went. In the next few days I’m hoping to get each group to do some more research and decide on which animal they think is the coolest so that we can start creating some epically freaking killer vidz!



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