The Name Game (Te Reo)

One of my pet hates is poor pronunciation of Māori placenames.  Not that I aren’t guilty of lapsing into provincial vowels sometimes, Taupo being a particularly difficult one. Being Pākeha I have internalised the mispronunciation of a lot of the places most familiar to me – Matamata, Te Aroha, Tauranga, Mt Maunganui – and need to consciously strive to correct them.

As part of Leoni’s Te Reo SPIN, one of our homework tasks was to produce a game or resource the whole class could use to help practice and improve the pronunciation of Māori kupu (words). This assignment is a great example of how Leoni encourages her students to take ownership of their learning, by devising ways to help teach other. The work was pitched to allow students at different levels to be able to create something useful whether it be a simple way of getting vowels correct or something a little more challenging like saying Mangatainoka correctly…

The equipment for the game I created consists of a series of placenames on cards (file attached at the end of the post if you’d like to print a copy), on the back of each card is a number of points (5, 10 or 15 depending on difficulty).


Each player picks up a card and holds it in front of them. The first player to go must tell a short (1-2 sentence) story of a journey they took from the place in the card they are holding to a place on another player’s card ie. “It was a hot day in Paeroa, so I decided to ride my bike to Whangamata for a swim”. If they pronounce the name of the other person’s card correctly they take the other person’s card and earn the number of points on the back of it. If they do not get the pronunciation correct they re-try until they have it correct, however do not get the points.

The person who held the destination card then goes next, using either their original card (if the previous person did not get it right) or drawing a new card.

There are several ways to vary the rules – to ensure everyone gets a turn, or remove the points system, for instance – and the cards can also be used just as flash cards for practicing pronunciation.

The game seemed to work quite well and be enjoyed. From my own experience of having internalised a lot of incorrect pronunciation, it is much better to learn to say things correctly than try to re-learn them later…

<Feel free to download and use or adapt the pdf as you wish>


Te Reo @ Te Kura o Onekiritea

Ko Te Aroha te māunga

Ko Waihou te awa

Ko Mātaatua te waka

Ko Ngāti Pākehā te iwi anō hoki

Ko Whakatōhea te iwi anō hoki

Ko Ngāi Te Rangi te iwi

Nō Ngarua ahau

Kei Te Rae tōku kainga noho

Ko Stephen Watts tōku pāpā. Kua mate ia.

Ko Anne Watts tōku māmā

Ko Mic Watts tōku ingoa

Ko Aia Dowsett Watts tāku tamāhine e whitu ōna tau

Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa

As part of my efforts to connect both with the bi-cultural aspect of the NZC, and my own – albeit disconnected – Māori heritage, I took the opportunity of using one of my non-contact blocks on a Thursday to join one of whaea Leoni’s introductory Te Reo classes throughout term 3.

All students are required to take one of these SPINs for a term during their foundation (junior) years. Each foundation student has 3 SPINs per term, each for 1 block per week. This gives Leoni 9 or 10 lessons to impart a basis for understanding te Ao Māori to all ākonga, whatever their prior knowledge.

Leoni is an excellent teacher with a caring and patient nature which is apparent in all her student interactions, and I found the class valuable purely for the opportunity to observe her pedagogy let alone the content. Although some of the curriculum was (suitably) basic, I found it valuable just to refresh my memory and to provide an opportunity to practice using the Reo. I learnt a lot of new phrases also, and had the opportunity to gain a better understanding of the school’s bicultural situation.

It wasn’t compulsory to undertake any Māori study at High School – it was optional even in third form (year 9). I did learn quite a few basic kupu at Primary (counting, colours etc.) which I think has helped me to understand pronunciation and given me a basis of knowledge. The 6-month (1 morning a week) Wananga o Aotearoa course I did in Whanganui in 2007 was very valuable in increasing my vocabulary and especially my understanding of tikanga.

At high school, I found Te Reo daunting and intimidating, and while I knew that I had a small (1/32) amount of Maori whakapapa, no one in my family had shared any of this history or knowledge.  I had worked out that a thirty-second translated to a Great-great-great grandparent, but had no idea in terms of Iwi or Whenua about any specifics.

Happily I have managed in the past few years to make a few connections, to the point where I had managed to identify that Whakatōhea were one of the Iwi to which we were affiliated.

Part of Leoni’s course involved creating a pepeha which was a great impetus to do more research into this. I made contact with a relative who had researched some of our genealogy and was able to get a lot more specific details, enabling me to bridge the gap in my knowledge between Huihana Te Arawaere Hopa (Ngāi te Rangi / Whakatōhea) and my Grandmother Gloria, her Great grand-daughter.

I learnt that our branch of the family lost it’s connection to Whakatõhea when Huihana’s mother, Rawa Te Puea took her to the Coromandel to escape her marriage to a much older man, which had been arranged by Huihana’s father, Hopa Te Wheko. My grandmother and some of her children were welcomed onto the Opape marae in Opotiki a year before she passed away, and 4-5 generations after Rawa Te Puea and Huihana and her mother had left. I wish I had had the opportunity to accompany her.

So not only did auditing this class help build my connection to HPSS’s bicultural identity, it provided the opportunity to gain a valuable and fulfilling insight into my own whakapapa.


skating in the same direction

Over the weekend I had the nostalgic pleasure of surprising my daughter with some of her friends and family at the roller skating rink in celebration of her 8th circle around the sun. Fun was had by all and I am pleased to report that all my knees survived intact.

I haven’t been roller skating since probably around age 12, back in the days when Hamilton’s Meteor theatre was still “Skateworld”, my body was younger and lighter, and the ground wasn’t quite so far to fall.

The vibe of a roller-skating rink is timeless, though. Sure, you can now choose between regular roller skates and these new-fangled in-line skates all the kids are riding, yet the darkened industrial building with it’s blaring music reverberating off the concrete floor took me straight back in time.

But something there was newly familiar as well: Something about the chaos of the roller rink gave me a hint of the atmosphere in the learning spaces at HPSS.

We may be enjoying a “modern” learning environment at HPSS, but it has a bit in common with this edifice of my eighties upbringing.

In the rink, a large number of people are circulating at a range of speeds and skill levels. Some speed around challenging themselves to improve their skills or learn new maneuvres, some are helping their friends to learn, while some are learning together. Some make their way slowly around the periphery, scaffolding onto the rail to build their confidence while others weave in and out, confident in their abilities to avoid collisions. It is a scene of wonderfully orchestrated chaos.

This, I guess, is where I feel like teaching is the most rewarding and challenging for me. There is no teacher in the rink: no 1 person conducting the band, or giving out individual instructions. People are engaged by their own enjoyment of the activity and their own desire to improve their skills and abilities.

When you’re inside the rink skating, though, things aren’t as chaotic as they might appear: There is an agreed direction of circulation and a hierarchy of ability keeping the n00bs to the outer sides and the speed demons toward the centre. There are parents, siblings, friends or cousins protecting the smallest ones and helping them back to their feet and trained staff on hand in the event of any injury or emergency.

It is hard, as a teacher, to resist the urge to assume control of the way learning happens and instead allow ākonga to find their own path around the rink, but for many students a bit more room to learn at their own pace and in their own way can really help to build interest and confidence in their own self-efficacy.

Of course this doesn’t mean relinquishing control completely, but more a recognition that if your class is organised by some simple principles — ie. “everyone skates in the same direction”, “keep each other safe”, “if you’ve mastered this bit, help someone else”— then students can be far more empowered to learn for themselves, their whole lives long. Which, after all, is what teaching in New Zealand’s schools should be all about…

killing cats…


This week’s focus at HPSS is on the habit of CURIOSITY and we were privileged to have a visit from Dr Michelle Dickinson, celebrated science educator/communicator and nanotechnology engineer to deliver a presentation on how curiosity has helped propel her into a career of amazing opportunities and achievements.

I greatly enjoyed her talk and loved the way she emphasised the connection between curiosity and motivation. The best motivation for learning is a genuine sense of curiosity about a subject and the desire to know more.

In response to the talk I thought about some prompts I could use to get my hub to think about their own curiosity:

  • What is curiosity and why is it valuable?
  • What does “curiosity killed the cat” mean? And why would you want to discourage curiosity?
  • What are 3 things you’ve been curious about lately? What did you find out?
  • How do you go about finding out about stuff when you are curious?

Perhaps I should answer these questions for myself:

What is curiosity and why is it valuable?
My natural habitat is a messy shed. On the farm where I grew up we had no less than 4 sheds filled with different categories of junk as well as a garage full of tools. When Nanogirl told us her superpower was breaking things and taking them apart to see how they worked, it really resonated with me because that’s what I loved to do. I used to spend hours disassembling washing machines, old radios, and all manner of things just for the fun of undoing screws and discovering the mysterious structures within. For me, curiosity is the purest motivation: finding things out just because you want to know. Certainly other motivations occur in tandem with curiosity, but I am my happiest when I am doing something I’m really interested in doing. I value my curiosity as a core motivator of inquiry, experiment and creativity…

What does “curiosity killed the cat” mean? And why would you want to discourage curiosity?
It is a warning of the consequences of being “too curious”. In a beneficent light it could be seen as a warning to be careful when experimenting with unknown quantities as there is a risk of harm from unforeseen consequences. Marie Curie (Curie-ous) was an amazing, ground-breaking scientist but it is likely that her curiosity about radiation is what killed her. When we leap into the unknown we need to be aware of the possibility of unknown dangers and unexpected risks of how we proceed.
Curiosity kills cats, because they go through the world nose-first and lack the ability to reason out consequences or effects caused by their actions. We don’t want to discourage curiosity, but we also don’t want to die.
“Curiosity killed the cat” doesn’t — and shouldn’t — mean “Don’t be curious”, it should be interpreted more along the lines of “Look before leaping”. Take the time to research and consider the potential effects of your experiments or actions, and the risks they might pose to yourself or others. Minimise the risks as much as you can. Then keep being curious.

What are 3 things you’ve been curious about lately? What did you find out?
1. How to make a cigar box guitar… In facilitating a project for some students to build their own CBGs, I went down a rabbit-hole of youtube how-to vids and found out about the history of the CBG – from the African-derived 1-string Diddley Bow that children learnt to play the blues on (giving birth to the rhythms of Bo Diddely and Robert Johnson) to the more developed 3 and 4 string CBGs to a plethora of modern approaches to construction — assembly, amplification, up-cycling, recycling, different materials, and different levels of sophistication, quality and workmanship.
2. How to make a working iPod from two slightly-less-than-functional iPods. To be more specific; can I take the touchscreen and digitiser from an iPod with a broken backlight (a friend gave me) and replace the broken screen and digitiser of my iPod. The research looks promising and the youtube tutorial looks do-able. I have obtained the tools and am ready to operate.
3. What’s this recycled Rimu like to work with? In preparation for CBG making, I needed to rip some usable timber out of some old Rimu hangar beams we are blessed to have lying around from the old airforce base that was here before the HPSS spaceship landed in it’s spot. Before doing this, I used another job I’d been asked to do (making etching tools from sharpened nails) as an impetus to craft Rimu handles from an off-cut which gave me practical knowledge of how the wood behaves on the various machines that the year 11s are not allowed to use, so that when I came to do the bigger job I felt more confident.


How do you go about finding out about stuff when you are curious?
Trial and error has always been my primary go-to methodology (all the way back to my shed-days), but it is great to be able to benefit from the trials and errors of others at the click of a button, and to have information presented in a range of ways by a variety of people. This diversity allows curious learners like me to compare and contrast different information sources and select the ones that best connect with my understanding and abilities.
It depends, of course, but I am all over teh interwebnetz most days, following spaghetti-like link-chains into the oblivion of being-up-far-too-late-on-a-school-night, and I especially like the way youtube has enabled a multitude of amateur and professional doers and makers to share their knowledge, passion and, of course, curiosity. It is great that before trying something out, I can usually find many different examples of techniques that people have had a go with and avoid some of the pitfalls that other people have discovered.

I am curious about how my hub will respond to these questions….



On Monday, Jimi Hunt, motivational speaker and generally interesting dude came to speak to the people of HPSS about life, mental health and living reflectively as part of the week’s focus on the hobsonville habit: “reflective”.  Here is a TEDx talk he did recently.

He is an entertaining speaker and balanced some heavy topics (depression, divorce…) with some highly entertaining tales of the adventures he has invented for himself as a response to boredom, depression and whatever…

Being a teacher, reflective practice is baked into the professional standards required to attain and maintain professional registration, and it is the very core aspect of a teacher’s practice. Without reflecting on your teaching practice, there is no way to know whether you’re doing an OK job, or to come up with ideas for how you might improve your effectiveness.

All well and good, but what does this mean to students? Can I help my hub to see the value in reflecting on their lives and learnings? How?

At HPSS we encourage (strongly) all our students to maintain a “learning journey” blog, which, as part of extended hub time, we get them to reflect about their time at school. It is a valuable exercise and I can see from some of the students that it does help them to think about what they’re doing and (hopefully) why. But it doesn’t work for all students and can be a real challenge to get even a few pixels of blogtext out of them.

I need to reflect on how I am facilitating  these posts so that the students who do find it a chore can begin to recognise the value in doing this for themselves. I don’t know quite how to do this yet.

Not yet.

week 10: adapting to the terrain

I have been reminded constantly in this new job, that the MLE and modern curriculum structure doesn’t automagically make it easier to teach at HPSS.  To utilise the newfangled building and modern curriculum design a great deal of rigorous pedagogical thought and structure has been undertaken and as a teacher arriving into this environment I’ve had to find ways to change my practice to take advantage of this structure.

The curriculum may be delivered differently here, but everything about how the school is managed puts the vision and values from the NZ curriculum at the heart of things. From the (academic) learning design model, which helps us to use a common vocabulary across all our learning to the (pastoral) learning community model which focuses us on building the trusting learning relationships that are essential for any effective learning to take place. The management structures that have been co-constructed here enable a vital range of learning contexts to be implemented which make it an invigorating and exciting place to teach. But certainly, as I said, not any easier than any other school.

There has been a great deal of discussion and debate in the media and beyond about the efficacy of modern learning environments. They are a contentious ideological beachhead because they challenge the orthodoxy of some very old, very rich and very politically connected schools. The most common line of attack being that they are chaotic zones of uncontrolled activity. While I can understand how they might appear, to those looking for orderly rooms of quietly gridlocked students, to be chaotic zones of uncontrolled activity, the learning taking place at HPSS is rigorously, considered, planned and assessed.

This post by Heemi, one of my colleagues at HPSS, presents some great insights into how teachers might think about adapting our practice to utilise the possibilities that MLEs open up. It is a great reframing of the M in MLE and really got me thinking about what I can do to make my teaching work better here.

At my previous school I had pretty good results teaching Adobe Illustrator to 25-30 kids in an enclosed computer room, using verbal instructions and on-screen demonstration to take them through a series of steps to produce a book jacket. It was an activity that required little planning on my part (apart from ensuring the computer room was booked), but provided a differentiated, fun, crash course in the basic functionality of Illustrator. The students were used to following instructions and the room was quiet and free from distractions.

Running a similar activity to this at HPSS did not work so well. The computer room being open on two sides and with students from other modules working in and amongst the students I was working with, the space is just not suited to having the teacher deliver a whole lesson. A better approach from me would have been to provide the steps as a worksheet accompanied by a tutorial video allowing students to work at their own pace which I could then support on a needs basis.

I have a long journey ahead of me to fully adapt, but I feel, already, 10 weeks in, that I am evolving…

Kayak Spoons and Apple Core Analogies


Over the easter break I got away to idyllic Tairua with my daughter, my mum and her partner. A much-needed getaway and chance to kick back and stock up on some vitamin D as winter comes crawling in…

My daughter (7) was over the moon to go for a ride in the 3-person canoe (above) with her grandparents and did her best to join in paddling, however her paddling was marked by clashes with other paddles and little forward propulsion. She was over the moon upon returning from her first canoe ride, to discover that there was a kayak just her size and a proper kayak paddle.

As I swam around assisting her, she was having a hard time working out how to use the two-ended paddle and was getting a bit frustrated. I corrected her grip and then told her to imagine she was paddling around in a big bowl of coco pops and that the paddle was a big, double-ended spoon. As soon as she got this advice she was sorted, paddling around the estuary, digging the paddles in on just the right angle and getting the hang of how to steer by double-paddling or reverse stroking .

By the 2nd or 3rd excursion she was happily paddling wherever she wanted with good control and developing skills which made me so so proud…


What worked here was finding the right analogy to connect something she has already mastered (eating coco pops) to the skill she was looking to develop.

This is a crucial thing for teachers to understand and develop within their practice: Using what they know about students’ existing skills, knowledge, interests and talents to build analogies with the new knowledge or skills they wish to teach.

This hour-long lecture by noted polymath and cognitive scientist, Douglas Hofstadter, covers the basis of my educational beliefs: that at the core of cognition lie analogies between things we know and new things we encounter. For instance your understanding of what I mean by the “core of cognition” is possible because of your understanding of how an apple core relates to an apple. At the centre of our ability to understand things is our ability to find similarities between new things and things we already know. To “chunk” together concepts that resonate in our minds. Concepts do not literally resonate, this is an analogy.

Many educational theories make use of this concept, whether overtly or as an underlying aspect. The reason prior learning, and strong relationships are important for teachers is that they help to inform us as to what analogies might be appropriate to communicate or teach something to a particular person.

One of my teachers at high school was infamous for his “Rugby is a metaphor for life” talks. The problem was that he consistently chose an analogy (always the same analogy) which was interesting and useful only to students with an interest in sport. For those who found rugby culture alienating, the coded message was “life is designed for those who are interested in rugby, if you’re not then you’re an outsider”. Instantly alienating.

So it’s crucial to select the analogies that will resonate with your audience, not just the ones that mean something to you. If my daughter had never used a spoon before (if she had her way she’d eat with her fingers all the time) then I would have had to find an alternative scooping-based analogy to describe how to paddle a kayak.

Want to teach effectively? Take the time to craft the right analogies…