Welcome to my blog! I'm Karen Belt, a fourth year teacher working at Lynmore Primary School in Rotorua, New Zealand. I'm teaching in a Year 3 class using iPads to engage and motivate learners and improve student achievement. This blog documents my teaching journey and my learning processes with iPads in the classroom. I've proud of having been a member of the inaugural Manaiakalani Digital Teaching Academy(MDTA) program and last year a Spark Manaiakalani Innovative Teacher (MIT) and Manaiakalani Google Class OnAir teacher.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Sharing with Manaiakalani

I really enjoyed presenting to teachers from the Manaiakalani cluster this afternoon at a Professional Development session aimed at "Gearing Up" for teaching with 1:1 iPads next year.  Using iPads 1:1 has giving me an amazing start to my first two years of teaching and I love going to work each day.  I'm looking forward to continually sharing throughout the term at many more of these great sessions and hopefully inspiring and assisting other teachers as they transition.




Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Collaboration ... helping solve each others' problems :)


Today was our first inquiry meeting for Term 4 and provided an opportunity for us all to take a "teaching problem" to the meeting and seek advice and suggestions from others.  In my session today there was a vast array of different problems which we brainstormed about and came up with suggestions for.  So, without further ado, the problem I took to todays session was:

My learners are struggling to remember blends (letter combinations which make a sound eg ch or st) are holding learners back in reading & writing.  What sort of independent activities can I create on the iPad to assist learners with practicing these.
Some of the ideas that were contributed from the group include:

  • Start off with shorter blends or ones most frequently used first
  • Use sound bites that learners can press & hear what the blend/word is
  • Chunk the blend and the remaining part of the word and have pictures so learners can put the whole word together (include sound bites)
  • Break up words and re-create (with pictures and cues)
  • Flash card type activity - beat the clock - repetitive
  • Work on blend families eg play/plays/playing/played which also will work on word endings
  • Use song - link to You Tube clips focusing on that blend


With these great ideas in mind, tonight I have created an Explain Everything project as a starting point focusing on the "st", "gr" and "ch" blends.  Each project has a short video clip (song) about the blend and then activities using the above ideas.  Some screen shots from the first project are included below.  As always, the plan is to test this first project before creating others - watch this space.


Title Slide - used as a visual on my reading rotation board
create "gr" words
create "st" words

Putting it all together - match the picture with the beginning sound








Monday, 19 October 2015

Proud to be part of the inaugural MDTA ...

Nearly two years ago I started my teaching career and was honoured to win one of ten positions in the inaugural Manaiakalani Digital Teaching Academy (MDTA).  This unique opportunity saw me team teach with Michelle George last year and pilot the use of iPads in a New Entrants classroom.  This year, with continued support from Michelle, my own class again using iPads and I continually seek to challenge my pedagogy in order to accelerate the learning for my students.  It's been an amazing journey, a challenge at times, a huge learning curve and immensely satisfying.  I've enjoyed documenting my learning journey on my blog, and look forward to continuing to do so into 2016.

Earlier this month the Evaluation of the Manaiakalani Digital Teaching Academy was published.  Both the summary and the full report is available to read here.


The selection process for the next round of MDTA is currently underway and I look forward to welcoming them into the Manaiakalani Cluster and hope they enjoy the experiences and learning journey as much as I have. 


ULearn Magic ... Day 2 and 3


Day 2 began with another thought provoking Keynote delivered by Ann Lieberman entitled "What do we know about Teaching Leadership, and what's to gain?"  Ann told us that "we are great storytellers in teaching" and her story described the National Writing project she was involved in (in the United States).  Ann described teaching leadership as:
  • A way of organising learning
  • A way of understanding connections between knowledge and practice
  • A way of learning skills and abilities to nurture a community among peers
  • A way of negotiating the tensions between privacy and community
For me this keynote highlighted the 'community of sharing' practices which already occur in the Manaiakalani Cluster through toolkits, the MIT (Manaiakalani Innovative Teacher programme) and the natural sharing that occurs in each school.  I found it particularly interesting that Ann unpacked the conflicts that naturally occur with change with her focus on it not becoming destructive to the change process.

My second session today was Karen Boyes' "Enhancing Thoughtful Classroom Dialogue".  This was a packed session and I could see why when Karen started sharing her ideas based around six main themes:

  • Classroom environment
  • Teacher technique
  • Listening skills
  • The Power of Language
  • Thinking
  • Questioning 
I came away from Karen's session with pages of notes and a head brimming with ideas to try in the classroom to encourage discussion in an environment which turns the fear of talking into fun.  This quote which Karen used was particularly inspiring:

"Children who laugh more ... learn more."  - Dr David Sousa


After lunch I attended Paula Jamieson's 1:1 iPads with New Entrants, looking for ideas that I could use to enhance what we are already using in Room 19.  While not specifically looking for any apps (I still firmly believe that just the use of Explain Everything is working really well), its always good to listen to how others are using apps and how I could possibly adapt these.  Paula delivered her address using a Multi Touch Book which immediately had me intrigued.  She is in the process of creating several books, all of which are available from the iTunes store.



I particularly liked the way that Paula referred to camera angles with her class - snails view, possum view, birds view etc and intend to create visuals to support this with next years class.  As Paula stated, having learners know how to take really good photos to document their learning early on, sets them up for success throughout their learning journey.

After a great "On the High Seas" ULearn dinner it was back for the final day of learning.  Today's first session for me was the joint presentation by the "Manaiakalani Innovative Teachers (MIT)" allowing a small peak into the great innovations they've been developing this year.  The inquiries of all the MIT teachers can be explored here.

Following the presentation of my second session, the final Keynote was Pat Sneddon, chairman of the Manaiakalani Trust.  No matter how many times I hear Pat speak he's always totally inspiring and the entire audience was spellbound by his story.  For those unfamiliar with the Manaiakalani story, this video, created by some Pt England learners was shown during Pat's keynote.  This website also documents the Manaiakalani story.


Outta this World from Team 5 PES on Vimeo.

Edit:  Pat's full presentation is available to view here


Monday, 12 October 2015

A ULearn15 presenter

I was privileged to share at two ULearn sessions, the second co-presenting with Helen King.  Our hands on workshop was titled "Redefine the junior classroom with Explain Everything" and provided an opportunity for teachers to explore the great tools on offer using the app which is the backbone of the iPad use in my classroom.


Despite our session being scheduled at the venue furtherest from the Sky City, we had a great attendance and having two presenters enabled us to provide guidance as teachers explored the app.  We'd created a presentation to quickly scaffold the tools and give specific examples to some of the activities we've created in our classrooms.  Our presentation was supported by a Google Site (which includes our presentation) with resources for the session which is available publicly to be explored.


Thursday, 8 October 2015

Three quarters of the hill climbed ....

I find term breaks an excellent time to reflect on my year to date, and in particular the term just gone.  The majority of this post was actually created last week - maybe not on paper, but in my mind!  I took some family time away from Auckland in the Waikato area, and while away decided to explore Wairere Falls (the tallest waterfall in the North Island).  This is relevant because my 'plan' was to walk to the viewing platform, a walk of around forty five minutes.  I 'prepared' for that but not to really go any further.  Over three hours later, I'd not only walked to the top of the waterfall (totally unprepared) but successfully made it back to the car!   So yes, I managed to push myself (and succeed) and felt really great about that, but I know I would have enjoyed the journey even more if I'd been prepared (water, a snack, a better camera ... ).  I can't help but see similarities in the classroom and to my learners - the more I'm prepared for, the better position I'm in to accelerate their learning!  The more I'm prepared, the better I'm able to turn each eventuality into a more robust, engaging learning experience for them.

As I reflect on Term 3 of my second year of teaching, I look back on the goals I had for this term and think about how far I've come with each of them:

  • Complete my research dissertation - so close - just some formatting and a little tweaking to go - this mountain has definitely been conquered and I can definitely say the effort has been worth it - its been inspiring to research the practice of other teachers and I know my own practice has improved as I embrace the ideas of others - #collaboration 
  • Transition to using Class Dojo for class management - I found this was not as effective with my learners this year as it was last year.  I feel the special needs learners I have in my class respond better to a more visual reward system of putting a sticker on their chart.  I think perhaps the ability for them to always see at any time their progress has more influence?  
  • Continue to innovate with the iPads - this term I've focused on the use of sound bites more than ever as a way of allowing my learners to repeat or re-listen to my instructions.  We still unpack the activity at the teaching table, but I find particularly on the bigger projects, learners will forget what an instruction is - the sound bites have definitely made a difference in the "what do I do on this slide Mrs Belt" visits to my teaching table!



  • My Inquiry Journey - as part of our ongoing school wide professional development I've really enjoyed continually exploring my practice and sharing this with a group of like-minded individuals from my school.  The end of term presentation feedback session was particularly inspiring and motivating and I found myself wanting to hear back from everyone (which of course time doesn't permit).  I'm looking forward to continuing this journey next term.
  • Sharing with others outside of Manaiakalani - I had two opportunities this term (the most recent being ULearn15) and I continue to be motivated by both blogging and these presentations - its great that others are interested in what I have to say and I hope what I share has value to other educators - I love my job and am so enthusiastic about working in a digital learning environment which embraces and allows innovation
  • Explain Everything reading projects - I have been particularly pleased with how engaged my learners have been with the additional reading Explain Everything activities this term and how they allow each learner to revisit their text on a second day.  I definitely feel this is more purposeful for learners on days when I'm unable to see them at the teaching table and plan to continue with this into Term 4
  • My research dissertation - this has been an inspiring journey and I've grown as a teacher as a result of observing and analysing the practice of others.  As I dot the final i's and cross the final t's before calling it complete I know at times completing it has been a hard road (particularly with balancing a family) but its definitely been a highlight of my year and I know its opened my eyes to even more possibilities.
  • My Manaiakalani Film Festival movie - I can't say any more, but watch this space in mid November!
  • The amazing team of teachers I work with - to be in such a collaborative, caring and sharing environment makes even the hardest challenges seem easier.  I feel extremely lucky to be surrounded by experienced teachers who are happy to share ideas and resources so willingly. Having this amazing resource to ask advice of has made my journey so much easier and I'm extremely thankful for their willingness and collaborative nature!



  • Behaviour management continues to be a challenge in the classroom, and just when I think I have made progress, more curve balls come along to tip the scales again.  Thanks to some great ideas from teachers in my team I have some great new ideas to implement in Term 4 (star of the day, whole class reward) as a way to motivate some special learners in my class and assist me in managing their special behaviours.
  • Time - it was interesting that during yesterday's ULearn Keynote "time" featured as the one thing most teachers wanted more of!  Without the additional pressure of my Research Dissertation next term I'm hoping to have a little more 'downtime' and more time to spend creating and innovating (and some exercise too!)


Term Four is a busy term (I remember that from last year) but I still have some goals which are amazingly close to completion:

  • Implement the ideas from colleagues for behaviour management with my learners to ensure a more settled learning environment and make the most of this term for accelerating learning
  • Complete the requirements to become a Fully Registered Teacher
  • Complete my Honours degree 


Wednesday, 7 October 2015

ULearn15 ... an opportunity to share



I really enjoyed the opportunity to share my learning journey to date with conference participants at ULearn15.  After being inspired earlier in the day with the opening Keynote and breakout sessions, I was glad of the time and effort I'd put into my own presentation.  I still find it amazing that I get so much enjoyment out of sharing with others, and despite not being a fan of public speaking in the past have embraced the Learn, Create, SHARE mantel of Manaiakalani and continue to get immense satisfaction through sharing my journey.



Slides from my presentation are included here (note that my presentation was a Keynote, so some links will not autoload, and fonts may appear slightly differently):

ULearn15 .... innovate, collaborate, educate

I'm excited to be attending and presenting at ULearn15 at the Sky City Conference Centre in Auckland.  As a second year BT this is a great opportunity to collaborate, connect, learn and share from other exciting innovative teachers from around New Zealand and the world.


Even before the event started this morning I reconnected with other amazing educators that I'd met throughout my first eighteen months of teaching.  Following a powerful welcome, the first Keynote was the inspiring Grant Lichtman, author of EdJourney: A Roadmap for the Future of Education.  I always really enjoy listening to speakers that engage the audience from the outset and encourage us with thought provoking comments and activities.

Grant's first activity was to share via Twitter one word that would sum up your classroom for the remainder of the year.  Using the hashtag #onewordk12 some of the most frequently tweeted words definitely appeared on my list!



Grant shared stories from his visits to schools around the US and shared how schools are moving away from a more contained, controlled and predictable system, becoming more:
  • creative (student owned, knowledge creators)
  • adaptive (collaborative)
  • permeable (partnerships with the community, online, blended, regional, global)
  • dynamic  (messy, noisy, tailored, eg take it apart Tuesday)
He provided a timely reminder about some of the biggest barriers to change:
  • Fear and inertia­ - change cannot happen without taking risks 
  • Anchors ­ - attaching us to ‘time, space and subject’ ­and "holding us to a world that no longer exists"
  • Silos - ­ standing in the way of connectivity

"We are not guides on the side, teachers are smack bang in the middle of everything"
"Learning in the future is about being connected"

Many of the messages and ideas delivered in today's Keynote address appear in his TEDx address:


My second session today enabled me to sign up and explore the Pond.  While I'd heard of it before, as is often the case, I'd yet to find the time to explore and this session provided that opportunity as well as to hear ways that it can be used to share and explore resources and ideas that are contributed by like-minded educators.  For those new to Pond, I'd encourage you to explore the "Starter Pack" once you've created your account - it gives you a short overview and unpacks the 'buckets' and 'ripples'!  I have more exploring and this session certainly inspired me to dig deeper in the future.

My first presentation at ULearn15 was during the afternoon session so I took the opportunity to explore the Trade Exhibitions and MakerSpace room prior to my presentation (you can never have too many pens!).  Following my presentation I enjoyed hearing from teachers at Oratia District School as they shared how they collaborate with their planning in MLEs and the ways they encourage self directed learning from their students.

I've had an amazing day one to this inspiring conference and look forward to the sessions I'm booked for tomorrow and the thought provoking ideas they will share.