When I first heard about Zombiebots on Twitter, I thought what a great way to get kids into electronics, robotics and programming.  I wanted to try it out at home to see what it was all about and to see if it would be something we could get into our school. Of course our forward thinking principal Stephen Lethbridge was already onto this great initiative and had plans for Zombiebots at Taupaki School.IMG_1517

This blog post is about our personal journey using ZombiebotHQ at home and why I think more of this sort of thing should be in schools.

The first challenge required us to build a Bristlebot. My kids ( 7 and 10) were so excited to receive a package in the mail and to build this very simple bot using an L.E.D, battery, vibration motor and toothbrush head. They were also very engaged by the codebreaker and the excitement of what next?!!

The next challenge involved using a breadboard to make a circuit that turned on either a green or red L.E.D.  Then it got really exciting in challenge three where the kids had to use an Arduino to make an alarm sound when the room darkens.IMG_1482 We were downloading pre written scripts, but, the kids got it, they got the potential of what if. “What If we used this to sound the alarm when Santa comes in the night” one said. “Can we make it play our favourite tune?” the other said. Point is it got them thinking about other possibilities – it’s about the process and they were being inspired and coming up with ideas through this process.

Challenge four and five required some parental scaffolding as things became a little trickier for our youngest: Enter challenge six and that all turned around; the body of the robot needed to be built and it was all hands on deck.

IMG_1963The best thing about this challenge was seeing my father building the robot body with the kids. It reminded me of when I was a kid, on the farm following my dad around and helping him when he was fixing and building stuff. It is just what you do on a farm – fix your own stuff! There was great joy in that and I saw it in my kids as they were challenged, but supported by whānau. That is what making is all about for me – the people, always the people and the joy of creating alongside others.

We put the guts of the bot in the body we had built and uploaded the script and…….nothing! Uh oh….IMG_1996 What did we learn?

We learnt that you must prototype and test all along the way. We had to pull the whole thing apart and test each working component before we got the final light-following bot working.

We learnt that you shouldn’t expect to get it right the first time. Despite following the instructions, things went wrong, we had to improvise and fix things that we broke. Instructions only take you so far and sometimes you just have to learn by doing, for example, we had to swap the wheels around as the bot moved backwards the first time we tried it out. We also learnt that the light sensors work better when they are pointing out to the side not towards the front.

Life isn’t perfect and you have to adapt to changes, this is a great lesson for kids to just keep trying different things until you get it to work. We have learnt a great deal and am thankful to Mark Osborne, Tim Carr and Vik Olliver for supporting and inspiring us into new ways of thinking. I wish this for all kids.

The final light-following BoT

The final light-following bot


ZombiebotsHQ: http://zombiebothq.com/

Mindkits: http://www.mindkits.co.nz/

Vik Olliver: http://diamondage.co.nz/

Stephen Lethbridge: http://stephenlethbridge.com/?p=132


paloThoughts and musings on the work of Paulo Freire:

Paulo Freire believed that education is never neutral and that political policies and imbalances in power and control are inextricably linked with education.

For Freire even revolution cannot incite changes in our educational and political structures. He says this because he thinks that the myths from previous structures will carry over and people will continue to think in the same ways. According to Freire the key to destabilising the power hierarchies and structures that perpetuate oppression, lie in the relationship between theory and practice (praxis). In Freire’s words praxis is “the action and reflection of men and women upon their world in order to transform it. Through praxis, oppressed people can acquire a critical awareness of their own condition, and, with their allies, struggle for liberation.”

Freire rejects the ‘banking concept’ of education in favour of a problem-posing approach. It is the combination of raising consciousness through dialogue in problem-posing education that allows the process of praxis to occur empowering individuals to transform society.

Freire felt in order to transform society we need to remove the dominating model of education and move to a liberating education.  For Freire a dominating model of education involved learners being passive receivers of information (banking concept).  In contrast a liberating education involves both teacher and student learning and teaching each other (problem-posing). The banking concept is where education becomes an act of depositing in which students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor.  Freire thinks the banking concept begins with a false understanding of men and woman as objects and this is dehumanising. He thinks that the more teachers deposit, the more learners adapt to the world rather than transforming it. Furthermore, this contributes to suffering because autonomy has been shut down. He proposes a problem-posing education instead. In problem- posing educationquestion we see a return of his reference to praxis where teachers are both the teacher and the learner simultaneously.  The teacher and learner teach each other mediated by the world in a constant reforming of reflections. Problem-posing is the catalyst and conduit for raising consciousness, Freire elegantly says “consciousness as consciousness of consciousness”. Through dialogue learners are posed with problems relating to themselves and the world and they will increasingly feel challenged and want to respond to that challenge.  Through this process what was once hidden to them starts to emerge, more and more of their world will reveal itself as consciousness is raised.

A thought that emerges here is how differences in ethnicity, gender, and class structure one is born into may act as a barrier to authentic dialogue. Everything we do, say, the way we look, smell and act tells the story of the class we belong to. But I believe that the very act of being aware of this point gives us access to change and engage in authentic dialogue.

Freire’s ideas are not problem free of course, but his voice reminds us to never keep far from our minds the influence that political structures can have over education processes, oppression and autonomy of the people within them. Through education we can give students the tools they need to act on and influence the society in which they live.



Freire, P. (1972). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

Freire, P. (1994). Pedagogy of hope : reliving Pedagogy of the oppressed. (Barr. R. R & Ara·jo Freire. AM,  trans). New York: Continuum.

This is the second instalment in the governance as inquiry journey.  In my first blog post I talked about the ‘rational’ behind governance as inquiry and next steps. These are the conversations had since then:

The first iteration made its was to our team leaders who discussed the model and the idea.  Feedback wasn’t too rough – some of it centered around the cosmetics of the model which is easily remedied.  One critically important piece of feedback was a request for more alignment between the school inquiry model and the proposed governance one.  The challenge is that we want as much alignment as possible, all the while preserving the intended purpose of each one. The governance model is a review model and will have its own unique features, but, the essence of inquiry must be paramount.

Taupaki School Inquiry Model

Taupaki School Inquiry Model

Taking this on board, we set up discussion time in the March BoT meeting. The goal of the meeting was to walk away with a shared understanding of what governance as inquiry is and what it might look like in practice. This is an essential step to ensure we are aligned so we can move forward together.

After gathering everyone’s current understanding of what inquiry is it was apparent that we had a reasonable amount of overlap and alignment; albeit varying levels of understanding. We agreed Numeracy would be the curriculum area we would review as Big Picture might be biting off more than we can chew first up! There was a lot of discussion around the model, but not much traction for alignment.  For the most part we just weren’t sure, we knew it wasn’t quite right, but what to do? Our VC Frank Janssen interjected and said lets just make a start, put it into action and iterate along the way.  So we did. We started at the ‘INQUIRE’ circle and generated a list of potential inquiry questions.

1      Why are we doing it?

2      Can we improve what we are doing?

3      How engaged are our students in Maths Learning?

4      What constitutes ‘Best/Better’ practice in Maths: How do we educate the students, teachers, community in what is best practice?

5      How does our current practice align with current research in numeracy?

6      What should at/above standard be in our school

7      How do we achieve excellence in numeracy?

8      Is numeracy a differentiator for the school?

It was great to see everyone collaborating and participating enthusiastically and new ideas emerging from the discussions. One such idea was to use some of the questions generated in the INQUIRE stage for staff PD sessions and spin off projects.

Taupaki school Governance inquiry modelConversation quickly turned to how we going to involve the teachers in this process. The numeracy team has been subsequently briefed on the process so far and invited to give feedback before they get together and generate their list of possible inquiry questions. We will decide together on the one or two questions we will be focusing on in the review.  I feel it is really important that BOT and teachers collaborate and do this together rather than us mandating how it’s going to be.

We have set aside a whole session dedicated to carving out and shaping the next steps in the inquiry model. We are using what we have at the moment to guide us, but must be ready to pivot at any given time.  We can’t rigidly hang on to the first iteration of the model if it is not delivering the goods!

So now a reflective pause: What could we have done differently? What worked and what didn’t? The act of spontaniously ‘doing’ created an open space for sharing ideas. But a disadvantage was that we had not looked at the vision or NZ curriculum. We need to be continually reflecting on our past actions and feeding forward into next steps.