You’ve gotta walk the walk …

Yesterday was the first time that I have taught on a Monday in 6 months. That’s a big deal because I have four junior classes on a Monday and NO senior classes. I have Year 8 twice – period 1 and period 6. Yup, it’s like two completely different classes. It’s bizarre what five hours of being caged can do to a group of 30 14 year olds.

After struggling to invent some kind of engaging ‘hook’ lesson for our new literature circles project, and doing my best to keep the students ‘under control’ whilst they took part in the activities; I came out of the lesson shell-shocked. For real. I was all like, ‘What the heck am I doing this for?’ and, ‘I am so bad at teaching!’. I felt like a prac student after her first solo-lesson. Thank goodness there wasn’t a supervising teacher in the room or I would have been sent packing.

Next lesson was Year 10 (although I thought it was Year 9 so I amped myself up for discord only to be greeted by the smiling faces of 19 girls). The boys were out for their ‘Men of Honour’ day, so the girls and I got to spend the lesson sitting in a circle, chatting about the women in Macbeth and vaginas, lol. It was a lovely lesson.

Recess – yay, chocolate cake for my colleague’s birthday! Then the nightmare of a double period of Year 12 Trial marking and helping our teacher/librarian out with her first attempt at creating a PBL project. Lunch time? I forgot that I had play-ground duty so had to rush out and stand in the sun watching boys play handball. Not so bad except I had a towering pile of marking that wasn’t getting much smaller due to a bombardment of interruptions in the English staffroom.

Period 5 was Year 9. I haven’t seen these guys on a Monday for so long and they were super excited to have me back as their teacher – such a nice feeling! What was rather ‘trying’ was the eagerness of a small group of boys to participate in EVERY drama activity – even when they weren’t meant to … urgh. This is a ‘cute’ thing, right? Like they were SO engaged in the tasks that they couldn’t STOP participating. Or maybe there is something else at play, like the boys being dominant and not just playful? It didn’t bother the other students and therefore I took it as playful – kids at my school are usually over-friendly more than devious. It was an exhausting lesson though – those ‘fun’ lessons we all hear about from the presenter on our occasional PD days are impossible to sustain, given more often than not when we teach 5 or 6 lessons per day.

Period 6 was Year 8 again … we had some special guests in the classroom – students from Maebashi, Japan. It’s always hard to know what’s the best type of lesson when you have ESL students in a class of primarily English-speakers. It was even worse given that these three students had minimal to no English. What was I to do? I did the wrong thing. I just ignored their needs and powered ahead with a lesson I felt I ‘needed’ to get through (introducing the roles in Literature Circles because I will be away from class the next two lessons). OK, I didn’t ignore my guests, I said hello and smiled at them a lot, haha. Shocking, hey? Then I went off on my teacher-centred whole-class instruction mode and ‘taught’ what I needed to get through … what a horrible approach to a lesson! I even yelled a little because the kids were noisy coming into the class and made them sit in a seating plan. Who the hell am I? Half-way through I saw some kids staring out at the trees, I saw others drawing pictures in their books. I hated the lesson but felt confident the students would ‘learn’ the roles despite the boredom. The quiz at the end revealed that to be false. Most of them didn’t learn the responsibilities of each role. Wahhh.

After school I sat with my colleague and we compared our marks for the Belonging essays – all essays are double-marked and checked for discrepancies at my school. Then when I got home (at 5.30pm) I sat down and wrote detailed, personalised ‘medals’ and ‘missions’ comments on the back of every essay and in the middle of that managed to eat a hasty dinner. At 8.30pm I started marking English extension two major works and reflection statements. I got to bed at midnight.

You know what? This is the daily experience of the every-day teacher. Don’t come into our schools – or target us on social media or email – and try to tell us that we should do this and that to be better teachers. Don’t try to tell us we need to work harder. If you aren’t walking than walk, then don’t talk the talk. Word.

#ISTE12 Day Two

Day One of #ISTE12 was, to be honest, a bit of a let down. It did end with a wonderful dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory with Roger and Lynette Pryor. It certainly was refreshing to spend time with Aussies who see through the bullshit of education conferences and look critically at what underlies them – schools, teachers, parents and most importantly students. We spent a few hours talking about our frustrations and our dreams and we all left with a couple of drinks under our belts and plans to meet up back in Oz and hatch some plans.

Day two of ISTE was much better than day one. Why? A couple of reasons. One, I found my Kiwi/Aussie mate Glenn which meant I could relax and have a laugh – even though I’m sure sometimes he got driven mad by me and longed to be ISTEing solo again. Second reason was because the sessions were just better. The best session of the day was the one by High Tech High CEO Larry Rosenstock. His presentation was inspiring – his school and his vision for education was admirable. I guess if you saw my tweets during this session you’ll know why … I’ve added some of them below for you. I’ve always been interested in High Tech High – well ever since I started experimenting with PBL – and hearing Larry speak reinforced this interest. I love that his vision for teachers as collaborative agitators (meeting every morning to share their latest ideas for critique) and the complete removal of all of (what I call) the ‘nationalist’ elements of schooling – things like homecoming, proms and football (esp the mascot). Kids participate in sport but not for competitive prestige. I always think about the ideal school Orwell would have designed … removing non-community sports would have been a must.

Other sessions I attended were the Collaborative writing session run by a panel of teachers (a really cool design for this type of conference) facilitated by Vicki Davis. I liked their positive approach to the National Curriculum and the Common Core. I tweeted some stuff about it, see below. I’m interested in using Student Writing Groups in my classes – I’ll be investigating how these can be enhanced by using edmodo too.

Lastly, I attended a session on Infographics and Data Visualisations by David Warlick. It started off being interesting – there’s something shocking and interesting about data presented via infographics – but after half an hour or more of looking at them, I got bored. I wanted more discussion of how these can be used to enhance students learning and engagement. It really didn’t move into that region very much beyond David’s suggestion that we use the data visualisations to provoke student questions. Hmmm … no duh. I was disappointed by this session and you can probably tell from my tweets.

Oh wait – there was one more session I attended that was brilliant and which I could not tweet from. If you ever get to attend ISTE, make sure you participate in a Birds of a Feather session. I joined the PBL session facilitated by Suzie Boss and Jane Krauss (OMG – I know … THE writers on PBL research, just amazing to be in the room with them!). When I came into the room I knew I would love the session – the chairs were being moved around into circles, all messy and awesome. We then spent the next hour or so responding to prompt questions in small groups – rotating every question. It was so much fun and I learnt heaps. The people in the room were big PBL players (Shelley Wright, Theresa Shafer, Chris Lehmann and Mike Gwaltney to name a few) as well as complete beginners. I loved this session!

And to end this busy, busy day I attended the EdTech Karaoke party put on by a bunch of edtech businesses like Edutopia. It was a truly weird experience. I was lucky enough to catch up with David Ross and Dayna Laur from BIE right when I entered the party. They are such great people – genuine, passionate and warm. Meeting people like David and Dayna makes all the other silly twitter and edutech-hype stuff worth wading your way through. I then met up Glenn and some other Aussies and after a few more drinks ended up on stage make a git out of myself singing ‘Land Down Under’. Oh dear. If you ever come to ISTE and consider attending the EdTech Karaoke party, hire out a copy of Revenge of the Nerds to help you prepare, haha – it was fun in a geeky way, but I suggest leaving well before 11pm.

Why did I got to ISTE? The conversations with people who live on the other side of the world.

#IST12: Day One

I think I keep falling into a some kinda space/time hole thingy … I keep tweeting #ISTE11 instead of the official hash tag #ISTE12. No biggy, except for the embarrassment of doing so. But I think it simply reflects the same-same quality of this conference to last year’s conference. So far everything has been the same. Thousands of teachers herding towards the one door, all at the one time (OK, that was just the Sir Ken keynote yesterday that I fortuitously decided to miss). I shouldn’t expect anything different – even though we are on the complete opposite side of this massive country – because all conferences are the same. If we were idealists we would say that the biggest difference is the people – you know, there are different types of people at a different conference and it’s one whole year later. But no. All the same – same teachers here for the schwag bag and prizes, same teachers here to learn about the latest web 2.0 tools, same teachers here to feel a sense of belonging and importance by uniting under the title ‘twitterati’.

I’ve been to two sessions already this morning and they have been OK. I saw David Warlick talk about how students are changing (I think, lol) and I enjoyed his stories. I don’t think anything in particular screamed out as new and I guess that’s a good thing, yeah? Like I agreed with what he was saying and tweeted couple of things he said. That’s always a good sign. But I didn’t decide to come to this conference on the other side of the world to nod my head and think ‘yup, I know that and I agree with you’. I’m really trying to get my head around my motives for coming here. One thing I did get excited about was Scratch. I’m looking forward to showing that to my two boys tonight. It looks pretty cool in that they can create their own games using a kid-friendly programing language. Nice. I’m thinking I will look into using it with my Year 8, 9 and 10 classes as summative assessment – maybe the product at the end of a project. There’s a good chance I’ll hit some kind of filter block and the ICT guy at school will stare at me blankly when I ask to have it installed on our computers in the labs. Oh well.

After this session I went and found the Blogger Cafe and bumped into fellow Aussie @edusum. She’s very excited about being here and I have to admit it’s kinda contagious – probably a good counter to my moodiness and cynicism. It was nice to also put a face to a couple of other names – like Amanda Dykes and Michelle Baldwin. I also managed to stop Kevin Honeycutt and say hello, but once again he just gave me some merchandise so I’m starting to think that we won’t ever be collaborating on a project. He’s a super creative guy and a passionate educator but I think he’s on a path that has no divergence. I’m merely a flat speed-bump. Another teacher. The next session was meant to be Alan November (which coincidentally is where I am as I complete this blog post) but Summer and I bumped into Chris Lehmann. OK, I’ll be honest. Summer bumped into Chris and since they know each other I could be a dag and say hello too. Chris is someone I think very highly of as an educator. Sometimes I think when I grow up I wanna be like him, but the last few days have taught me that I have already grown up. Into a grinch. Anyway, Chris suggested we go to see a different session, one about media and students by Matthew Williams from KQED. Summer went to November and I opted to follow Chris. So we went to the session together. Well, we sat beside each other and I occasionally tried to make conversation, failing like a complete social-n00b. Nothing new there.

The session was great. It gave me what I look for in a conference session. A thoughtful, passionate, intelligent, experienced presenter talking about something he has done with students recently. No hyperbole, no book sales, no yelling, no drama, no pretense. Matthew was great. He didn’t talk at us the whole time, he just told his story about helping disadvantaged and silenced students find their voices through digital stories and gave us tips on how we can do the same thing with our students. He let us watch aptly selected examples of student work that were so powerful it made me want to make documentaries with all of my classes as soon as I get back in the class. He put up a link to a bunch of resources for making documentaries but I can’t find it now … thought it was this:

Here are my tweets from that session:

The next session was about creativity by the director of innovations at New Tech High, Chris Walsh. It was OK, we did a couple of cute activities (drawing a butterfly to test creativity, writing our dreams on a piece of paper and making them into a paper plane to throw at our colleagues and transforming a creative teaching experience we have had or made) but mostly we were spoken at for over an hour. You can access the slides online here. I liked what he had to say, but once again the session lacked ‘praxis’ – you know what I mean? How will I put these ideas about creativity into practice in my class? I don’t wanna be told what to do in my classroom, but I do want some good examples of ways learning has occurred successfully in other schools. Or a model I could emulate or maybe modify for my students. Nope. None of that.

Right now I’m splitting my attention between Alan November speaking about how to use google effectively (I would have gone to a session about this, had that been the title of the session, but it’s not – it was about empathy which hasn’t really come up that much) and how to use twitter as a search engine to connect to authentic conversations. Yeah, that’s cool. But right now, thanks to twitter, I can see that the session by Adam Bellows is going off and I should have chosen to go there instead of here. The audience is enjoying Alan November. Maybe I’m just a grumpy bitch. Yeah, probably.

My thinking question for tonight: why did I come to ISTE12?

The 8 Elements of Project Based Learning: A Model Project

As most of you know, the uber gods of PBL are BIE. I was first introduced to the BIE PBL ‘model’ from mate Dean Groom who handed me over what I still refer to as my ‘PBL Bible’ – a ring-binder full of the BIE Freebies that help teachers plan effective projects and keep students on track as they move through the different phases of each project. The cool thing is that you can use as much or as little as you want … PBL is a very personal process that (like all good teaching) should be tailored to the expertise and needs of the teacher and students. However, there are 8 Elements of Project Based Learning that can be called the ‘essential elements’ of PBL … keeping an eye on these and ‘testing’ your project design based on them can help you determine if what you’re creating isn’t just a ‘project’. I really like this statement from BIE contrasting PBL and traditional ‘projects':

A typical unit with a “project” add-on begins by presenting students with knowledge and concepts and then, once gained, giving students the opportunity to apply them. Project Based Learning begins with the vision of an end product or presentation. This creates a context and reason to learn and understand the information and concepts.

I ripped the image below from the BIE website, you should really visit it cos it outlines the 8 Elements in a super-clear way: What is PBL?

So like I said above, whilst I’m not one for structure or rules, I do think that sticking to the above 8 elements of a quality PBL project is super important. Like BIE say, this makes for ‘rigorous, meaningful and effective Project Based Learning’. Anyway, I offered to share one of my PBL projects with the lovely Dayna Laur from BIE because she is showcasing how PBL can help teachers meet the Common Core standards at ISTE. In an email she asked if I could explain how my project meets all of the above 8 elements. So I thought it’d be nice to share that with you guys too … here goes! (Oh, and I rewrote the elements as questions … just so ya know.)

The Emo Project

Here is the project outline that I gave my students:

Does the project teach significant content?

Obviously a key component of the required content for English teachers to ‘teach’ is poetry. In Stage 5 (students in Year 9 and Year 10) we can choose whatever poets and poetry we like to teach however because my class is the Extension English class I wanted to challenge them to engage with more rich, complex poetry – that of Yeats, Auden and Eliot. Our Syllabus also requires Stage 5 students to spend time composing persuasive and analytical, critical texts that reflect their growing capacity to evaluate literary texts. This project required students to engage critically with the poetry and then develop their own personal response to it in light of the driving question. They had to present their interpretations in their essay and in their podcasts. Finally, our Syllabus requires students to stregthen their understanding of the ways in which texts reflect the world in which they were composed as well as relevance of the texts’ ideas to the students’ own world and experience. The decision to use a sub-culture they were all familiar with, ‘emo’, and then encourage them to consider how poets from a different era may be classified as ‘emo’ really engaged students in the process of researching context and connecting to the poetry as young 21st century kids. 

Does the project require critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and various forms of communication?

The students were confronted with a number of opportunties to engage in critical thinking and problem-solving during this project. The Driving Question is so open-ended that students were forced to ask a series of sub-questions in order to answer it. They did this through the use of a KWL table. Students spent time solving the problems of defining ‘emo’ and considering cliche, stereotypes and prejudice in relation to the ‘emo’ sub-culture. They had to think critically about the poets selected as possibly being ‘emo’ and consider why and how they might fit this genre of artistic expression. Of course students also had to work out how they would write an essay in response to the question, requiring serious criticism of the poets, their poetry and their intentions. Often students collaborated online via edmodo and face-to-face in class to try and solve the problem of ‘how to write an essay’. Finally, students were required to collaborate on the podcast which was created in small project teams and a big challenge for all of the students was understanding the podcast form, its features and considering the expectations, needs and interests of their online audience. Lots of problem-solving went into this part of the project!

Does the project require inquiry as part of the process of learning and creating something new?

As pointed out in the last paragraph, students were pretty much responsible for their research into the poets’ context and the poems themselves. They also had to use all of the resources at their disposal to work out how to make a quality podcast – this meant looking online for tutorials and examples as well as collaborating as a team. What I found the most exciting about this project was the fact that I did not know one of the poems set for the students – had never even read it – and yet the students’ essays about it were phenomenal! The same can be said for the podcasts, I didn’t know how to make them, or what technology to use … the students had to do the research themselves, had to ask each other good questions and solve any problems they encountered in order to create something new – their podcast and their essays!

Is the project organized around an open-ended Driving Question?

Yes! The driving question wasn’t easy to write, even though it seems so simple: Why do emos write poetry? Let me tell you, there were so many versions of this question before I pared it right back to what it is now. I think the question is good because it is open-ended and I really was impressed by the range of responses the students developed. I loved the task of getting the students to write their initial hypothesis in response to the question and posting this to edmodo to share with the class. They then had to ‘test’ this hypothesis through the process of inquiry. It was also really worthwhile having them look back at their original hypothesis at the end of the project to see how their ideas had changed. I think a good driving question should have the possibility of being answered multiple ways as well as encouraging further questions.

Does the project create a need to know essential content and skills? 

Yes! As outlined above the students instantly had a bunch of questions that they wanted to know the answers to – these were put in the ‘I want to know/I wonder’ column of their KWL table. Because the students knew what the final product and presentation were they could easily identify the content and skills that they had to master in order to succeed. Every lesson the students were driven by their need to know something new in order to complete the project – they were encouraged to write a quick ‘goal’ at the beginning of each lesson that helped them focus on what they needed to do. Each student had a different ‘goal’ depending on what part of the project they were working on each day. At the end of the lesson they reflected on their learning and if they achieved their goals they got a ‘medal’ and if they didn’t, or they identified another need to know, they listed this as a ‘mission’ for the next lesson.

Does the project allow some degree of student voice and choice?

This project probably had less student choice than others but there was heaps of opportunity for student input. The students could select which poems they wrote about in their essays and podcasts. They also had the choice of whether to create a podcast or a vodcast (one team elected the vodcast). The format of the podcast and its content was completly up to the students as well which resulted in very different products – the perfect result of a PBL project!

Does the project include processes for revision and reflection?

I am a massive advocate for providing students with timely and effective feedback. This is particularly important with more formal writing tasks like essays where students can become quite anxious about content and form. Students submitted essay plans and drafts to edmodo and received teacher feedback on both. The drafts were particularly important as I used the annotate feature in edmodo to give them feedback on elements that needed some more work. Using edmodo students also shared their essays to get peer-feedback and ask for help from their peers. Students also used a self-assessmet checklist that clearly outlined the ‘goals’ for a good essay as well as room for the student and teacher to indicate the ‘medals’ (what they mastered) and the ‘missions’ (what they needed to work on). You can see that document below. I had a number of students continue to resubmit their essays until they were deemed ‘perfect’. This saw students achieve an unprecedented level of success in essay-writing that they had never experienced before. At the end of the project students all completed a project evaluation that helped them reflect on how the project helped them to learn, what they found hard etc. This was super useful information for me too because I ensured some of the questions related to my pedagogy!

Does the project involve a public audience?

Yes – the students presented their podcasts to their class and to our project ‘rock-star’ – author Craig Schuftan. You can read more about that by clicking on the link further down. The students’ evaluations of this project revealed that having Craig come and listen to the presentations as well as giving the students feedback as a professional meant heaps to them. It made them see that this was an authentic learning task – people really do write about poetry and create podcasts about literature!

Here is a link to completed emo podcasts.

Here is the letter I got from Craig Shuftan – our ‘rock-star‘, woot!

Here is the rubric for the essay and the feedback checklist using Petty’s ‘Goals/Medals/Missions’ scaffold.

Here is an exemplar student essay.

How to survive #ISTE12: An Aussie teacher’s guide (Pt 2)

This post is a continuation from my last post where I listed 6 things you need to know to prepare for a successful ISTE experience. Here’s the final four …

7. Attend the closing keynote

After hearing people talk about education for four days straight and walking between the sea of sessions, it’s easy to make the decision to ‘skip’ the closing keynote … after all, haven’t you heard it all already? My suggestion is don’t miss it. Well, not if this year’s closing keynote is as good as last year’s and I reckon it could be. This year’s closing keynote is about project-based learning and how it can get kids actively involved in solving some of the world’s biggest problems. I reckon that sounds pretty cool!

Last year the closing keynote was opened with amazing SLAM poetry by students of Chris Lehmann. They just were so cool, it got us all really enthused about our role as educators and energised us as we were all at our most exhausted, haha. Then we had the wise words of Chris himself – so cool, I wish I worked at his PBL school the Science Leadership Academy in Philly. He really is inspirational and you know how I hate using goofy words like that.

8. Make some time to spend at the bloggers lounge and the poster sessions

Often when you’re at a huge conference you find yourself rushing madly from one session to the next with little time to stop and socialise. I think that at ISTE you really do have to take some time to stop – if nothing else, just to rest a little! Whilst there are a LOT of big names in education to go and see at ISTE, I highly recommend stopping by the poster sessions that run all day long. These are usually presented by students and teachers who have a project or an idea that they are really proud of and want to share with others. Last year I was glad that Andy and I spent a bit of time walking around the different poster sessions, checking out what was on show. I met some great teachers and their students and was blown away by some of the work that both have produced. What you’ll find is that these are people taking real edu risks and being super innovative in ways that maybe some of the better know edu-stars can’t do anymore.

The next place to visit (and which last year was within spitting distance of the poster sessions and this is why I lump them together) is the Bloggers Cafe. This is another one of the ISTE Unplugged installations that gets to the heart of what a lot of ISTE is about for many of us edu-geeks. I still laugh thinking back to Andy pointing at all of these people and naming them with reverence – I had no idea who they were but knew they must be super important if Andy held them in high esteem. It is only with another year of edu-geeking under my belt that I can appreciate the calibre of the educators we were kinda hanging out with. It was really cool to be able to go up to someone like Kevin Honeycutt and say hello in person without feeling like a complete n00b. The premise of the Blogger Cafe is that discussion is open and lively … it is meant to be a place where people start putting new projects and vision into practice. In the ideal world it is the hub of praxis and is therefore the opposite of the more formal ISTE presentations where the audience receives wisdom from an edu-sage and then takes this home to put in practice later. I must add though, that the Blogger Cafe can be super intimidating. It’s hard to break into a clique at the best of times, and when the clique is some of the ‘top’ edubloggers from around the world, a person can be forgiven for just standing back and staring. I hope that I have the guts to go and say hello to the people hanging out in the BC, even if it’s just some other edu-blogging newbies like me. The best bit about ISTE is the connections you make (or solidify) and the evil genius-like plotting that results as a consequence, haha.

9. What tech should you bring?

I’m going to be honest here. If you don’t bring an iPad with you, you’re going to stick out like a sore thumb. Last year I took my Macbook pro thinking I would look super hipster but boy how wrong I was! I’d never seen so many iPads in the one place … they were still relatively new in Oz 12 months ago. I imagine this year will be the same. Regardless of what you bring, you should be able to jump on the wifi easily and if you can’t don’t worry because everywhere you turn you will find an ISTE volunteer eager to point you in the direction of an ICT emergency booth … I was happy with my iPhone tweeting all of my notes using the official hashtag. I then promptly forgot to back those tweets up with some cool tweet-caching site … and lost a bunch of notes like a complete loser. So yeah, bring something portable that can get on the wifi.

10. Make some time to party after-parties

ISTE doesn’t finish with the final speaker each day, nope it goes right into the night. There are a variety of events that you can attend in the evenings. You probably have already received an inbox tide full of emails about the hippest ISTE after-parties to attend. I have registered for tix to the big Karaoke party but from the looks of the list I’ll be surprised if the roof-top doesn’t collapse under our weight … there’s thousands of people attending! Even if you opt not to attend an ‘official’ event held by a sponsor or some other edutech company, you’ll most likely find yourself being carried out on a PLN tidal wave to pubs, clubs or restaurants. ISTE can be massive for those people keen to let their hair down.

Because I’m travelling with my family … and because to be honest I’m a bit of a wall-flower … I doubt I’ll be out late in the evenings. Last year it was great to meet so many edmodo people from my network and I hope they have another party this year. I guess you need to find a balance – and remember to eat! If you don’t you could find yourself feeling pretty gross come the 27th June.

11. And if you can’t make it to ISTE12 …

This year there are literally hundreds of Aussies heading over to ISTE12. Last year there were a few that I either knew or met via twitter – I even heard one guy speak up in a session and I nearly snapped my head trying to ‘spot the Aussie’ … it’s always nice to hear our familiar nasal twang when you’re overseas! I’m pretty keen to make sure that those people who can’t make it to ISTE this year (but who I know will be following our adventures and will most likely head over to #ISTE13) are kept up to date with the craziness of ISTE through the eyes of Aussies. I plan on making a daily vodcast to sum up my experience of ISTE and also the experiences of some of my fellow-Aussie travellers. I reckon that will be heaps of fun. I kinda haven’t done anything like that before but I’m sure there has been similar things done in the past. I have big plans for giving you all a tour of the toilets and the registration desk … you know, all the fun stuff ;) I haven’t come up with an awesome name for the show so if you can think of anything better than the Down-Under Daily (which sounds completely suss and therefore may be the winner) post a comment below. Oh, and if there is something that you want me to document via video at ISTE12 just let me know!

So that’s my list of hot tips for ISTE12 … maybe nothing new for those of you who are old hats at epic edu conferences but maybe something in there for those of you who are ISTE virgins. It’s going to be a manic four days and I do hope that something or someone really challenges my thoughts about education and forces me to do an about-face. I love that kind of thing. I don’t want to spend thousands of dollars and hours of my life just to hear the same old stuff that I can get for free from twitter 24/7. ISTE12, you’ve been warned!

How to survive #ISTE12: An Aussie teacher’s guide (Pt 1)

I just wanna say this so you know how crazy I am – this is going to be my second time at an ISTE conference. Yup – I’m a repeat offender. This year I don’t even have the excuse that I’m being forced against my will to attend by the peeps at edmodo … nope, I’ve taken it all upon myself to return to the big ol’ US of A to attend this massive edtech conference. So, now that you know I am a totally experienced guide, lol, I will give you some tips on how best to survive a conference that has around abouts 13,000 attendees!

OK, OK … I’ll stop being a knob and just write this damn blog post … apologies to those of you who may have accidentally found this post thanks to the google gods.

Last year ISTE was in Philadelphia – that’s right across the other side of the country from its location this year in San Diego, so keeping that in mind my advice may be somewhat less valid. I guess we’ll all know in a little under two weeks time! Regardless, this conference is going to be just as massive as it was last year and I really think there are a few things worth knowing before you embark on your #ISTE12 mission.

1. Pack your lunch!

Picture 13,000 tired and hungry teachers all swarming on the foodcourt at your local Westfields and you’ve got a pretty good image of what it’s like at ISTE come lunchtime. Last year we were lucky enough to be located across the road from the epic Reading Terminal Markets … and I mean epic! That place is huge and full of so many different food choices – think Patty’s markets x10. Despite its size Andy McKiel and I still had to literally cram our way through teacher bodies in order to find a relatively uncrowded stall to get something to eat – I think I ended up at a grocers and got almonds and a juice. I only ventured into the markets once – I learnt my lesson. My best tip is to eat a big breakfast – regardless of how giddy you are with excitement or nerves – and then pick up a snack like nuts, chips or a cookie and a drink from a deli or street cart on the way (I don’t know what the West Coast equivalent is – maybe a 7/11 or something?) and pack it in your bag. There is so much happening at this conference that you don’t want to be taking two hours for lunch – you know you’re going to miss something cool. Oh, and yes, there are coffee stands/shops inside the convention centre itself but the lines will be endless … I’m not a coffee drinker, so maybe you’ll think waiting 40 minutes for a coffee is OK. I don’t.

2. Dress casually and bring an extra layer

Like all convention centres, this one will have some super-sized air-conditioning system which most likely will be pumped to the max. All those teacher bodies huddled together in one space means we’ll need heaps of fresh air cycling through the place. Even though it was summer, I still found myself wearing jeans, a shirt and a cardigan – until I got me edmodo hoodie from the crew and then that became the staple, haha. I remember seeing John and Lucia almost blue from cold at the edmodo stand in the exposition hall - the aircon was super powerful in there! So pack a jumper or something lighter to cover your arms. And of course wear sensible shoes – if you’re presenting at some point and you wanna wear your heels, just pack some sneakers in a bag for later. The Philadelphia Convention Centre spans something like three city blocks and if it wasn’t for Andy I would never have found a single session I needed to attend – the whole place was disorienting and trying to navigate it, combined with the distance makes for very tired teachers. Many a time I just stood still looking bewildered, catching the sight of many others like me … those who have given up and made the decision to park their butts on the ground and rest a bit. No joke – teachers are a resourceful bunch and will make use of what they can get. So I truly do suggest that you’ll need some seriously comfy shoes – I suggest Chuck Taylors. They served me well and will again.

3. Friends – get some!

Whilst I was fully determined to go solo at ISTE last year – cos to be honest I didn’t know a damn sole and am not that big on asserting myself socially – but I was so very, very thankful to have found a true buddy in fellow edmodo-geek, Andy McKiel. The whole experience is quite literally overwhelming and at times threatens to break one’s spirit … how can there be so many teachers? So much to know? So much to learn? So much to do? So much to share? And so many bloody rooms to navigate! Having someone to share this experience with just makes it all the more special – and pretty much makes it manageable and enjoyable. I’m sure there was many a time when poor Andy hoped that I would forget his twitter handle so I couldn’t locate him the next day, lol. Of course if you are travelling to ISTE12 solo then I recommend rocking past the Newbies Lounge or the Bloggers Cafe and just striking up a conversation with someone else who looks equally bewildered. If you’d prefer you might just plonk yourself down next to a fallen teacher body on the floor – I’m sure he/she would love to see someone smile at them! (The pic below shows how Andy and I entertained ourselves towards the end of ISTE11 – trying to get our tweets on the screen in the Newbie Lounge, haha!)

4. Vote with your feet

A massive difference between ISTE and Aussie conferences is how the program works. You don’t need to pick your sessions in advance – no need to book a seat unless it’s a paid session. This means that the system is pretty much ‘first in best dressed’ which is cool, I reckon, but also means you need to get in early to the popular sessions. Problem is, how do you know if a session is going to be a popular one? The biggest indicator is – no duh – the presenter and his/her popularity. There are some obvious edu-stars who always draw a crowd for two reasons – they have something good to say and they say it well. A few names to keep your eyes out for:

Vicki Davis, Dean Shareski, Steve Hargadon, Roger Pryor (who is pictured below with his guitar during his presentation at ISTE11), Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, Suzie Boss, Kevin Honeycutt, Tony Vincent, Shannon Miller, Beth Still, Steven Anderson, Dayna Laur, Peggy Sheehy, Ewan McIntosh, Joyce Valenza, David Warlick, Alan November, Steve Dembo, Will Richardson, Chris Lehman, Gary Stager, Ian Jukes, David Thornburg.

Last year I sat down in my very first ISTE session titled something like ‘Connectivism in the 21st century’ – title sounds naff to me now, haha. Anyway, I was keen on the idea of connectivism but as soon as I sat down (in a massive room about four times the size of my school hall!) and heard the speaker say ‘OK, twitter – this is a micro-blog for social networking …’ I started to panic. I looked around at the iPad-powered teachers in the room and started to sweat a little. Is this really the innovative USA? I felt trapped. But after a quick tweet of panic I was assured that I could vote with my feet at ISTE and leave a session I didn’t like – with a smile you are likely to get into another session, as long as it’s not full. That’s pretty cool – no need for a daggy little ticket, you just cruise on in. Mind you, you might find yourself a little lost if you don’t plan your itinerary a little bit before hand … and don’t follow my lead by writing it on your hand, haha:

5. Steer clear of the exposition hall unless you’re at ISTE just for the schwag bag

Of course this is why many people are at ISTE. For so many of these teachers they are sent to this conference each year to get a tick next to the letters PD. And that’s cool. For them the expo hall is the place to be – it is like a sea of freebies. You can come out of this hall like Santa at the beginning of Christmas Eve – a giant bag of shirts, edu tech gadgets, pamphlets and assorted freebies all emblazoned with the name of the latest, hippest edutech start-up. I think people spend their whole four days in this place … you could and still have missed a stand! I guess I’m biased – a lot – but I reckon that the edmodo stand is the best … haha. Drop by and say G’Day to Betsy and the crew. The people who man these stalls work SO hard that by the end of the four days they are usually without a voice (from giving their spiel over and over again) and getting a cold from the air-conditioning.

6. Come a day early and check out the pre-ISTE stuff

ISTE officially opens on the Sunday afternoon with the opening keynote. This year we have been promised Sir Ken – but I’m skeptical as to whether he will be there in person. Last year Stephen Covey was amazing as a keynote – but he was on a giant screen, beamed in from some sunny local. That’s OK … but how cool would it be to say you were in the same room as Sir Ken? Anyway did you know that there are a bunch of events on before the official opening? Check out the ISTE Unplugged site to find out about some of them. I’m keen to attend SocialEd Con – but I’ll have to run it by the family and see if I get approval first. You can also keep up to date with coinciding events by following the official hashtag #ISTE12.

OK … just realised how long this post is already so I’m going to break it into two parts. Your next thrilling installment will look at: closing keynote, bloggers lounge/ poster sessions, what tech to bring, after-parties and the ISTE Down-Under Daily (or some bloody name I haven’t thought of yet!).

The Hotdogs and CoolBananas3000 show!

On Friday my two sons stayed home from school. Neither was sick, it was just one of those mornings where it was easier to have them at home with me than it was to get them to school. Maybe you’ve had one of those mornings or maybe you’re judging me to be a slack parent, either way my boys stayed at home on Friday.

Their preferred activity for the day was gaming – of course – and their preferred game was Minecraft. After about an hour of them gaming independently (OK, they may have briefly jumped on a server together, but mostly they were gaming separately), I decided that if they were to spend more time on Minecraft they’d have to produce something that I could show their dad, lol. So they got to work creating the first five episodes of their YouTube series: Hotdog & Bananas Multiplayer Survival Series.

They are keen to have an audience for their videos and so I promised that I would blog about them. It was great fun watching how seriously they took their videos and how quickly they became more comfortable in their digital identities – initially my eldest son (Hotdog) was nervous and concerned about small mistakes made. I loved hearing my youngest son (Bananas) being very forceful in his wish that the series contain his full gamer name ‘Cool Bananas 3000′ because that is what he is ‘known’ as on YouTube – he has his own YouTube channel, lol.

Here are their vids … the second one is a little grainy as I think Hotdogs potentially exported it the wrong size … oh well, it’s a learning curve! I’m sure they’d both love a comment or thumbs up if you enjoy their episodes … of course I can appreciate that you may not want to endure more than a few minutes! Oh, no – that’s not nice, is it? Haha. Enjoy!

Two units of work for Module B: Critical Study of Texts

Module B: Critical Study of Texts is a really tough module to teach. The biggest reason for that is because the module itself has evolved since its first introduction to the HSC English Advanced course in 2001. I’m lucky enough (*cough*) to have been an HSC marker for Module B for the last four years. It certainly has been interesting observing how the expectations of the module have altered – quite significantly since my first year of marking and teaching this module.

I’ll confess, right now it is my favourite module to teach. Yes, it’s a pain in the arse and can be super confusing for the kids, but I’ve found it is the module that gives me (and more importantly my students) the most freedom … we read, we discuss, we argue, we question, we speculate and we write. My approach to teaching Module B was heavily influenced by former ETA president Mark Howie and his use of the Visual Arts Conceptual Framework. Sounds a bit weird but I have never seen a great difference between how an artist approaches his/her artwork and how an author/film-maker/essayist/poet etc approaches his/her text. So The Frames are awesome for engaging critically with a text – my students become well-versed in the subjective, cultural, structural and critical frames for approaching a text.

When I first got an opportunity to teach an Advanced English class, I taught the poetry of William Butler Yeats. And since then I have taught the essays of George Orwell twice. I guess the purpose of this post is to share the units of work that I created for those texts … I usually don’t create units of work – these were created with an audience in mind (I do my best work when I expect to be critiqued by others) and I want to share them with you.

I have a bunch of resources to go with each unit, so if you wanna get a copy of any of them just let me know. They’re not helping me just sitting on my Mac … they may as well see some light and maybe help you.

PBL: Project reflection questions

A big part of the reason why I turned to PBL as my alternative to traditional teaching was my students’ inability to reflect on their learning … that whole passive attitude they have where they expect the teacher to just do the work and shovel the wisdom down their throats. If they weren’t able to digest it, it wasn’t there fault – it was the teacher’s. I don’t like that a helpless attitude in people outside of the classroom, I certainly don’t like it inside the classroom.

Built into PBL is an active engagement and participation with what is occurring in ‘the classroom’ (inverted commas indicate we do a lot of learning that isn’t inside the brick box) … and on top of that students are required to reflect on this engagement and participation. Last term three of my classes participated in a total of five projects. It is now the beginning of a new term, so it’s time to start new projects BUT before we can do that I need to get my students thinking about their experience of the previous project … and I also need the data. If my students’ reflections show me that they thought the project lacked relevance or that they were confused or disinterested, then I know something didn’t work. It’s my job (and their job) to work on ways to make the next project even better.

Tonight a googled ‘end of project reflection survey’ in an attempt to make my life easier – thinking up ten reflection questions at 10pm at night isn’t fun. I was very pleased when I found this little gem: 20 End of Year Reflection Questions. I have modified these 20 questions for two of the projects my Year 10 students participated in last term. I’ll do the same for Years 8 and 9 too. Hope these questions garner some useful insights for me and my students. Maybe you might use them for your end of project reflections too?


  1. What is something we did during this project that you think you will remember for the rest of your life?
  2. What was the most challenging part of this project for you?
  3. What are three things you did during this project to help your classmates?
  4. What is something that was hard for you at the start of the project, but is easy now?
  5. In what area do you feel you made your biggest improvements?
  6. What in our class has made the biggest impact on your learning during this project? Why?
  7. What is something the teacher could have done to make this project better?
  8. If you could turn back time and do this project again, what would you do differently?


  1. What is something you accomplished during this project that you are proud of?
  2. What was the nicest thing someone in our class did for you during this project?
  3. If you could change one thing that happened during this project, what would it be?
  4. What are the three most important things you learned during this project?
  5. What is something you taught your teacher or classmates during this project?
  6. What was the best piece of writing that you did during this project? Why do you think it is your best?
  7. What are six adjectives that best describe this project?
  8. When you consider the rest of your life, what percentage of what you learned during this project do you think will be useful to you?
  9. What advice would you give students who will participate in this project next year?