My first teachmeet #TMWR2012

Last Friday night I did something very different. I attended a TeachMeet. If you don’t know what one is, I recommend you watch this video. TeachMeets have been happening for a while now, but it’s really only be in the last twelve months that I’ve seen them happening consistently as part of my own PLN. But up until now I haven’t been motivated to attend one, which is kinda odd I guess since I spend so much time on twitter talking with my PLN about education. I guess I haven’t attended because I haven’t felt the need to go – the ideas I would share in a 7 or 2 minute presentation have been shared via this blog and via my tweets. To repeat those to the same audience strikes me as being redundant. And yes, attending would not be all about me and what I could do, but I also feel that if you attend a teachmeet, you should present at one – even if it’s for 2 minutes.

I attended Friday’s TeachMeet for two reasons: 1. I was asked by one of the organisers (Matt Esterman) to present on PBL. 2. The organisers are genuine, committed, hard-working people who were attempting to break a world record and I wanted to help them out. I could lie and say that I was motivated by the names of people presenting or by the excitement of being part of an event that big. But then I would be telling a lie and that’s not cool at all.

I had offered to present a 7 minute pechkucha on Project Based Learning and a 2 minute micro-presentation on Learning Spaces. At 12 noon on Friday I was emailed by Matt Esterman asking me if I minded presenting for 2 minutes as part of the opening ‘hello everyone’ session. I was shit scared at the prospect, but I also knew that if Matt was asking 5 hours before the event he was probably pretty desperate for someone to fill a gap. So I said yes. What did he want me to present on? Anything at all. Right. Let’s just say the following five hours were full of anxiety and doubt. I had to talk about ‘anything’ for 2 minutes in front of up to 300 people on a rainy and cold Friday night. Hmmmm.

After getting lost on our way and then frantic dialing Matt, we finally found our way to building 4 at Australia Technology Park. I must say walking through those doors and seeing Mitch Squires, Pip Cleaves, Megan Townes and Malyn Mawby was pretty neat. I didn’t stop bumping into my twitter PLN – in the flesh (no, not naked, although that would have been hilarious) for the rest of the evening. I must take this sentence to apologise for my blank stares at times, it really is hard to match faces with avatars and twitter usernames, I feel like I was rude to a number of people and seriously didn’t intend to be – the night was nothing short of overwhelming. When I finally found Matt and Simon Crook (another of the key organisers of that massive event) I was surprised to learn that my 2 minute Learning Spaces presentation had been bumped from the program – I was meant to present on Learning Spaces in front of 300 people? That wasn’t going to happen.

A glass of wine and a series of reassuring words from my English-teacher pal Mark O’Sullivan at the front of the ‘Theatre’ and I was feeling a little, tiny bit less stressed. As Ewan McIntosh spoke to us all about the origins of TeachMeet (which was actually really cool and I hope to revive pubmeets very soon), I hastily typed up an outline for my 2 minute talk and asked the guys near me to read through it and check it’d be OK. I even started smiling at someone sitting beside me whose face I recognised, only much, much later to realise it was Chris Betcher – no wonder he looked surprised and a little put off by me, lol. Anyway, here’s my notes:


Wow – three paragraphs into this post and it’s all about me, me, me. Oh, wait – that’s the point, right? This is my reflection. I walked up on stage and grabbed mic from Ewan (when he had finished speaking, of course). I hate microphones. I think I told everyone that. They are awful things. Despite my nerves and my insanely shaking hand, I managed to speak for 2 minutes. If you wanna see it, you’ll have to click on the link below and watch the Ustream that was recorded. I went 20 seconds over my allocated time – oops!

I just want to say that this really was a spontaneous talk (despite my one minute planning) and I hope I didn’t sound like too much of a git. The lovely lady who got up and presented on Google Docs after me was really amazing and she had put so much effort into preparing. The purpose of my talk was to just say, hey we should all be thinking resourcefully, embrace a ‘do it yourself’ attitude and make sure we keep our learners at the heart of everything we do. Yup, don’t stop thinking about the kids. I just wonder what the evening would have been like if we had some younger thinkers there – from the ages of 5 and up. Yeah, a logistical nightmare, but I still think it would be super cool.

My next presentation was also in the Theatre – it really is such a large space, designed for a much grander and more formal presentation than the one I was giving. Actually, filling that space was a tough gig – not filling it with people (I think there would have been 50 or so people in the audience and many, many empty seats) but filling it with your presence, your ideas, your passion, your voice. That was tough! As always I had left my preparing to the very last minute and was still tweaking my slides at 2pm that afternoon. I was happy with the images I had chosen, but really had to make up what I was saying on the spot. I wish I could find a video of what I said, I might learn something from the impromptu me – really, it feels like another person takes over your body and just blabs when you only have 20 seconds per slide to talk. Since I don’t have the video, I’ll just have to post my slides for you. Hope they make sense!

I will also share with you the slides for my Learning Spaces presentation that never was. I guess I’ll have to put my hand up for another TeachMeet so my presentation gets an audience. Lee said this one was better than my PBL one. Glad he told me that after I finished my PBL pecha kucha, lolz. Here are the slides:

 I was really stoked by the support of my PLN during my talk. It sure is an amazing feeling to sit down after a presentation and look at your twitter account to see a whole load of tweets mentioning your name and saying really nice stuff. I kept some of those tweets and I’m going to post them below. How about following the people who tweeted? I can attest that they are awesome – and not just cos they told me I was awesome, lolz.

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Oh, and this post is all about me – I know that – and I’m sorry. The next post about teachmeet will definitely be about the presentations that I saw. The people who were responsible for planning, organising and running the WORL RECORD BREAKING TeachMeet are well spoken for in this moving blog post by Simon Crook.

Build your vocabulary and improve your arguments

Below is a list of words and ideas from marking that may help students improve their writing :0)

NOTE: Even though I don’t necessarily agree with teaching writing in a piecemeal fashion, I do feel that helping students to improve their vocabulary and expression is essential … why? No, not for their exams (although that is going to help them for sure) but simply because being able to articulate your thoughts into a coherent argument is a life skill absolutely essential for young people heading into the fray with ultra conservatives hell-bent on killing the planet, or at least the human race. (Oh, and yeah – I know there’s wanky literary-type stuff in there that probably ain’t saving any tree or fish anytime soon. Bite me.)

moral order
divine retribution
preoccupation with …
new world thinker
a complete cessation of existence
immanence of death
manifests in …
moral integrity
mediatation on …
inner argument
religious reform
‘the apparel oft proclaims the man’ – Hamlet (re: Dickinson’s attire, all white)
‘Don’t you think, my lord, that Beauty accounts for more than Truth?’ (Ophelia to Hamlet)
alerting audiences to …
cultural uncertainty
traditiinal set of values
conflict with society’s expectations
disillusioned with society
shared connection with ‘universal’ (significant) concepts and experiences
importance of family in framing an individual’s well-being and idenitity
internal debates of the mind
religious tension and political turmoil
echoes the cultural anixeties of the time
rational thinking and self-exploration
…. speaks of …
embodiment of the sturggle between old and new values/ideals
imbued with
intrinisc moral code
a modern individual constrained by the views and expectations of a traditional society
archetypal metanarrative of humanity
intellectual obstacles
superlative adjective
moral imperatives
linguistic hinge
tragic consequences of freewill
selects reason over passion
places trust in the divine being
contemplative tone
tragic decision from which she cannot return
intimate poems
the audience is positioned to …
humanistic issues: love, revenge, rivalry, loyalty, politics, society
deals with basic human emotions
importance of morality in guiding one’s life
Aristotelian values
philosophical and moral questioning
clash between traditional Christianity and rising humanism
eloquent and articulate language
inner turmoil
commentator on the social, religious and philosophical inconsistencies of the era
philosophical deliberation
own moral guidelines
moral ambiguity
transcends time
sympathy for
empathy for
inversion of speech
balanced sentencing
moral superiority
human desire for forgiveness



Year 12 Advanced Module B: Pecha Kucha Assessment Task – helpers

(Below is a scaffold for my students for our HSC Module B: Critical Study of Text speaking assessment task. It could help teachers/students doing close or critical study of any text, really. More about this task – including the handout – can be found here and here.)


INTRODUCTION: directly address the key words/ideas in the essay question. Identify which essays you will be speaking about in the speech (all or a couple). Outline your thesis – this will just be what you think Orwell attempts to do with his essays (so to make it easy, just select on or two key ideas). Remember that what we want to see is that you have developed a personal, critical response to the essays … this is your ‘thesis’.

WHAT WAS YOUR INITIAL RESPONSE TO THE ESSAYS? be specific and honest – did you like the essays? did you like Orwell’s style? His content? WHY DID YOU HAVE THIS RESPONSE? give a couple of examples from the essays to support this. THEN TELL US THAT THIS HAS EVOLVED … WHAT DO YOU THINK NOW? (this is your thesis)

(there are two ways to go about this, one where you focus
on a couple of essays, one where you focus on all the essays – for those doing TWO essays, you might want to treat each essay separately like I have with Yeats and threading the following points together as you discuss each essay.)

WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT HIS CONTEXT? only talk about that which is relevant to your thesis!! Consider where he published these essays – who was his audience? WHY DID THIS HELP YOU TO UNDERSTAND HIS IDEAS/PURPOSE BETTER? make sure you link this to the essays … give evidence from the essay.

WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT THE ESSAY FORM? You might want to show off a little and say something about Michel de Monaigne and the French definition of the word ‘essai’ … tell us something briefly about the essay form – is it what you are familiar with? Why do people write essays? HOW DOES ORWELL USE THE STRUCTURE AND FEATURES OF THE ESSAY FORM TO EXPRESS HIS IDEAS? Think about why he chose to write essays and not ‘articles’ per se … why didn’t he just write poems, or plays, or novels? This must link directly to the essays you are discussing.

WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM READING CRITICAL RESPONSES TO THE ESSAYS OF ORWELL (OR JUST ABOUT ORWELL AS A WRITER)? You should refer to one or two critics – you really need to get to HOW this response altered your original thoughts on Orwell as a writer and thinker (as an ‘artist’) … did it make you change your way of thinking, did it challenge you to defend your original position, did it reinforce what you were already thinking about Orwell? Give examples from the critics (just a half a sentence or a sentence quote – we want YOUR ideas about Orwell, not the critic’s) and also examples from the essays to support your evolving appreciation of them.

NOW WHAT DO YOU THINK OF ORWELL AS A WRITER/THINKER/ARTIST? This is a return to the subjective frame and acknowledging the evolution of your response to his essays – might be a good idea to refer to his essays as being ‘significant’ and ‘valuable’.

NOTE: Please don’t forget that this is a SPEECH! Use your rhetorical devices – repetition, rhetorical questions, dramatic pause, strong statement, anecdotes, humour, accumulation.
Good luck! Send me your speeches for proof-reading/editing no later than 48 hours BEFORE you have chosen to present.

Academic research: is it worth it?

I started my Masters of Education (research) half-way through this year. It has been a tumultuous ride … my ideas about education, research, my future have been given a good spanking courtesy of my lecturer, my supervisor and my independent reading. I have grown as a thinker, I know that much for sure. But what will the end result be for people other than me?

I went into this post-graduate study with the dreams of researching PBL and being able to get real data that would indicate whether this pedagogy is worth the hard yards – for the students and the teachers. I wanted to have some real evidence to support or refute what I have been doing in my classroom (and banging on about on this blog) for the last 15 months. I wanted to contribute something meaningful to my profession and make an impact on how teachers teach. But you know what? After 6 months of talking, reading, writing, crying, stressing, arguing and giving in and getting on with it, I’ve discovered that the contribution I can make as a researcher is pretty damn small. And by small I mean drop in the ocean. It’s not like I thought that I’d revolutionise education by writing a 20,000 word research paper on PBL. I truly didn’t. And it’s not like I didn’t know that most education research – despite the thousands of hours of work and the absolute heartache given over to an idea – makes a very, very small difference to how teachers teach. But what hurts the most it the realisation that this Masters is only going to impact me. It’s a thing you do to get ‘qualified’ … it’s a horrible, painful process designed to test me and see if I’ve got what it takes to be a researcher and/or an academic. It’s like the HSC on steroids.

You can read the progression of my thesis proposal here. It’s morphed like crazy from a naive idea of a non-researcher to the more realistic questions of a researcher-in-training. I worked so hard on that final draft thesis proposal that it almost broke me. That’s not one of my trademark hyperbolic statements either. And guess what? I had a meeting with my supervisor (who is a great guy, BTW) last Wednesday and he helped me get to the realisation that my proposal needs to go. The focus, the question, the design … all of it. Gone. Basically I was being too ambitious for a Masters student. It’s impossible to get all the data I wanted to and then work with it meaningfully to answer the questions I had proposed. So instead, I’m going to be writing a case study of one class in one school. It could even by my school – he said that’d be great. It won’t be focused on PBL. It’ll be focused on technology use for formative assessment using aspects of PBL. Oh, and I won’t worry about the multiliteracies stuff – that’s a 16 year old paper – and besides, literacy is implied in the study because I’m focusing on English teaching anyway. Finally, I should probably use a modification of an Action Research design.

Why have these decisions made me lose my research convictions? Because I do this in my classroom all of the time. I study MY classroom and write ‘rich descriptions’ of my lessons on this blog frequently. Sharing my experiences with PBL, technology, assessment, teaching English in the 21st century here seems – to me – to have as much, if not more, impact than writing a 20,000 word dissertation that *might* get published in an education journal. Oh, and those journals mostly aren’t read by my target audience – real, actual, not fake or full of shit, working teachers. I just don’t see how me learning how to collect ‘data’ and analyse said ‘data’ then write up my ‘discoveries’ is going to benefit anyone but me. Why would it help me? Well completing an MEd (research) is a stepping stone to a career as an academic … if that’s a path I wish to pursue. But that was never my intentions. Of course I have thought about where I want to be professionally in 5 years and still at Davo hasn’t featured high on that list … the possibility of teaching budding teachers is kinda cool. And yeah, I definitely fantasied about being called Dr Hewes or even better, Professor Hewes. But being a researcher … what impact does that have on us, the teachers? It seems to take FOREVER for any research-based ideas about education to actually gain traction in the classroom. I just don’t know if that’s the path I should take.

I guess I should conclude by making it clear that I am not saying I make a massive difference writing this blog. But if I counted all of the words I have written about my teaching practice in blog posts, and then add all of the words you have written in comments about your teaching practice, well … I reckon that’d be well over 20,000 words. And I reckon, just maybe, those words have or will have more impact than the 20,000 I’ll be writing for my dissertation.


Hewes, B. (2011). Her Brain. Sydney: WordPress.

I’m standing outside and chucking stones

Maybe pebbles, not stones is the correct image. But I’d hate to change someone’s line about me without their permission. Pebbles, like stones, are smooth and well-worn yet they are smaller. They perhaps are more worn down by time and the elements and this may be what accounts for the minimal impact they can do if thrown. I think I’m a pebble thrower, not a stone thrower – after all the latter conjures images of death, both humourous (Monty Python’s Life of Brian) and tragic (the story of Ukrainian beauty Katya Koren) and to be honest, I’d like to distance myself from both.

Labels abound on twitter and the edu blogosphere that attempt to describe the behaviours and attitudes of teachers who are fed up with the current state of education: edupunk, agitator, provocateur, radical, reformer, innovator, disruptor, instigator. Perhaps you have included one or more of these in your bio at some point. Ultimately those people who claim this label, or have it thrust upon them, have very good intentions for education and educational change. Sometimes working *within* a system – and its accompanying policies – is just ineffectual. Sometimes working outside of the system (and voicing this decision to work outside) can yield beautiful things for those inside … and sometimes you just get labelled the anti-social, grumpy freak.

As someone who has been heavily influenced by individuals who can easily be described using the list above, I have increasingly found myself outside of systems and communities … even the community to which I was one of the most steadfast members: twitter. Why? I can’t explain it entirely, perhaps my reading up on the Romantics is making me elect a solitary state of mind, a desire to reconnect with my own thoughts about education, free from the constant barrage of ideas and information that twitter provides. There is a need, I see, for silence and reflection. Of course a community of like-minded individuals has an enormous pull – we all seek to have an ‘@mention’ or a ‘favourite’ or a ‘RT’ as these assure us that we are valued, needed, trusted, wanted. But when it becomes that and nothing else, I guess it’s time to take a step back and reassess the reasons for being part of the community in the first place.

So how does this relate to the title of the post? Separate from the tweet, retweet, favourite, quote cycle of twitter and from the read/comment/read of blogging, I have discovered that I am at bottom a grumpy and cynical educator, frustrated by talk that yields little action. Thus, I suppose, I am a Romantic … unfortunately that may result in a complete removal from the community and an immersion in my own fantastical imaginings: the classroom. In fact an outburst of emotion and despair regarding the future of my children’s education ended in the observation that I am simply standing outside and chucking stones.

For me the reality of education is confronted daily … there is a future for it, but like Nick Cave, I don’t fall for the Utopiate that the edu-crew preach – a utopian vision of education where all students and teachers are Apple and Google certified, learning together in open spaces of colour and comfort, engaging effortlessly with technology and reshaping society in an image of themselves. I see struggle, confusion, frustration, failure and yes – learning. Just look at the young people taking part in the #OWS movement (the trauma they are experiencing, the denial they confront daily, the refusal by those in power – the touted 1% – to acknowledge this protest as being valid) and you can’t deny that there is such deep, systemic inequality in our world that talking up breaking down walls between public and private, rich and poor, haves and have nots is merely talk. And there I am. I have come full circle. I have thrown the stone.

Get outside and learn: geocaching with students

About four months ago my husband, Lee, took our two boys for a walk close to The Cascades – a walking track near my school that happens to be part of the Garigal National Park. On the walk they crossed a small stream and the boys started looking for tadpoles. Lee was impressed with the place for two reasons. One, he loves geocaching and was thinking that this would be the perfect place to lodge a new cache. And two, the place inspired a natural curiosity in our boys – they were very keen to know where the water came from, why some tadpoles had legs and some didn’t, why dogs weren’t allowed down there etc. He came home from the walk excited by the vision of geocaching and education coming together to create uber engaging lessons for primary students. Must admit, my hubby would have made a great teacher.

After lots of conversations about how I could maybe bring Lee’s idea to my teaching, I finally implemented his vision on Monday and it was great!

Year 12 English students must study the Area of Study: Belonging. It’s the very first thing we English teachers are meant to teach our new Year 12 students for the HSC. It’s a nice idea, having students think, read, discuss and write about what it means to belong. They’re at the perfect age to consider the factors that impact an individual’s failure to belong. Problem is this part of the HSC – like so much of it – becomes meaningless when aligned with an essay-based assessment task and/or the end of year examinations. I want my kids to engage in their world and develop a meaningful response to the question ‘What does it mean to belong?’ (this is the driving question for our study). Lee’s idea about geocaching with students to help them develop a better appreciation for their local environment seemed the perfect opportunity to (re)connect with my students in their community.

So what did I do? I took them outside. Below is a rough outline of my ‘mini-project’ which I think can be adapted for other subjects/multiple subjects too:

1. Teacher established five ‘caches’ – one large and four mini caches – in a natural setting within walking distance of the school. The large cache contained trinkets for each class member, a log-book, a pen and four slips of paper each with a separate set of coordinates leading students to a mini-cache. Each mini-cache contained a log-book, pen and laminated card of activities (task-card). You can see the activities included on our task card outlined in a blog post here.

2. Teacher met with students at the beginning of The Cascades track. Teacher overview of task, explaining geocaching and allocating a team leader to control the GPS. Class had previously been divided into ‘teams’ in preparation for this mini-project. As a class, students navigated their way to the large cache using GPS.

3. Students found the large cache and each student selected a trinket and added name to the log-book. Each team collected ONE slip of paper with coordinates to a mini-cache.

4. Teams of students worked together to find their mini-cache. Students used free GPS apps downloaded onto smartphones. Would be great if the school had a collection of GPS devices to share amongst the teams but the apps were pretty reliable.

5. Upon finding the mini-cache, students logged their find in the log-book (date, time and students’ signatures) and removed the laminated task card. Students worked as a team to complete the tasks. Most students completed them old-skool with pen and paper but in an ideal world 3G enabled mobile devices would be used to record responses to tasks and upload them to edmodo. 6. Once majority of tasks completed (some required further work at home or back in the classroom), students returned the caches to their original hiding spots.

7. Whole class regrouped for a post-activity debrief and chat about their experience finding the cache. We then went for a bit of a walk to take more photographs and see what was around. Then students returned to school.

8. Teams uploaded their completed tasks to the edmodo. This is where we are now – students still finishing the tasks and getting them online.

9. (to be completed – still a dream) Each team’s completed tasks will be compiled as a blog post titled ‘(team name), The Cascades’. A QR code to this blog post will be added to the corresponding ‘mini-cache’ so that future cachers – or muggles making an accidental ‘find’ – can access the students’ descriptions of the location.

10. (to be completed – still a dream) The class will select their best pieces to use as the basis of a collaborative website (using a free weebly) that will be presented to students from other schools in the state and internationally. Our class has connected with a school in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Knox Grammar, Wahroonga.

11. (to be completed – still a dream) The caches will be registered on using the class group name. The classes will be responsible for writing a description for each cache – this is part of the geocaching game. We will continue to track the caches to see who finds them and what objects have been left.

The students all reported back that they really enjoyed this experience. Only four of the seventeen students in my class had ever been to this walking track even though it was only ten minutes walk from our school. They were surprised that such a beautiful, natural place was nestled within the suburban surrounds. A number of the students asked if we could do something like this activity again – they liked getting out of the class to learn. I have written a blog post for our class blog that showcases some of the completed students work so far. You can see it here.

I’m currently HSC marking and had the good fortune of being in a group with a fellow tweeter – @glennymac. He was keen to have his boys take part in this task and whilst he didn’t include the geocaching aspect he did get his students out of the classroom and into the local natural environment to complete the activities. His experience was equally positive and I hope he will write a guest blog post for me about it soon. I am very much in debt to his professionalism and organisation skills, as he put together a great document that outlines the learning objectives for this ‘mini-project’. I’ve added it below. He works at a private school and I work at a public school and we thought this might be a nice bridge between these two often separate spheres of learning. I’m really looking forward to connecting our students and having them share their reflections on their local environment and how this activity has helped them to appreciate belonging (or not belonging) to a community, a place, the wider world, a group and to nature.

(If you’re looking for a more directed guide on geocaching you could check out this link here, but I don’t recommend watching the first video – the guy’s accent is SO annoying!)

Breaking holiday boredom: the 24 hour animation challenge!

So I’m a busy teacher on holidays but I’m also a busy teacher-mum on holidays.

My kids have pretty much dealt with my ‘busyness’ by attaching themselves to their iPods or my Macbook – either gaming or watching YouTube. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this – I know that gaming challenges them massively. I know they’re communicating with heaps of great people and they’re creating some amazing things in Minecraft.

But I do want to give them another challenge – one that forces them to make something they can share with a wider audience and that involves me and my hubby who is mostly confined to our lounge due to a badly fractured knee cap. This is going to be a family thing but it’d be sweet if others wanted to join in too!

Here it is:

I’m going to create a 24 hour animation challenge. Each participant needs to make a 2 minute animation using ONLY free apps on their iPod, iPhone, iPad or other smart mobile device within a 24 hour period. Here are the requirements:

  • These animations must not breech copyright in any way – all images need to be original taken using the mobile device.
  • All music and sound-effects must be original created using the mobile device.
  • The animations need to feature the signature item at some point – the signature item is ‘apple’.
  • Animations must be two minutes MAX
  • Participants then must upload the animation to youtube ensuring they have selected the appropriate Creative Commons licence for the video.
  • The 24 hour time period for creating begins at 9.30am Sunday, 2nd October.
  • The link then needs to be sent to me, the organiser, via email, tweet, text message, fb message by 9.30am on Monday, 3rd October.
  • The video with the most hits after a 7 day period is deemed the winner.


  • If you wanna enter yourself or your kids then add a comment with your name and who will be participating below.
  • Please, please add a comment telling us what your fav apps are for creating animations etc on a mobile device. We really need your help!

This is going to be fun.

** disclaimer: This totally isn’t an official competition with all legal protection and that jazz so don’t get all mental and stupid about it. It’s for fun, yeah?

Adopting the role of ‘student’ …

A little while back I wrote a post about my desire to transform our previous Year 12 English speaking task. You can read my original post here but a quick summation goes like this: Our speaking task was essentially a past HSC question that required students to memorise and ‘speak’ an essay. I felt that this task was ineffective in giving students a ‘voice’ – I wanted a task in which students were required to reflect on their developing appreciation of a text and their final assessment of it in regards to why it is (and has been) deemed a ‘valuable and significant’ text.

So I stumbled across the idea of a ‘pecha kucha’ – a type of presentation developed by Japanese architects. You can read more about them here.

I ultimately created an assessment task that I was really proud of, it made heaps of sense to me and I knew it would give my students the impetus to develop and demonstrate the skills they need to master for success in Module B: Critical Study of Texts. The problem was, they’d never seen a pecha kucha before so they were a little bamboozled by the whole thing. So how could I solve this problem without making them sit through some irrelevant Japanese architectural presentations? I had to do the task myself!

I think this is something that many teachers forget to do … or most likely are too afraid to do! It is terrifying to have to condense all you know about a text into 15 slides and a 3.15 mins speech. Even more terrifying knowing that your colleague is going to spring on you some impromptu questions to further test your knowledge of the text and how this appreciation has evolved over 7 weeks of study. I guess I was lucky because I got to select my text (I didn’t want to base my task on the students’ set text – this would advantage my class unfairly since my colleague is teaching Hamlet and I am teaching Orwell’s essays.) Really, I think when setting a task for our students we teachers need ask ourselves ‘Could I do this?’. Modelling for students does not stop at our behaviour in the classroom. Showing our students that we too are willing to complete the tasks they are given can be really inspiring. And, I’ll admit, could be a little intimidating if the teacher makes their task too good, haha. We must avoid egoism in our drive to help our students learn.

Here is our assessment task:

So I gave myself two days to prepare for the task … OK, honestly I stayed up until midnight the night before working on it and then got up at 5am the morning it was ‘due’ to complete it. I was really channeling my ‘inner HSC student’, lol. I couldn’t even eat lunch before the presentation – I was that nervous! My nervousness was compounded by my HT’s decision to video-tape my presentation (by my prac student!) so as not to disadvantage those students who were away that day. I think he was secretly enjoying torturing me! I had 40 Year 12 students watching me – and I wasn’t even that familiar with my speech! I got the kids to mark me using the marking criteria given to them, but in the end I was too chicken to ask them what mark I got. Let’s just say I’m giving myself an ‘A’.

Here are the completed pecha kucha slides:

And here is my completed ‘speech’:

It really challenged me to (re)think the task requirements and whether it is even possible to include all of the requested elements. I’ll definitely be asking for anonymous student feedback about this task via a surveymonkey survey. How else will I evaluate my own performance as a teacher?

Reflections on listening to David Chalmers at Sydney University (Part I)

I have already mentioned in a previous post that I was lucky enough to hear David Chalmers speak at Sydney University about what the future might hold for Artificial Intelligence, Technology and Consciousness. I have also shown that (mostly) my understanding what he spoke about is limited, vague, superficial. This post isn’t going to be about what I heard per se, it’s actually going to be about what I saw.

The lecture started at 5.30pm in the Old Geology Theatre. My husband suggested we get our seats early as the lecture was likely to fill up quickly. I loved the prospect of that – it gave me that strange tingly feeling that there is still hope for humanity – afterall, it was a Friday night in a very dull and damp Sydney. We took our seats – towards the back of the theatre, of course – and we looked around at the motley bunch that had already secured their seats. From what I could see most had come straight from work or uni and were looking a little jet-lagged from another hectic week of 21st century busy-ness. Most had some form of electronic device in front of them – a screen as William Powers would say – ranging from iPhones to laptops and ipads.

At five minutes to showtime, the room was very full with the only spare seats available down the very front of the lecture theatre. People did their best to march confidently down the stairs to sit beside a stranger or two.

At exactly 5.30pm David Chalmers was introduced. And something strange and otherworldly happened (no, we weren’t taken over by super-intelligent zombies!!) … the digital devices, the screens of life, all disappeared. And something even more unbelievable occurred – they were replaced by pen and paper!

This may not seem strange to those of you who spend many hours each week at university, but for me I was amazed! I was hoping to tweet a few philosophical words of wisdom from Mr Chalmers to share with the twitterverse (and sound uber-intelligent and cultured at the same time) … but the screen was shunned! My husband occasionally checked his phone and did so in a semi-foetal position with his phone awkwardly hidden between his side and arm. I hadn’t seen that shape since we were at a friend’s wedding that was entirely in Greek!

So … is this normal? Is there a ‘no tweet’ rule at philosophy lectures? Or just uni lectures? Are they behind the times … or are they ahead of the times?


Orwell’s influence … prose like a windowpane

So Orwell did it. And I wanna give it a go. At the outset I know I’ll fail, for clear reasons known to me and those who know me.

I want to write a little something everyday, reflecting on what my mind was doing and where it went.

A talk by philosopher David Chalmers on consciousness, artificial intelligence and technology really got me thinking about how damn crazy amazing our brains are. I mean, it’s not like I haven’t thought about it before – but his very brief discussion of the brain’s structure and how ours are so uniquely designed (and I use that verb VERY loosely)  as to enable consciousness (not just intelligence) REALLY got me thinking about the need for us to take full advantage of its possibilities. I was fascinated by Chalmers’ suggestion that some day we might be reconstructing the minds of people based on the words, images and recording left behind. Orwell left an extensive legacy or words, a handful of images and absolutely no sound recordings at all. Imagine a reconstructed Orwell? Orwell wrote a diary everyday – something which has become the basis of a pretty neat project to share his mind musings with the world online – check out Orwell’s blog here.

Well as I’m currently not doing Orwell or Chalmers any justice, I will just start with my first attempt at recording my mind for today. Like I said at the outset, I will most likely fail at my goal to be like Orwell and in the (very) vain hopes of transposing my mind to print. Life intervenes.  I don’t envision sharing personal thoughts about personal experiences although these will inevitably creep through like ants into the picnic food.


Waking early today I found myself checking my phone before I had even checked the weather. Is this normal? Most likely not. I checked a range of small coloured icons, discovered a trickle of new information related solely to me and then attempted to return to sleep. A futile task, I found myself boiling the kettle and contemplating blogging about my school’s Maths faculty. So I will.

Our Maths faculty has been (I think) the last faculty to embrace technology for student-centred learning (I specify here because they do have IWBs and projectors in classrooms). It’s probably the same in many schools, and might have been the same in some universities too. I wonder why though, at my school, when the faculty is lead by a devoted, passionate and engaging teacher. The practicality of the day-to-day as well as issues relating to teacher-control essentially formed a ‘fog of impossible’ that lay over the faculty. Yet on Friday the Maths-teacher’s smile in my direction told me that the fog had lifted a little. She came and told me about an execl spreadhseet task that had been set for all of Year 10. It was to be turned in via edmodo! Haha! A win for the kids … Will this task instantly engage each student and help them to succeed in Maths for the rest of their life? No! But what it has done, it has shifted the way of thinking slightly from traditional to the alternative. I sit in awe that this change has occurred and am reminded that I was told two and a half years ago to be patient.

Change will happen.

It just takes time.