What factors hamper the success of a 1-1 laptop program?

I don’t purport to have the answer to this question. I do have the predicament of a program that simply isn’t working.

Like all other DEC schools my school is in the final year of a four-year federal government initiative where all students in Years 9-12 are given a laptop. It is because of this so-called Digital Education Revolution that I started this blog. DER is why I started using Twitter. It is why I started looking to the Internet for learning tools for my classes. It is why I started my Masters. And it is why I am still a teacher. And whilst it certainly has started pushing teachers at my school in the direction of becoming the fabled ‘21st century teacher’, it certainly isn’t the success story I imagined it would be by the final year of the 1-1 program.

Each year I see teachers becoming more and more confident with their use of technology in the classroom. The number of IWBs in classrooms has grown tremendously … I guess that’s a start. Each year I have more and more teachers ask me about registering for edmodo because they want to connect with their students online to share ideas, resources and set assignments for electronic submission. Some teachers have even purchased iPads and have started using them in the classroom. Other teachers have taken to using tools like ClassDojo to help them create a positive learning environment. Lots more teachers are finding ways for students to use video cameras to create films that demonstrate their learning. These are big wins.

What I’m not seeing is an increased use of laptops in the classroom. I am seeing students in Year 10 – who have had their laptops for less than a year – asking to keep them in my classroom because they ‘don’t need them for other subjects’. I am encountering more students requesting to not use their laptops in my class. Why? Because it takes so long to load that they feel the waiting is hampering their learning. They only use it in my class and they can share with a friend and still achieve their learning goals. And I get that. I really do.

So is the loading lag the only reason teachers aren’t using the laptops in the classroom? I can’t say that is the only reason. I think that the main issues are still related to pedagogy and the pressures of a crowded syllabus and a high stakes external examination – the HSC. These two reasons mesh to make the use of laptops really difficult for lots of teachers. Add to that a machine that is unreliable and you can understand why teachers aren’t rushing to use laptops in their classrooms.

It has always struck me as odd that the so-called ‘edutech gurus’ criticise teachers for failing to integrate technology into their students’ learning and yet a quick look at the booking sheets for computer labs invariably finds them booked out. And it’s not just the TAS teachers making the bookings. It’s all subjects – LOTE, creative arts, HSIE … the lot! I should know – recently I was kinda reprimanded (in a nice way – I wasn’t named and shamed although I’m pretty confident everyone knew I was the one being spoken about) because I’d booked every one of my lessons into a computer lab for the rest of the term. My colleagues were understandably annoyed by the fact that they couldn’t get into a lab when they needed to. So why are teachers more comfortable taking their students to the computer lab than they are having students use laptops in their classrooms? I’m keen to find out why from the teachers themselves. But I’m pretty confident they could all be categorised under the three reasons I already listed above.

I must confess that I feel responsible (almost entirely) for the semi-failure of the 1-1 program at my school. Last year I hid in my classroom. I was unwilling to spend another 12 months doing ‘show and tell’ at staff meetings and trying to run lunchtime and after-school workshops that were attended by one person or neglected entirely. I hadn’t worked out how to ‘fix’ the 1-1 problem. In my lack of persistence I have done my colleagues and our students a disservice. I need to make up for that this year and I’m still trying to work out how. Of course showcasing Project Based Learning to the staff is one thing I will be doing this year. I spent so much time last year experimenting with student-centred pedagogies that I reckon I should start sharing that at my school at some point this year. I can’t even explain why I’m so anxious about doing that.

Anyway, if your school has been successful in ensuring all students in 10-12 are using their laptops productively in their classes when they are needed, I would love to hear your story. Does your school run 1-1? What do you do to make it work? What professional learning strategies have you used to target this teacher and student resistance to laptops? I want this last roll-out of laptops to really sing – I want it to be the best year yet for 1-1 at my school!!

Re-reading this post has helped me to remember one thing about my dilemma. I haven’t actually asked the students or the teachers how often they use the laptops or why they don’t use them. I reckon that sort of information might come in handy. And maybe I’m just naively trusting the words of my students who claim that the laptops aren’t being used … perhaps they are?

And then, as a final twist to the story, I think maybe the teachers and students are just ‘voting with their feet’ so to speak. Maybe they are sending a message to all us edutech wannabes and saying ‘No, we don’t want to use laptops in the classroom. That’s not how we want to learn.’ There’s something exciting and organic about that idea. They’re not saying they don’t want to use technology, they’re just saying that the 1-1 idea is flawed. Maybe it’s that the 1-1 thing encourages a teacher-centred pedagogy and an individual-worker mentality. Maybe the love of the computer lab indicates that teachers and students thrive on a variety of learning experiences and learning spaces. Why would a kid bring a laptop to school every day if they’re not needed in every lesson every day? It’s inconvenient. Maybe this is why laptop trolleys have had more success. Perhaps variety is the key. Perhaps.


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 geocaching.com 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!)

PBL conundrum: How do teachers ‘manage’ project teams?

Visiting Riverside Girls High School to talk about PBL with a small group of teachers was a really wonderful experience. I’m not sure what I found the most pleasing, the fact that these are public school teachers like me keen to learn about PBL, the fact that they were each from a different KLA (including Maths, Science, HSIE, English, PD/H/PE and TAS) or the fact that we chatted for nearly five hours and I NEVER heard a negative or disparaging comment. I think the last point is what really excited me. These teachers were NOTHING but positive about getting stuck into PBL and doing all they can to make learning ‘real’ and ‘engaging’ for their learners.

Team: same but differentOne of the many questions that arose out of our discussions concerned the managing of teams. This is a skill that most teacher lack. Why? Because in the traditional teacher-centred classroom managing group work or team projects just didn’t happen that much. I guess Drama or Dance teachers would be adept at this, even PD/H/PE teachers, and these are some people that we should seek out for tips.

So the question went a bit like this, ‘Have you had any issues with the equal distribution of work within groups? Do you find some students carry the load whilst others barely contribute?’ I had a think about my experience with PBL over the last 12 months and felt confident answering that it hadn’t been an issue I’d noticed. I really haven’t, but I don’t suppose this is any reason to conclude that it doesn’t happen. One teacher in the group told us that she had used surveys at the end of a project to ask students who worked well in the team and who they felt didn’t contribute enough to the project. This information was used by the teacher to organise groups in the following project as well as helping her target the students that needed more support during the projects. This data was also used to identify students who the teacher would speak with 1-1 about their performance and see if there were any welfare issues contributing to the poorer performance.

We all agreed this experience  reveals the strength of PBL and not its weakness – PBL allows the teacher greater flexibility to engage with students on a 1-1 basis, thus any problems can be addressed rather than ignored. Finally an added bonus of this survey of contribution levels is that students were aware that their contribution was being monitored by both their peers and their teacher – a motivator to work more productively. Of course it can be argued that a failure to contribute may reflect deeper ruptures within group dynamics such as personality clashes or differing skill levels. It can also be argued that it may reflect a lack of engagement in the project. The former possibility may be countered by ensuring students assign roles and responsibilities at the outset of a project. A great post on the need for this type of group management can be found on Malyn  Mawby’s blog, here. The latter calls for the teacher to (re)evaluate the project itself using a project evaluation tool like this one. Rubric_Project_Design_June2010

I suggested a couple of tools that could be of assistance to help ‘manage’ group work more effectively, like ClassDojo and Memiary. I argued that both of these tools would assist in the managing of classroom behaviour and expectations. If we have both of these managed in our class, then we will be a good deal of the way to managing the issue of equal contribution to a team project. No?

Anyway, when I got home from Friday’s meeting at Riverside Girls HS I found an edmodo post that made my heart sink and made me feel a little foolish. But I like these types of shocks – they shake the foundations of my ‘PBL evangelism’ and make me rethink where I am going with student-centred pedagogies. So what was the edmodo post about? One of my Year 10 students posted that he didn’t like group-work because often only a small minority of the group did the mass of the work whilst the others mucked around and contributed minimally. Wow.

It was a timely reminder for me that PBL is hard and that quality project and people management is essential to effective PBL. It makes me panic a little that PBL isn’t right and I’m doing the wrong thing by my kids. Then I step away from my emotions and remember that life requires people to work together. These students are learning valuable skills in collaboration … this is one of those ‘just in time’ learning opportunities.

Year 10 and I will be having a little chat about collaboration skills on Monday. Looks like ClassDojo and Memiary are going to be getting their first airing in my classroom this week. Read about these tools here.

How can I shape the way the world sees me?

The title of this blog post is the driving question for my current Year 9 project. For the next three weeks my students will be working on shaping their digital footprints by creating digital content that reflects their passions. The main focus for the project is the creating and writing of a personal blog. I am calling this project ‘Passion-Driven Blogging’.

After a frantic series of tweets last night (see below) I was given some wonderful ideas about blogging. The most exciting connection was with David Mitchell who suggested that I participate in his QuadBlogging project. You can read about QuadBlogging here but essentially it connects four schools together for the sole purpose of sharing student blogs. It ensures that students who blog get a wider readership but also has the wonderful added benefit of cultivating a critical eye in the young bloggers as they provide feedback on the blogs of their peers.

Just an hour ago I had my first lesson with my wonderful Year 9 class. It is the very first day back after Spring break and my students were keen to know what unit we were moving on to. Ever the one to encourage suspense I simply raised my eyebrows and stayed silent.

The lesson began with me showing the students a series of YouTube clips and discussing the purpose and audience of each clip as well as the way in which the internet was represented in each. Very quickly the students began guessing as to the focus of our unit – was it YouTube, was it cyber safety, was it looking at the pros and cons of the internet?

Here’s the clips we watched:

After a quick chat about the different attitudes adults (especially parents and teachers) have about the internet and digital idenitity, I set the students the task of googling themselves. Before they jumped on their computers I showed them a google of my name and asked them to skim through the search results (on both images and web) and see if my search was a ‘healthy google’ or an ‘unhealthy google’. They all agree it was healthy and I prompted them to explain why. Obvious answers abounded: nothing bad was found, nothing embarrassing, my positive online behaviours could be seen, I love education and people could see that. I asked them what the search revealed about my passions. They all acknowledged that the search revealed that I am passionate about education.

Coo, huh?

So the kids then googled themselves and had a bit of a laugh about what they found. I used one student as an example to show the class (with her permission – thanks Alex) and asked the students what we could tell about her passions. There wasn’t much to be said. All that turned up in her search was the obvious social networking sites. So how what do I know about her from the search? Not much.

I have one more period with my students today. The task? Ask them to write a paragraph explaining what they are passionate about and what they would like to be known for. Give them the driving question …

Oh, and we’ll watch the clip below about blogging and begin researching the best blogging site for each one of them to use.

PBL and DER: changing the assessment landscape

My Year 11 extension class (very soon to be Year 12 extension class) have reconfirmed my love of the project-based approach to teaching and learning. These guys – all your typical bookish, Extension students, lovers of writing and reading, all likely to *miraculously* get the ‘verbal linguistic’ badge on a Multiple Intelligences test – are not the kids you’d expect to revel in a student-centred project-based classroom. But they have created amazing, amazing things I would never have seen had it not been for PBL.

If you want to get an overview of the project, check out my earlier post: My paperless extension Year 11 class – who said DER was DEAD? What I wanted to focus on with this post is the final presentations and how the project was assessed.

Keeping in line with my valuing of ‘assessment for learning’ or what is also referred to as formative assessment and the PBL model I use influenced by BIE, I ensured that students were assessed throughout the project. The project was to be completed individually and students were given 7 weeks to complete all tasks in preparation for their presentation of learning to the class. Below are the tasks:

PART A: Investigation – 5% (week 6)

(approx. 750-1000 words)

PART B: Draft website (including draft appropriation) – 5% (week 7)
NB appropriation guidelines:

• short film (3-5 minutes)
• digi-story (2-3 minutes)
• narrative poem or suite of poems (no more than 30 lines in total)
• dramatic reading of a narrative (3-5 minutes)
• interactive multimedia narrative (max 15 minutes to navigate all screens)
• short story (1000-1500 words)
• picture book (max 10 openings)
• play (performance time max 10 minutes)
• radio play (performance time max 10 minutes)
• recorded monologue (3-5 minutes)
• other – see teacher with your idea
PART C: Presentation (5 minutes speech + presentation of appropriation) – 5% (week 8 )

You are to present your research and appropriation to your peers.

PART D: Website (including journal) – 5% (week 8 )

5 pages on website: research into BOTH texts (one page per text – 500wds per page); learning journal entries (one per week minimum 250 words each w/ links and videos); draft appropriation and final appropriation.

All tasks were turned in on edmodo and links to the developing websites were posted to the class edmodo group to the chorus of ‘ohhs and ahhhs’ as students looked at one another’s sites.

The final websites were amazing – so clever, colourful, engaging, full of rich and meaningful content. These students owned their work, and what’s more it was available to a live real-world audience. What impressed me even more was the standard of the appropriations that the students created. They all did something very different – none of the pieces created were ‘teacher-led’ or bland. They all reflect a tiny piece of these students – capturing their skills and knowledge at this point. Reflecting their passion and commitment.

As can be seen above, the final assessment for this project was the presentation. This is in line with the PBL framework where students are required to present their learning to an audience. My students presented to each other and me. This is pretty much your usual classroom presentation – nothing fancy in the set up but what was interesting for me was how the presentations were assessed. Having read Black & Williams (Inside the Black Box) as well as Petty (Evidenced Based Teaching) and Hattie (Visible Learning. A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement) I am keen to introduce more peer and self-assessment into my programming. It makes sense that up-skilling students on self and peer assessment will improve learning. It’s almost impossible to master a skill or some content if you don’t know what needs to be mastered – we all need some form of criteria to guide us.

My experience is that the students traditionally viewed as ‘very capable’ tend to fear self-assessment more than teacher or peer-assessment. In fact, peer-assessment isn’t something they’re dearly fond of either. These students often resent being ‘assessed’ by anyone but teacher. Why? Maybe it’s because for these students more than any the ‘gold star’ is crucial to their learning experience. They crave the grade – their sense of place in the school hierarchy depends on it. They have been conditioned to learn in light of a grade.

When I told my Year 11 class they would assess each other’s final presentations they were apprehensive. The sweat beads dried when I told them peer-marks would only account for 20% of the final grade. The sweat beads returned when I told them self-assessment was necessary also. I asked them what was a fair proportion for the self-assessment grade. They pleaded for 5%. I laughed. I explained why self-assessment is crucial to their development as effective life-long learners. They nodded. I argued for 20%. They got me down to 10%.

“So how does this peer and self-assessment work, Ms Hewes?”

Great question. I had two options. I could give them the criteria I had created myself for the presentations or I could get them to create one themselves as a class. Knowing the teacher-babble of my criteria, I got down in their mire of criteria writing with my class – all the while with one eye on the clock knowing my lesson time was shrinking by the minute. How do you create a criteria with students? Simple – just ask them what the task required them to do and what a great presentation might look like. After a really deep chat (and sometimes debate) the students decided on 7 criteria. I triple-checked with them that they were happy with the list – they were 🙂

During each student’s presentation the class were to use the criteria to assess their peers. At the conclusion of each presentation they typed their feedback based on each criteria into an edmodo note and posted it to the class group. They completed this process for their own presentations as well – self-assessment. I used the same criteria to mark the students – haha!

So what did they present? Check out their awesome work:

10 Things I Hate About Shrew

Second Star to the Right,  and Straight on til Morning

Lost in Wonderland

Red Riding Hood

The Hyde Complex 

Pig on a Stick – A Threat to Civilisation

Re-designing the design … another experiment in learning

Year 10 + Macbeth = fun. Right?

Macbeth has always been my most favourite Shakespeare play. I don’t know why but there is something about it that I love … I think it’s that last Act and the sorrow but not remorse of Macbeth. The dawning of existence. A consciousness of meaninglessness. It’s SUCH a great play. I always enjoy teaching it too. I typically work it so as that I read the whole play to my class whilst they listen and answer impromptu questions for understanding and interpretation. Students have seemed to enjoy it.

So why am I changing my approach to teaching it?

I don’t know 100%. I know that I can’t stand and deliver anymore. Well, I probably can but I don’t want to.

I want my students to own their knowledge of Shakespeare.

So I’ve added a gaming element to my Macbeth unit and it really has been hard work. I created an uber project … with a great culminating task that all other classes are enjoying.

It looks pretty impressive on paper – I even made a video:

Working out the XP system and the missions was really complex stuff. I gave it far too many hours. The dream was that adding this gaming framework would engage and excite my young learners … they would feel compelled to inquire into Shakespeare’s Macbeth and tackle the problem of how to make this play relevant or appealing to a young adult audience today.

But today – whilst I was away from class at a conference – I received edmodo messages from students complaining about the lack of direction from me. They didn’t know what they had to do (even though it is all in edmodo for them to access).

Week one of my uber Macbeth Design Project hasn’t yielded the results I had hoped for.

I might be mad.

PBL: Trying to create the product for the presentation

Thanks to the wonderful and patient Mr Ben Jones, I have almost conquered a beast of a task. Really, a task that should be given to my students. And maybe tomorrow I will.

The concluding product for my class’s last project was an anthology of stories dealing with the issue ‘resilience’. This anthology is to be converted into an eBook that is to be accessed by a QR Code. The QR Codes will be turned into Postcards (or something similar) and stickers. The dream is to have these out in the wider community for young people to ‘stumble’ upon and then through the power of technology, read the stories of resilience which will empower them to see the world in a more positive ‘life is OK’ kinda way. Well …that’s the dream.

I have been given steps from Ben Jones to achieve this goal. Problem is that I am (like I told Ben) a ‘front end of web brain’ which means I can basically click buttons and upload and download stuff. I do the best I can, but any task that requires too much thinking about file extensions et al makes me kinda nauseous.

So here’s what I’ve done so far in an attempt to get my students’ stories from a word doc to an .epub file that will open onto a mobile phone from a QR Code.

I uploaded the .docx a free word to .epub converter. I used both of these suggested by Ben:



Both worked well enough – the file converted fine. The problem was that my mac couldn’t read the file type and therefore would not allow me to save it anywhere once it was downloaded – annoying. I did find that using http://www.epubconverter.org/ did ultimately allow me to save to my desktop as you get the option to right click and ‘save as’.

The next step of course – once the collection of stories saved as a word .docx is converted to the .epub format – is to give it a unique URL that can be transformed into a QR code. I headed over to my blog (this one) which is a wordpress.com blog. I created a new post, clicked on ‘add media’ and ‘select files’ only to discover that it would not allow me to upload .epub files. Damn! So close!

I then went over to weebly.com to try my luck with uploading an .epub file to a webpage. Success! Only problem now is that I can’t work out how that .epub file has a unique url that can be turned into a QR code.

I guess that’s my next challenge. Actually … I think I’m going to try a wiki.

Wish me luck.

And yes, I know all of this learning should be coming from my students – next time they are in charge of sharing the final product. I am a bit of a control freak. Gotta let that go in this 21st century education thingy.


OK, so after much heartbreak and excitement and further heartbreak this is what I ended up doing.

WordPress.com and weebly.com weren’t doing it for me so I headed to the trusty wikispaces.com.

1. I created a new wiki (which isn’t essential – you can use an existing one) and created a new page.

2. I uploaded my .epub file to the page and clicked ‘save’.

3. Then I right clicked the .epub file and clicked ‘copy link location’.

4. I then headed to bitly and shortened the link.

5. I selected the option ‘info page+’.

6. I then clicked on the url underneath the image of the QR code.

Unfortunately the iPhone wouldn’t read the .epub file afterall of my heartache trying to use that format.

Another great twitter mate Warrick Mole told me that you need to upload the .epub files to a book store or similar before the phone can read them. SO what I had to do was save the stories as a PDF because iPhones can read them.

Basically I just went back and did the same steps as before but uploaded a PDF instead of an .epud file.

Guess what? IT WORKED!!

Here is the QR code for my Macbeth assessment: http://bit.ly/oKyv7j.qrcode

HAPPY TEACHER!! Kids are going to be stoked … oh … haven’t done the stories yet or planned my lesson for tomorrow. Oops!

Stop teaching!

Did I get your attention?


I know this is nothing new to those of you who read my blog, but I just wanna say it anyway.

Teachers too often think about themselves.

Well I know I’m a grand-old hypocrite because after all this blog is named after me and is pretty much all about me. Feel free to add your thoughts about my ever-expanding ego as a comment below.

Right now, I’m concerned with the fact that teachers are doing all of the learning and leaving students to be passive receivers. We here all of this talk about passive and active learners. We are told that active learning = doubleplus good and passive learning = doubleplus ungood.

And then we see all of the beautiful resources teachers make for their students.

We see videos.

We see powerpoints.

We see websites.

We see blogs.

We see podcasts.

We see apps for iPhones and iPads.

We see games.

We see worksheets.

Teachers are talented, creative, knowledgeable … they show their students this all of the time.

Students are talented, creative, knowledgeable … we don’t let students show this to us all of the time.

When the new curriculum hits our shores teachers will run to create new programs and resources or they will run to access new programs and resources created by other educators.

Why don’t we just let the students be the creators?

Student as teacher.


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.


A reponse to Darcy Moore’s post ‘Learning: A Digital Renaissance’

The following post was written as a reply to Darcy Moore’s post Learning: A Digital Renaissance (A Draft). Please check out his wonderful post and add your own reply to keep this valuable conversation flowing.

This is a timely post – as always. I am feeling a little like a middle manager at Kodak or Angus and Robertson who has started to think digitally, but the force of the existing power-structures and philosophies regarding education are so strong and well-established that I must ‘jump ship’ or sink with the ship into oblivion. I know that sounds melodramatic – and it probably is – but all I’ve been thinking for the last 18 months is ‘No one is listening. Change is too slow. Where should I go to?’. It is very difficult to stay and bail water from a sinking ship when so many of the other sailors – and most importantly the captain – have their back turned and don’t see the rising waters.

OK, I’ll quit with my lame analogy, but you get my point. I believe that thanks to your inspiration and guidance I have learned to ‘think digitally’ and really once you do, you can’t stop – can you? I cannot go into a class and stand up the front and teach to a test with a worksheet anymore. (My poor Year 12 students, haha!) My vision of education in the 21st century is such that students MUST be given the chance to work as teams. These social skills (as you rightly point out) are an essential part of creating a civil society. Our classrooms are no longer bound by the students and teacher within them.  We must give our students the skills to effectively reach out and encounter the people, experiences and ideas out in the world.

When the NSWDEC unblocked twitter I was skeptical. I thought it might be simply a grab at seeming progressive, to look as though they are ‘thinking digitally’ just like some of us teachers, even though the power-structures of large organisations like the DEC often seem to inhibit this type of thinking. But yesterday, I finally realised how momentous this decision to unblock social networking for teachers really will be.  Yesterday I created a twitter account (@younginquirers) for my Year 10 class – they’re going to follow writers and ask them questions about writing a quality narrative. Already we are following five wonderful writers, two of whom have tweeted the class with writing tips! So, it’s nice to see that my cynicism was unwarranted – DEC have done a great thing and I hope that this move towards ‘thinking digitally’ will extend further into our classrooms!

My biggest frustration with the current ‘state of play’ within the education system is the perception of teachers as being ‘in control’. I imagine that you can still buy books pretty similar to the one you mention in your post. They’d target the pre-service teacher. I bet there are lectures and courses devoted to ‘teaching and control’ at unis in Australia right now. I bet students have to read articles on the best ‘behaviour strategies’ to ensure you maintain control in your classroom. Well I have a prac student right now and she just taught her first lesson and it was wonderful! A Yr 11 Standard English class (13 boys, 4 girls) studying a play and she had them for the very first time last period on a Thursday – and she took them to the computer lab! This would be a nightmare to many experienced teachers let alone a young woman who has very limited teaching experience. The lesson was a wonderful success and there was no ‘behaviour’ issues. Was she standing there threatening the kids with a stick/letters or calls to parents/clean-up slips/detention? Did she yell and scream? Is she an intimidating individual? No! She just planned a damn-good lesson that was student-centred, encouraged team work, rewarded positive behaviours and completed work as well as speaking openly about positive learning behaviors in different learning spaces.  The very next day (whilst I was ‘teaching’ the same class) I checked twitter and discovered that she had tweeted me (she joined twitter and started a blog the first week we met – thinking digitally!) to remind me how many points each ‘team’ earned the previous lesson. I read her tweet aloud to my students who then helped me tweet her back with their comments – we now have a hashtag for my class’ communication with their prac teacher! The point I want to make is that my focus when ‘prepping’ my prac teacher for her first lesson was not about ‘how to manage behaviour’ it was ‘how to engage learners’. She didn’t ask me who the naughty kids were and how she should punish misbehaviour during a lesson because I didn’t bring those things up. The success of her first lesson proves that she didn’t need to know about ‘control’ – she needed to know about how these particular young people learn and why the content and skills being taught are relevant and can be made appealing to them.

So why am I telling you about my prac student? Because seeing her enthusiasm for education, her creativity, her willingness to take responsible risks, her flexible-thinking and her passion for our subject (English) I know that she will make a wonderful teacher who will make an impressive contribution to the lives of many, many young people. And hearing her say ‘my whole uni cohort is jealous of all the cool things I’m doing on my prac’ makes me sad. I mean, what are other master teachers offering their students? Are these young pre-service teachers not being given the opportunity to ‘think digitally’ because practicing teachers aren’t thinking digitally? It’s an opportunity lost. And then I get all self-critical and emo – am I being irresponsible by helping my prac student learn to teach ‘hands-free’? What will happen when she gets her first teaching placement and the HT hands her a bunch of worksheets, a textbook and a novel? Will she agitate for change? Or will her lowly position in the school hierarchy mean that it will take her (like it took me) six years to get the courage to make a stand, and by that time potentially have lost the flame of passion and creativity?

Sorry for the excessive reply, Darcy, but your post really hit a nerve for me. It’s really not just about the technology anymore … it started off that way for me with DER. Thanks again for inspiring me to think more deeply about what I do as an educator. It’s SUCH a hard job – imagine deciding that you’d stand on the front line and advocate for change! You’re amazing! I’ll add this reply as a post on my blog too and hopefully encourage more to share in your conversation.