Edmodo – my free mobile virtual classroom.

As you all know by now, I am an edmodo evangelist and proud of it. As part of my preaching, I often come across people asking me how I use edmodo and why. Below is a response to one such series of questions. I hope it helps you to see why I find edmodo such an important element of my 21st century teaching toolbox. If you already use edmodo, perhaps some of my ideas for using edmodo might inspire you to use it in a new way, or maybe you have some even more creative ways of using it that you’d like to suggest.

How do I use edmodo with my students?

1. My students use edmodo to:

  • communicate with me and with each other via messages directly to me or to our class group (there is no direct student-student messaging in edmodo to avoid cyber-bullying etc)
  • post up work – many web 2.0 tools embed easily into edmodo
  • respond to polls
  • access assignments and submit them for marking (I return them and edmodo creates an automatic gradebook for my class)
  • work together on group tasks (there is a small group feature – a group w/in a group),
  • give feedback on each other’s work
  • comment on resources that I add (links to sites, embeds, youtube clips, google docs)
  • argue for or against a provocative statement I have posted about a topic/text being discussed
  • connect with students in other schools/countries in a group created by teachers
  • keep up to date with important events using the calendar and alerts.

2. I use edmodo to:

  • keep up to date with my favourite blogs and websites by using edmodo as my rss reader (it’s heaps easier than google reader)
  • to share links with teachers at different schools not on edmodo (they have a ‘public page’ feature)
  • I have a number of teacher PD groups that connect me to teachers in my faculty, my school, my region, I’m a member of the Language Arts community that helps me connect with teachers from around the world!
  • and of course I do all of the things mentioned above for my students too!

How hard is edmodo to use?

I know I’ve made it sound like there are too many features to get your head around – but as I have said many times, it is so intuitive – basic! Besides, edmodo has a teacher page that shows you how to do everything: http://help.edmodo.com/userguide/ AND their FAQ page is good too: http://help.edmodo.com/frequently-asked-questions/ AND they now run weekly webinars that we can join for free! http://help.edmodo.com/

Edmodo is awesome because it is my free mobile virtual classroom.

The End

I've loved edmodo for almost 2 years and all I got was this T-shirt #lol

Helping students to develop better arguments with Evidence Charts

As a consequence of the standardized testing of students from the age of 8, the current trend in Australian schools is to ‘teach to the test’. This approach to teaching and learning has become so pervasive, that students in Year 7 are being ‘prepped’ for the requirements of the final HSC examination. Fresh-faced 12 year olds arrive to high school to be greeted with rows of tables facing the front of a room; the front houses a whiteboard (electronic and interactive for the ‘lucky’ ones) and a teacher. These students move through 6 years of teacher-centred lessons where content and structure are king and queen. By the time they reach the HSC they are prepared to vomit this content into neatly organised lines.


But what happens when they get to university? What happens when they get out into the real world and read a paper and there’s no one there to break down the news report into easily digestible chunks? When there’s no one there but mainstream media to tell them which politician to vote for and why?


Failure to effectively teach students to consider multiple perspectives on a text/issue/idea/theory can have disastrous consequences on our future generations. In my last blog post I reflected on my dawning realisation that I had helped my new Year 12 students rely too heavily on ‘my’ perspective of the texts and concepts we study in class. Speaking to other teachers in our school, I have discovered that they too have similar concerns.


At the beginning of this term I was introduced to www.evidencechart.com . This web 2.0 tool essentially helps students to develop stronger arguments as they literally chart the evidence for multiple hypotheses and then rate the strength of the evidence in relation to each hypothesis. These interactive charts have been created with university Science students in mind – looks like university teachers are having the same issues regarding arguments and essay writing that we secondary teachers are!


I am currently teaching ‘belonging’ and the poetry of Emily Dickinson. Traditionally my way of teaching poetry (and I know this is uninspired but I also know it is the typical approach) is to stand at the front of the class and analyse the poem – focusing on what the poet is attempting to communicate, how she achieves this and how it relates to the concept ‘belonging’. The students write all over the poems, identifying poetic devices and jotting down teacher’s ideas about why they have been used. As a class we discuss the poem and what we think is going on within it. Poetry is notoriously difficult simply because, as a form, it aims to communicate an intensity of ideas and feelings in a bare minimum of words oddly arranged!


There are two main problems I have faced with students and poetry. Often poetry is transformed into rather uninspired essays where students appear to have been playing ‘spot the poetic technique’ – rarely is there any genuine evaluation of these ‘hallowed’ techniques and the impact that each may have on the thoughts, emotions and imaginations of the reader. Furthermore, rarely is there ever an emotive attachment to an interpretation contrary to the one I attributed to the poem.


Evidence chart forced my students to examine how and why each stanza of a poem did or didn’t support a particular ‘hypothesis’ about the poem and its relationship to the concept ‘belonging’.  Basically students developed TWO separate (and not necessarily conflicting) hypotheses in response to an essay question then judged and analysed the evidence (TWO poems) in the cells of the evidencedchart matrix and used this evidence to select the most well-supported hypothesis to form the argument of their essays. There is also a cool little ‘hidden’ feature – the contrarian view which is effectively the opposite of the dominant view the student is working on. Filling in the cells from the contrarian view forces students to consider how each piece of evidence could be interpreted in another, contrary way. Have a look below at the screen grab from one of my student’s charts and then see how this was translated into a paragraph.

A desire for the unknown aspects in one’s life can often lead to feelings of anxiety. This idea is prominent throughout Dickinson’s poem ‘I was hungry all the years’.  In the line, ‘I was hungry all the years’, the hunger for food is metaphorical for the speaker’s deprival of the social world. It emphasises the speaker’s lack of connections with society. The reality of this social world is an unknown to the speaker. The line, ‘ I trembling, drew the table near’, illustrates feelings of anxiety within the speaker. Trembling is an emotive word that suggests the speaker is in a fragile state. As she approaches a situation in which she is to confront the social world for the first time, she is overwhelmed by feelings of anxiety. These feelings are an inevitable risk one must take when entering something new in life.

This is a student who had previously written an essay full of what we English teachers call ‘waffle’ – writing that barely engages with the essay question, has no logical argument and fails to evaluate the effectiveness of poetic techniques in relation to an overarching ‘thesis’. He was just writing garbage to fill the word limit and submit the task. His experience with evidence chart has pushed him away from meaningless ramblings for a couple of reasons. Firstly he had to spend A LOT more time with the poem itself to effectively complete the chart – far more analysis and evaluation happening than previously. Secondly the design of the chart (as a matrix) allowed him to visualize his argument as well as rank the strength of each piece of evidence in relation to his hypothesis.  Less rambling essays – that’s a win for both of us!


Initially my class was very hesitant about using the charts – they couldn’t understand the relationship between a web 2.0 tool that had been created for Science students and their English essays. After a few minor log-in issues and hiccups with the contrarian view not working on some browsers (an issue that the creators of evidence charts have let me know will be/has been fixed thanks to our feedback) the kids found the charts user-friendly. I think the hardest thing for them all was the fact that they had to THINK about each aspect of the poem and how it did or didn’t support their ideas. The contrarian feature was great as it encouraged them to think from someone else’s perspective and to consider how someone might poke holes in their hypothesis!


As a teacher the charts are great – yep, more marking I know – but the comments feature built in to each cell means I can give timely feedback on ideas an analysis BEFORE the essay is handed in. It actually helped me identify weaknesses I hadn’t noted before – such as a top student’s resistance to thinking ‘more’ than was needed to write her essay! Reading the essays that the students have produced after charting their hypotheses and evidence revealed a marked improvement in their arguments AND analysis – win number two! What I have also discovered is a need to teach the importance of gathering more information than necessary to write an essay. What students may see as ‘too much’ information actually allows them to be selective with the content that makes it into their essays. We will be spending the next week working on how to ‘distill’ the essential elements of their evidence charts into compelling essays that articulate a convincing thesis which responds to and answers the given essay question. I’m really pleased I’m now devoting much class time to discussing arguments, evidence and essay-writing – it’s going to be a great help when we study Orwell’s essays next year!


A final word on the success of evidence charts in my class room. Last year our faculty altered our first Year 12 English assessment task to include a graphic organizer which demonstrates each student’s planning BEFORE they write their essay. Having used evidence charts in class, a number of students have requested that these be included as one of the many types of graphic organizers allowed for the assessment task. When students ask to keep using a tool, you know it’s good. I’ll certainly be taking their suggestion to my Head Teacher!


It’s funny that my introduction to web 2.0 tools has been by way of the Digital Education Revolution (a program for students in Years 9 & 10) yet I’ve found myself using these tools with ALL of my other classes. Evidence charts have been working beautifully with my Year 12 students and I encourage others to give them a go – our HT of History is going to give them a go with his ‘personality’ studies. A web 2.0 tool that is helping my students become better thinkers and writers? Cool!


PS: If you’re interested you can check out my blog post for Year 12 on what is an argument here and my prezi introduing evidence charts here.

Why can’t these kids argue?!

I have been teaching my current Year 12 English class for four years – this is highly unusual in an Australian secondary school setting. I started teaching them as an English Extension class in Year 8 and have been timetabled onto their class each year since. Why? Because I have been interested in the impact that one teacher can have on a group of students and their approach to literature and learning. OK – and to be honest, I just really like the kids!

Over the years we have spent many lessons discussing how to write a quality essay in English. However, the focus has often been on a highly structured paragraph (we use the S.T.E.W structure) and the essay questions they have been asked to answer have always been quite open and general.  There essays have always got them great marks and at the beginning of this year (Year 11), I felt confident that this group would do extremely well in the HSC.

And then reality hit …

These students have become very, very good at giving me back my ideas in the structure that I requested. But is this thinking critically and creatively? No! After four years of teaching them, I’ve realized that they have missed out on learning the fine art of developing an argument. Their writing lacks passion, authenticity and depth. There is no ‘personal voice’ – a quality that as an HSC marker I know is deeply important to a convincing, compelling essay.

I have been working hard this term to get my students (now Year 12) to move from being ‘passive’ to ‘active’ learners. I have reorganized our lessons so only one in four is teacher-centred whilst the others are centred on independent, paired or whole-group activities. Yet what I knew I needed to address explicitly was their inability to develop a convincing and personal argument in their writing because of their over-reliance on MY ideas. (Aside: My joke is that I spend 2 hours on google preparing for their lessons, so by relying on me as ‘fount of all knowledge’ really they’re just trusting a really watered-down google search, lol!)

I want my students to REALLY have something to say about the texts and concepts that they are studying. (After all, these texts are just mirrors of their world, and a failure to say something authentic about these texts is a failure to say anything authentic about their world.) I want them to consider multiple perspectives (readings) of a novel/play/film/poem and then articulate their PERSONAL interpretation and why this has developed. I DON’T want them to swallow my ideas like they’re gospel. I DO want them to think critically about texts by considering opposing views and the genesis of these views.

So how do I do this with a group of kids who are rather resistant to opposing the ideas of their teacher(s)?

Having, myself, evolved into a complete edu-tech geek over the last two years, of course I looked for a web 2.0 tool to help me! And guess what? I found one!

Hmmm … I just noted how long this post is already without getting to the real guts of my post … so check out my next post devoted to my latest fav web 2.0 tool – evidence chart! (www.evidencechart.com)

Planning for the future when the future is uncertain …

In the wake of a slightly terrifying weekend and with nothing but further anxiety on the horizon, I entered a DER Planning for the Future meeting with my HT of T&L this morning.

The events of the weekend (hung parliament) has caused much concern for many, many good people around New South Wales. These people are teachers and educators who have been working tirelessly to champion the government’s Digital Education Revolution. These are the people that have faced the flak of countless teachers, executives and support staff who recoiled from the notion that technology has a place within the 21st century classroom. Because of these people the culture of Australian schools is starting to change.

Of course change in education is a slow process (lasting and meaningful change, that is) and requires constant monitoring and reinforcement. This explains the need for the latest DER meeting.

My assessment of DER at my school is that there has been a meaningful shift towards online communication with students and sharing of resources via edmodo. This has been a big personal achievement for me, having introduced this as our VLE in August last year. Almost every teacher in the school uses it for classes from 7-12. The amount of paper being used is slowly diminishing as a result and teachers are more connected to the needs and capabilities of their students. The actual use of the netbooks within the school – and by ‘use’ I mean meaningful use of software and apps other than google and MS Office – is stagnating.

Despite having set up OneNote folders for students to use and modelling how to use it to teachers, fewer than 5 teachers are using it consistently in their classes. Despite modelling the use of web 2.0 apps, very few teachers are including these in their day-to-day lesson plans. Despite modelling the ‘Tight-Loose-Tight’ program and lesson structure, only a handful are attempting to use it to enhance student engagement and students outcomes.

From discussions with students it has become clear that they are being discouraged from using the netbooks in class. This is not (for the most part) being made explicit – it is implied in the lessons they experience. Teacher-talk and worksheets have returned to the classroom. Teacher-centred lessons are now being ‘enhanced’ by the magic that is the really cool electronic board at the front of the classroom – the IWB. It’s no longer chalk and talk – it’s project and talk.

As such, I find myself in the position of once again taking on the job of ‘slow and steady’ and refocusing from a 1-1 dream to a IWB and data projector reality. Discussions today centred on the future of DER (understandably) and the need to prepare teachers for Stage 6 and 1-1. My HT of T&L has suggested that I focus ‘safe’ and ‘simple’ ways in which ICT easily be incorporated into the pre-existing Stage 6 programs each faculty has. This is, of course, a sensible approach.

I left the meeting feeling flushed with ideas and arguments for just WHY the inclusion of ICT into the 21st Century classroom is not a box-ticking exercise, nor simply an election promise gone awry. My task is to create a list of ways in which teachers can incorporate ICT into their programs to enhance learning outcomes and student engagement. I believe that these netbooks can significantly both as well as ensuring students are achieving personal best, being organised, completing all assessments on time and having lessons, activities and assessments differentiated to suit individual learning styles and competencies.

I just have to create the list. So, how are YOU going to be integrating technology (netbooks, IWBs, hand-held devices, connected classrooms, internet, web 2.0 apps) to enhance engagement and learning outcomes for your Year 11 and 12 students?

The Teacher-leader Conundrum

If you have read my previous post, you will know that in two days I will be presenting at the Office of School’s Conference – Engaging Learners Through Innovative Practice. I was encouraged to submit and EOI for this conference by a twitter colleague, Ben Jones. Having spent a lot of time communicating with a fellow English teacher and twitter colleague, Troy Martin, I asked Troy to co-present with me on leading the implementation of the Digital Education Revolution at our schools. I found writing the EOI difficult, but was pleased (and nervous) that it was ultimately accepted.

(NOTE: If you want to ignore my ramblings, and help out a teacher-leader in need, scroll to my last paragraph! 😉 )

My vision for the conference was simple – share our experiences, our strategies and our visions for the future. Simple, right? Well, no. I created a PowerPoint (I personally loathe watching PPs but felt it was the best mode of delivery for me, using it as mostly timed slides, like a ‘movie’ with lots of images and short prompts for us to talk to) and shared it on twitter and this blog via SlideShare. I got feedback. It was positive. I felt content. Then I started to think, really think.

And then I read a series of twitter posts by my PLN nobility, Kelli McGraw, Jan Green, Tony Searl, Darcy Moore and Jacqueline Woodley. The focus was on leading change – just how can leaders encourage teachers to change from 20th century education model, to a 21st century education model?

Reading kelli’s blog post really cemented a position I had been edging towards in the last few weeks – at what point to I ‘let go’ and allow teachers to learn independently. How much professional development should I ‘deliver’ to teachers? Is being an enthusiastic and energetic promoter of blended learning enough? What level of change/adaption can I expect from my colleagues?

Kelli and Jan lead me to Roger Pryor’s blog post on leading from behind. It is odd how things come together at pivotal moments. Roger’s quotes from Mandella had a powerful effect on me. It reminded me of a video that Troy showed me via a skype chat one night many months ago – it’s in our presentation – Leadership Lessons from the Dancing Guy. I am lucky. I was a lone nut that was nourished by her environment, given time and resources to explore the changes in education that technology is facilitating. And then, through a combination of hard work, passion and sheer luck I attracted a handful of first followers. BUT I have let them down – I have failed to nourish them in return, failed to guide them, to grow them, to support them.

I’d like some help from my PLN and my new readers – how can I become a better leader now that I have surpassed the lone nut phase. I have shown them what is possible and why. Where to now? I feel change is important, but perhaps I have neglected focusing on why it is important. I need to refocus on outcomes – what is it that teachers desire from their learners. How do they do this now and how can technology be used to enhance this? Each teacher needs to be asked ‘why change what I’m doing’? How can I encourage MY learners (the teachers) to engage with this question honestly? How can I make it fun and meaningful when teacher time is so precious?

Thanks in advance. I present this Thursday.