Removing the 'e' from 'e-learning'

Integrating important new technologies more seamlessly into our teaching.

Which digital device is best for education?

March 8, 2014 by · 6 Comments · Digital Devices, school mangement

There has never been a bigger choice for teachers and students when it comes to digital devices to support learning. When I started in education just over a decade ago you were a Mac school or a PC school. Being a Mac school was quite radical, and it was almost impossible to find a tech that knew anything about them (some may say nothing has changed!).

Now having Macs is no big deal. In fact, OSX, the Mac operating system, sits alongside Windows as the two ‘old school’ systems that have now been around much longer than any of your students have been alive. They have been joined by a myriad of other devices and operating systems that are clamouring for the education market.

5 years ago it was all about netbooks. 3 years ago iPads made netbooks look positively prehistoric almost overnight. Now Google has got into the game with Android tablets and Chromebooks and everybody is more confused than ever.

The main thing I want to say here is: the more the merrier. The more different devices there are the more choices people have. More choices means you are more likely to find a combination of devices that suits your teaching, and also that suits your students’ learning.

Don’t waste your time being loyal to Apple or Google or any particular brand or product. The only mistake you can make is believing that one device can be chosen that will be the everything you need. It’s absurd to decide you are ‘an iPad school’ or a ‘Chromebook school’. Why? Because you immediately deny your students access to amazing learning opportunities afforded by the devices you’ve locked out.

Not all devices are equal, and no one device does everything. Currently Microsoft’s strategy seems to be to sell educators the exact opposite message. They are making schools everywhere believe that their laptop/tablet hybrids running Windows 8 or 8.1 give you the best of everything. “Can’t decide between a tablet and a laptop? Look, our products are both in 1!” This marketing is misleading schools into running 1:1 programs with second rate machines based on a mistaken premise. I believe tablets and laptops have shown themselves to be 2 different things, and they work best when the designers of both their software and hardware have built them specifically for one role or the other. Trying to get one device that ‘does everything’ inevitably leads to purchasing a device that doesn’t do anything very well.

This isn’t to say you can’t run a specific 1:1 program. We have a 1:1 iPad program at my school for example. However, we also provide our students access to laptops and Chromebooks.

What follows is my brief summation of the most popular types of devices in education and why you should have them somewhere in your school.

Best_tabletsTablets (iPad, Galaxy, Nexus etc – iOS or Android)

Why are tablets so good? Because they’re a multi-media production studio in the hands of every child. Because they facilitate the production of wonderful, simple, highly creative apps that are incredibly simple to use. Because they are highly portable, have long battery lives, and can be brought to where the learning is happening rather than the other way around. Doing a science experiment on the oval? Why wouldn’t you have students take photos and video of it, annotate them with audio narration and text, put them into a document, presentation or short film, and present them when they get back to class. All on one device. You can’t do that with a laptop or Chromebook.  We used to spend half a year making short films with students when I first started teaching. Now they can be created in one session.

There has never been such a flexible device available to educators than the tablet. It has enabled technology to ‘get out of the way’ and learning to once again be the focus. Show your learning in the way you choose: comic, movie, photos, mindmap. Whatever suits your mood or your learning style.

Best of all, tablets don’t have screens that come up in front of students’ faces. They are a great social/collaborative device, and in a well run classroom they can seem to be almost ‘invisible’.

Nothing gets my goat more than the ‘tablets aren’t creative devices’ argument. What absolute crap. Tablets, in my opinion, are THE MOST creative devices we’ve ever had access to.

devices-selector-home_150Google Chromebooks

Chromebooks represent everything we should be moving towards in our schools. All you need is an internet connection and a decent browser and almost everything you could wish to achieve is there for you. Get rid of Microsoft Office. Get rid of that painful school ‘intranet’. Get rid of standard ‘images’ for your machines that only your tech can install and manage. In fact, get rid of pretty much everything else that pre-dates cloud computing; and get moving towards kids being able to achieve everything they need to achieve just by being hooked up to your WiFi.

Why have Chromebooks? Because the vast majority of what students need to do at school on a laptop is in an internet browser, especially when you’ve embraced the wonderful world of Google Apps for Education. So why are you still paying for everything else on a laptop?? The Chromebook gives you this internet browser, with a super fast flash drive and none of the other rubbish you never use that slows a computer down, for around $300. A Windows laptop is at least twice that much. A Macbook Air boasts a flash drive and is super sexy, but is more than three times that price. Can you still justify this expense large scale?

I would never work without a Macbook day to day, but don’t kid yourself: more than 9 times out of 10 your students don’t need any of the features that would separate a Mac from a Chromebook.

Laptops (Mac OS or Windows)


If you’re doing ‘proper’ graphic design or film making, teaching kids to code, or using specialised software of any sort, there’s no substitute for a laptop. No matter how you try and frame it, Chromebooks and tablets can’t and aren’t meant to completely replace the laptop computer. You need some, but possibly not a lot, particularly in a Primary school. I see laptops a bit like trucks and tablets and Chromebooks like cars or motorbikes. Once you have a tablet or a Chromebook, you’re going to prefer it as an everyday machine. As soon as you need to do some ‘heavy lifting’ however, you’re going to need a truck!

Desktop computers (Mac OS or Windows) and Netbooks (Windows)

Get rid of them!

  – What do you think? Have I been too blunt or unfair? Have you in fact found a device that ‘does everything’? Let me know in the comments.

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Digital Search: are you explicitly teaching it?

August 7, 2013 by · 1 Comment · Digital Literacy, school mangement, Teaching

One of the things still not adequately covered in our curriculum documents, at least here in Australia, is skills associated with searching for information digitally. Teachers and curriculum writers almost seem to treat search skills and the understandings associated with ‘smart’ searching as assumed. This is a touch ironic, because in my experience many teachers don’t have advanced skills or understandings around digital search themselves (as I touched on a bit in my last post).

It is an indictment on our education systems that in 2013, these crucial skills are left to companies like Google to develop education packages for. Luck they do a fairly good job of it! (see here for Google’s great ‘Search Education’ resources).

The fact remains that there is no official guide for teachers for what skills to teach and when to teach them when it comes to digital search. (The closest we come in Australia is the Australian Curriculum General Capabilities document, yet to be formally accepted by many states)

So I’ve made one.

Digital Search Progression of Skills is a document I have written to attempt to define explicit teaching guidelines for both whole class and small group/individual students in a Primary School, as well as defining what may be reasonable to expect students to achieve at each ‘stage’ in their learning. I haven’t put grade levels on this document, as students develop at different rates. Also, students in a school that explicitly teach digital search from the students’ first year will have students with skills far more advanced than schools that don’t explicitly teach it, or treat it as a bit of an after thought.

Have a look and let me know what you think. It is certainly a working document. I don’t mind you using it at your own school, but please contact me to let me know that you are.

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Search Smart – 5 fast ways to locate appropriate websites for your students

July 20, 2013 by · No Comments · Digital Literacy, Teaching, Web 2.0

At school our big focus on CBL and Inquiry Based Learning has led to conversations around how to scaffold and teach students skills  relating to researching on the web. It’s my opinion that Primary School students should not be left to do open searches Google – there is simply too much information to sort through. (This doesn’t mean we don’t teach them how and give them opportunities to practise, it just means we don’t set them Challenges and let them ‘go for it’ on the open web) Instead, teachers need to find relevant websites for students to search for information from, and post them on their class Site or Blog. This limits the amount of information students need to search through, and guides their searches to appropriate websites for their reading level etc.

This then leads to the issue of how much time it takes for teachers to collate and curate information for different groups of students in their class, as it is sometimes difficult to find informative sites at their reading level and relevant to the inquiry they are engaging in. I have found that teachers are often as ignorant as students in knowing how to search in a smart way for the type of sites they want. (This has led to some PD on how to teach search skills, or Information Literacy. A blog post on this is to come!) That’s why I produced the following guide for our staff:

5 Fast Ways to Find Appropriate Websites

1. Use Google filters

After you do a search in Google, on the results page select from the filters to narrow your search. Select ‘Search Tools’ and ‘Reading Level’ to sort websites by reading level. Select the specific types of media you want to search: videos, images, scholarly articles, news, blogs, apps etc.

2. Benefit from the work of other teachers by searching collections of education resources, rather than the open web.

3. Google isn’t the only search engine!

Use one of the many dedicated ‘kids’ search engines instead. This article will explain the reason for them and give you the top 3:

4. Search education sections of relevant agencies/organisations

5. Live like its the 21st century – leverage the power of social networking

  • Diigo – a social bookmarking site. Store your bookmarks online and see everyone elses as well. Join communities around particular topics. Search what other people have already found to be useful and bookmarked rather than the open web.

  • Twitter, Google+, Pinterest – All searchable by hashtags. Bring a world of information to you from some of the best educators on the planet. Join some communities on Google+ and watch your education knowledge explode.

  • There are sharing networks for resources around particular products, such as iPads and even IWBs, such as Promethean Planet

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Reflections from Google Teacher Academy (or how I plan to further ‘Googlify’ my school!)

May 11, 2013 by · 3 Comments · learning spaces, school mangement

I recently had the privilege and pleasure of attending the latest Google Teacher Academy at Google HQ in Sydney. It was a fantastic experience. 51 amazing educators from 14 different countries in the same room. Each one of them I imagine would rarely be in the same room with someone else as competent as they are in using digital tools in the classroom, now in a great big room with at least 50 others of type.

We learnt lots and lots about some of the newer or more recently updated Google tools (You Tube editor, Google Maps Engine, Google Art Project) and were privileged with inside information about the future directions of Google’s main suite of apps (Docs, Sheets etc).

What I valued most of all though, what a sneak peek inside one of the most successful companies on earth. I greatly valued the talk that Suan Yeo, the man in charge of Education Sales for Google in the Asia Pacific region, gave in relation to the ‘Google Culture’.

I also greatly valued getting a tour around the offices of Google. As most know, these are not just any offices, and the lessons learnt just by wandering around with our tour guide, who worked there, were great.

So here are some of my take aways, from a school management perspective:


Google has every different type of workspace you can imagine. Big and open. Small and closed. Light or dark, relaxed or formal. From wide open social spaces to literally holes in the wall you could crawl into. In education speak, we would say they have catered for every different possible learning style. Our tour guide told us that the workspaces were continuously being reviewed. If something wasn’t working it was changed. All the walls were moveable, and things could, and were, adjusted as necessary.

What a wonderful correlation to our classrooms. Google did not accept that the practices of their workers have to fit around the furniture and the office layout. Instead it was the other way around. The office layout can change according to need. And the variety of spaces allows for every different preference a worker might have.

I’ve long argued for entirely portable classrooms. Get rid of the front of the room. Have open spaces separated by moveable separators. Move your tables and chairs as needed. Fit your classroom around the learning that needs to take place, not the other way around.

Creativity doesn’t happen at a desk

We all know this. But designing your office block (or classroom) to truly represent this truth is something else. Google understands that just because you’re sitting at your desk, it doesn’t mean you are being productive. There are lots of different rooms, from quiet libraries to fun games rooms, where employees can go to ‘clear their head’ and let the creativity happen. If you’re stuck on a problem you are encouraged to go for a walk, get something to eat, play some pinball or playstation, and let the solution come.

Team Work

Everyone works as a part of a team at Google. There is simply no other way. Ideas are developed collaboratively. Problems are solved as a team.

As Michael Jordan said: there is no ‘I’ in team, but there is an ‘I’ in ‘win’. This means that although you work collaboratively, it is still everyone’s responsibility to step up when it counts. Everybody is a somebody who can and should take action. And a team requires each individual to put in in order to achieve greatness.

This confirmed to me that we are doing good things with our Challenge Based Learning at Kalinda, where students work as part of a team to solve real problems or make real improvements – just like the teams at Google do. They are challenged to work collaboratively, but at the same time asked to reflect on their effectiveness as a part of their team.

Share Early and Fail Fast

When working on a project, you share it with someone as early as possible in order to receive feedback from them. This leads to the concept of ‘fail fast’. That person might pick out 5 ways your product can be improved. In other words, you failed to get it right. That’s a good thing. You need to fail lots and keep getting that feedback in order to build an end product that is truly great. Prototyping is key.

This is a huge lesson for our students and the way they are encouraged to work by our teachers. Traditionally, students were often expected to go and work hard on their projects over a number of weeks, handing them in right at the end of the unit for a teacher to mark. This is a completely flawed approach. In our Challenge Based work, which has also been influenced by the Design Thinking approach, students are asked to build up a solution to a problem as part of a team. They need to actively seek feedback about their proposal early on in the process and make adjustments accordingly. I now want to go further with the kids, and build in them the mindset of seeking out feedback from both teachers and peers. Take the fear of failure out of the equation by meeting it head on and welcoming it. Fail fast. Prototype your product or solution until it is better than it could ever have been had you not sought feedback from your teacher and your peers.

The Famous Google 20%

Lots has been written about this already. The famous working conditions at Google that say 20% of a worker’s time can be spent on their own projects. These are projects that might improve the company in some way. They may even be products that end up getting used by Google and becoming famous in the process. Google Now is one of these such projects which is just starting to hit the ‘big time’.

It got me thinking, imagine putting a philosophy like this in place in my school? Obviously we don’t have budget to give over 20% of a teacher’s time each week to their own ‘projects’, but is there maybe some sort of time each week we can dedicate to this sort of idea? As an Assistant Principal, the idea of each person in our school spending part of their time each week on projects that would improve our school is exciting. Of course many teachers do this sort of thing anyway, but it’s the teachers that are trapped in that cynical ‘victim’ mentality that this could really be powerful with. Instead of complaining about things, the 20% encourages a change of mindset to one that actively looks for ways your workplace can be positively improved.

Focus on the User

Finally, what is perhaps most obvious and also most often forgotten in schools and any other business. ‘Focus on the user’ is the first and, one assumes, the most important in a list of Google ‘Innovation Principals’. For schools, ‘focus on the learner’ would be a guiding principle that should see you developing the best possible programs at every turn. How could you not offer an engaging program if you are focussed on the learner? How could you not be interested in what your students know, and then specifically design and differentiate your program to meed their needs, if you were focused on the learner?

Like much of what Google does, its almost obvious once you see it being done. The challenge is in actually making it happen.


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Should teachers have to pay for the technology they use?

April 6, 2013 by · 6 Comments · school mangement, Teaching

It was reported today that the Australian Education Union in Victoria is taking the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) to court over the requirement of Victorian teachers to lease a laptop for school use.  Jewel Topsfield from The Age reported:

A highly contentious requirement that teachers at state schools fork out for their work laptops - even though they are essential for them to perform their duties – is being challenged in the Federal Court.The Australian Education Union is suing the Victorian Education Department, claiming it has contravened the Fair Work Act by deducting hundreds of dollars from teachers’ pay if they chose to lease a notebook computer from the department.

(Read more:

A Brief History of the Issue

This issue first blew up 2 years ago, when the DEECD in Victoria stopped subsidizing the lease they offered to teachers. Teachers in Victoria are required to use a leased computer, being restricted from bringing their own to work due to software licensing agreements and the contractual definitions of the technical support supplied to schools.

When the lease program first started, it offered teachers a new model Windows notebook for a minimal price (around $4.00 a fortnight). Macbooks were offered as well, at just under double that price, but still heavily subsidized. As technology evolved and diversified, unfortunately the lease offers didn’t. To make matters worse, DEECD abolished any subsidization of the program. This left teachers with the full cost of a lease where they had very little choice of their device (other than Mac vs PC), and no choice over the length of lease.

For PC users, DEECD offeres the contract to supply the Windows notebooks for the lease program basically to the lowest bidder, and as a result Lenovo has supplied, what, in my opinion, have been some very ordinary models up to teachers (the edition running Windows Vista was a particular shocker, although Microsoft is as much to blame as Lenovo for that 3 years of leasing hell).

Not being able to enter into any bargaining agreement with Apple, the white Macbook being offered jumped in price from $7.50 to $11.50 after subsidization stopped. It also went from a 3 year lease to a 4 year lease. Making matters worse, it was the old white Macbook model, already scrapped by Apple and unavailable in stores. (This year, teachers will be offered last year’s Macbook Pro model, also at the end of its production life, at a cost to teachers of $17 a fortnight over 4 years.)

When I reported on this on my blog (see my original post on the issue: The Victorian Teacher Notebook Scandal) the story went viral on social media and was widely reported in the mainstream media as well. It seemed for the first time Victorian teachers were awakened to the injustice of being forced into a less than satisfactory agreement that was costing them a significant amount of money for a tool that they couldn’t do their job without.

What is the state of play outside of Victorian state schools?

Conditions for teachers vary greatly in this reagard in Australia. While some states have leasing schemes similar to Victoria’s, others have nothing at all. In some states and territories, if teachers don’t buy a laptop privately then they don’t have one to use, which makes encouraging appropriate technology use by teachers a nightmare for some schools. Many Catholic and independent schools provide laptops for their teachers. Some even provide a laptop and an iPad.

What about tablets?

This leads us to a further complication of this issue: the advent of tablet technology. In my opinion, the iPad (or Android tablet if you like) is essential and perhaps the most important tool a teacher can have. I’ve explained that in other previous posts, see in particular Evernote – an attempt at the definitive summary of teacher uses! and a pre-iPad post: iPhone: the Teacher’s Best Friend.

One of the first things I did as an Assistant Principal was provide an iPad for all of our staff. This means they all have a laptop which they pay for through the DEECD lease, and a ‘free’ iPad that remains the property of the school but is essentially theirs for personal use. At a school down the road, staff must pay another lease to get an iPad on top of their notebook lease. At many other schools, staff simply have to buy their own if they want one.

So what should we be expecting here? What digital tools, if any, should teachers get provided with to do their job?

I don’t believe its fair for teachers to have to cover the full cost of any tools that are absolute necessities for their job. Having said that, I don’t necessarily believe the best use of limited State money is to cover the full cost of notebooks and tablets for all teachers.

My opinion is that we need to look at this with a much broader and more modern perspective. When my blog post was published in 2011, much of the comments and commentary in the media turned into a Mac vs PC debate. Comments such as: “Teachers should just be happy with the $4 per fortnight PC and stop complaining. Why do they need a Mac anyway?” abounded. It should be obvious to all by now the ‘Mac vs PC’ debate is absolutely absurd and an unhelpful distraction. There are a multitude of devices now on the market that serve many different preferences and needs.

So the first thing to think about in answering the question of what teachers should be provided with is that the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to technology of the past is long out-dated.

The next thing holding us back from answering this question properly is the attitude of many IT technicians that only certain devices should be allowed onto their ‘secure’ school networks. Everything is locked down and secured so tightly in a government school that typically only one device with one set of software is allowed for teachers. (at a real stretch and with lots of angst your average school tech will allow a Mac!) Besides the fact that this in itself is an insane approach to supporting a place that should be geared towards education and creativity, aren’t we past the local network age yet?

As a Google Apps school, I had to really think this year about whether we even needed the department image or school network for any of our devices. Almost everything we use is web based. We even have printers now that don’t require more than a WiFi connection. Shouldn’t we be aiming for school environments where you bring your device of choice and all it needs to be able to do is connect to the school WiFi? Couldn’t we use cloud based methods of putting any essential non-web based software onto our machines? Better still, couldn’t we use cloud based virtualization software to run apps on our machines when we need them, rather than having to store them on our hardrive and necessitate the running of Windows or Internet Explorer? In this way, any device could be used and run any software needed virtually.

With these things considered, wouldn’t the modern way to approach all of this be to provide teachers with a certain dollar amount that would subsidize the device/s that best suit the specific needs they have that may be school or subject specific?

If this sounds crazy, consider that there are companies that are already doing this. I spoke to a Cisco employee last year, who told me that he gets a certain amount from his employer, with which he can buy any device or combination of devices he likes that will effectively support the particular job he does for the company. He chose 2 devices with the money provided: a Macbook Air and an iPad. Any Windows specific software the company had could run on his Mac via cloud based virtulization software.

Now, obviously we’re not realistically going to have the same budget to work with in state school education compared to a multinational company, but the same concept can still work.

The point is, even if DEECD backs down in Victoria and provides all teachers with a certain notebook, we should still consider ‘one device for all’ the wrong path to go down.

It’s not appropriate for all teachers to be using a Lenovo laptop. Most teachers doing their job well should need a combination of devices. A PC netbook and an iPad. A Chromebook and an Android tablet. A Macbook and an Windows 8 tablet.

Whatever the devices, surely what works best for teachers within their specific environment to provide the best education posible is what’s important and what we should be aiming for.

I’m certain that rather than receiving a $500 notebook, many teachers would prefer to be given that $500 in one form or another every 3 – 4 years to subsidize the devices of their choice. We would need to put some sort of requirements on those devices to ensure money isn’t wasted and the devices chosen can do the job. A similar system of minimum requirements exists in most BYOD schools for students bringing their own tech. Why can’t it work for teachers?

What do you think? What agreement should exist for teachers in regards to providing the technology that is essential in their jobs?

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A follow up on teaching ‘the HOW’ of an activity

March 29, 2013 by · 3 Comments · Teaching

I’ve received a fair bit of feed-back from my last post, ‘Give students the what, the why and the when – NOT the HOW‘. Most feedback was from teachers keen to trial what I’d written about in their own classrooms. Some feedback was from teachers that felt perhaps there was something important missing. And that is: don’t we need to teach students about all the different ways they could complete an activity before we open things up for them to choose how they want to respond? Isn’t it good teaching practice to explore with students what elements make a poster (for example) effective before students go about producing posters? Shouldn’t you explore what makes a good film before you let students create their own?

This is absolutely true. How can you expect students to come up with a quality end product, whatever form it takes, if you haven’t shown them how to create it in the first place?

Recently we hit this problem at school. Our Level 4s were given half a day to show what they’d learned from a special Cybersafety presentation from ACMA (Australian Communications and Media Authority). Most groups chose to make short films that focused on a particular element of the presentation, for example, cyber bullying.

As teachers began to view the first results from this session they weren’t overly thrilled. The students had clearly learned a whole lot from the presentation, and their ideas were great. However, their movies weren’t. Many were shot all in one, with kids acting whole scenes out in front of the camera. There was no thought given to camera angles, framing or editing. And the sound was terrible.

Have we skipped a step here? Should we have just set them the task to make a movie and then taught them the things that make a good movie good?

Well, that’s certainly the way we used to do it. And maybe at times there is still some merit in that. But what I wanted our teachers to do was to dig deeper into what was really going on here.

What did the students’ movie making skills tell us about their visual and multimedia literacy skills? Their near finished products clearly showed that they knew nothing of how a film communicates messages to an audience. This isn’t just a problem for this activity, this is a massive whole in their literacy skills.

Teachers shouldn’t be waiting for a film making activity to teach how to make a film. Likewise, you shouldn’t just be teaching about effective poster making when asking kids to make a poster.

For more than 10 years now I’ve been banging on about how our literacy texts in Primary Schools are far too narrow. We spend over 90% of our time teachings students to read from books or pieces of paper. And yet in the ‘real world’ I would estimate over 90% of the literacy they require has nothing to do with books or paper. It’s high time we broadened our everyday idea of what ‘teaching reading’ should actually mean.

We need to look at more than the written word in our literacy sessions. We need to go well beyond ‘big books’ in our shared reading. Posters, web pages, short films, advertisements should all be looked at and dissected. Students need a critical literacy of all these medias to be informed and successful in their lives.

When our students went into that session to make a short film they should have already had a background knowledge from years of literacy sessions about how films communicate to audiences. They should have known to show the ‘bully’ from a low angle which would make him or her look more menacing. They should have known to cut to a high angle shot of the victim to make them look more vulnerable and scared. They should have understood how a close up captures facial expressions. The should have put thought into a sound track that would be appropriate to the emotions they wanted to convey.

In short, if we are giving our students a proper and full literacy education, and teaching them to critically examine all types of media and how they work, then we should see the results of that come through in their work. By grade 5 and 6 they should be able to choose the ‘how’ of an activity and have the skill set to ‘pull it off’. And if they can’t, that should speak to holes in their literacy understandings that are critical for you to fill.


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Give students the ‘what’, the ‘why’ and the ‘when’ – NOT the ‘how’

February 11, 2013 by · 4 Comments · Teaching

In my last post, I mentioned the change in pedagogy that going 1:1 with any device should demand. Too often 1:1 allows teachers to slip into the trap of every student doing the same thing at the same time in the same way. In my opinion this should probably be the most important deficiency in our teaching that 1:1 should provide the solution to.

I’m not being critical of teachers here, merely making an observation.’Whole class’ teaching is exactly how many of us have been taught to teach. Not at university, but during our teaching rounds and our first, most impressionable, years in the profession. In this post I wanted to build on a suggestion that I mentioned in my last post, which is a very quick and easy way to move away from this problem. That is, stop telling students ‘how’ to complete an activity.

Students need to know the ‘what’ of what you’re asking them to do. They definitely need to know the ‘why’ – this is the Learning Intention, the most important aspect. ie. ‘What’s the point of this?’ (teachers sometimes forget this one, but that’s a topic for another post) They also need to know the ‘when’. As in, “when is this due?” i.e. “How long have we got to complete this activity?”

But telling them the ‘how’ is stealing a lot of the thinking and the learning from them.

It is often VERY difficult to resist telling students ‘how’ to complete an activity. But since we’ve gone with 1:1 iPads at Kalinda, I’ve been surprised time and time again at what students come up with if you only leave it open for them to do so.

Simple case in point. Students today had 6 maps of Australia from different points in history. Each map showed a different moment in the development of Australia’s colonies (later states). Students were to use the maps to show what they had learned about how and when each colony or state of Australia came to be following their research about it.

If it were up to me, I probably would have planned every last bit of the activity, right down to the ‘how’. That is, I would have guided students to use a particular app, probably something like Strip Designer, to copy and import the maps into. I would have then asked them to order and label them in the app. Fortunately, the teacher delivering the lesson has been wonderful at leaving the ‘how’ open for students. He let them know the basics of what the activity was, the reason for it, and how long they had to complete the it, and then ASKED THEM what apps they might use. After getting some suggestions he set them off to work.

I watched amazed (yet again) as students came up with brilliant ways to show their learning, stuff I would never have thought of. They took the 6 maps and used them in all different ways. Some created timelines. Some used Poplet – they imported the pictures and created a mind map along with their own annotations. Some saved the maps to their iPad camera roll and used Art Set, a drawing app. They could easily import the pictures into the app from their camera roll, drag them into place anywhere on the page, and annotate or label them in any way they pleased. Some even printed the maps off and cut and pasted them into an ‘old fashioned’ timeline on a piece of paper!

Time and again this sort of thing has happened. In little ways, such as I’ve just described, right up to the really awesome ‘big’ things. Such as in our Challenge Based Learning units, where a challenge is set and the students are completely free to come up with their own solutions in their own way. Death to ‘make a powerpoint about a bushranger’  or ‘make a poster about an early explorer’ projects!!

So challenge yourself. Often the first thought when you set an activity is that students will need to be guided into exactly how to complete it. Resist this. Let students come up with something far more brilliant that you would ever set them.

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1:1 iPads – Don’t stuff it up! Here’s some ideas…

February 3, 2013 by · 2 Comments · learning spaces, school mangement, Teaching

1:1 iPads are up and running at Kalinda. We’re finally seeing the very exciting pay-off resulting from hundreds of hours of hard work in preparing for and establishing the program.

We really wanted to do this right. And to get it right right from the start. As such I’ve personally spent 100s of hours on this. I talked to lots and lots of schools doing 1:1 in preparation for setting up our program and heard some success stories, some horror stories, and some stories of missed opportunities.

What do I mean by ‘missed opportunities’? Schools that put an iPad in every students’ hand but hadn’t prepared teachers properly and therefore they were underused or not used at all in classes. Schools that jumped from classes where every student does the exact same thing at the exact  same time with pen and paper to students doing the exact same thing at the exact same time with the iPad. Schools that used the iPad purely to house text books and have students digitally complete worksheets using Goodreader. I won’t go on because I’m describing the teaching ‘syndrome’ that I’ve previously written about here.

What I wanted to cover here were some quick points that I’ve learnt along the way and thatI think are important to get ‘right’ by schools going down the 1:1 track:

1. Communicate and initiate inclusive discussions with your school community.

Change is scary for people regardless of whether it is ‘good’ or not.  That’s because it’s unknown and uncertain. A wise educator once told me “its not the ‘what‘ of the change, but the ‘how‘ that’s important”. I’ve seen parents raging against 1:1 programs being implemented in their schools, not because they don’t agree with the concept, but because they felt they weren’t consulted or informed well enough. Flag the change early. I brought the idea of 1:1 iPads to my School Council at the beginning of Term 2 the year before I hoped to implement it. At that point they were almost all dead against it. By the beginning of Term 4 all but 2 members voted for the program to proceed.  Another point to keep in mind: it doesn’t matter how much thought and preparation you’ve put in, if the parents only find out about the program ‘at the last minute’ they’ll assume you haven’t properly thought it through and that you rushed the decision. If that becomes the dominate belief among your parents its extremely difficult to get black on a positive footing.

2. Prepare you Teachers

Teachers need to be prepared to teach with iPads. This isn’t news. But how do you do it? My opinion is that no amount of PD is really going to achieve this goal fully. I believe the first step is for teachers to live the change you want them to be teaching. For example: want to use Edmodo with your students? Teachers can’t teach how to use a social network effectively if they’ve never used one themselves. They also can’t teach how to leverage the hundreds of tools the iPad can provide unless they’re comfortable and experienced at doing it themselves in their own work everyday. This doesn’t mean that they have to have used every app their students will use, but that they are used to the workflow of needing to do something and using 2 or 3 apps at each point of need to get it done. Or using a different 2 or 3. Whatever works. Our teachers had their own iPads for 2 years before our 1:1 program and relied heavily on Google Apps, Evernote and many other iPad essentials in their daily work life. They were also heavily encouraged to become active members of social networks such as Twitter and Pinterest for their own Professional Learning. iPads were second nature for them when 1:1 hit.

3. Change Your Pedagogy

Don’t wait for 1:1 to begin for your pedagogy to change. If each teacher’s pedagogy has changed prior to 1:1 they will be desperately needing each student to have ‘regular access’ and iPads will take off from day one. This is ideal compared to the alternative of teachers not being certain how to work them into their classes. Create the need through the change in pedagogy and then fill it. Don’t put the tool before the pedagogy. We implemented Challenge Based Learning (see Do you know your CBL from your PBLs?) in the year before 1:1 iPads came in. This style of teaching and learning was a steep learning curve for teachers and students, but wow, what a pay off in the end! The main benefit was the process of ‘letting go’. Teachers had to let students find their own way through tasks, rather than controlling each step of the process. The importance of this can’t be overstated.  Too often, having 1:1 leads down the road to traditional pedagogy. Why? Because each student has the same device, just like they all had pencil and paper and the same text book previously. This means teachers can slip seamlessly from ‘every student read page 55 and answer questions 1 – 8′ to ‘every student open this app and complete the activity’. In other words, each child is still doing the exact same thing at the exact same time. This happens often and is a small tragedy in classrooms where the opportunity for  individualised and personalised learning has never been greater. For our teachers it has been about focussing on the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of each activity, and letting students work out the ‘how’ themselves.  This leads to a wonderful variety of responses from students using a huge variety of different applications on the iPad.

4. Get your infustraucture right

No one necessarily likes spending money on stuff no one can see. But in our case that’s where the most money had to be spent. Thousands of dollars on upgrading our server and WiFi. In particular we installed WiFi that was specifically built for environments with large numbers of wireless clients. This meant removing the Department supplied WiFi, which my research told me would simply not cope with the demand of up to 200 devices in the one space trying to use it. In our case, the new Xirrus WiFi is simply fantastic, and integrates with the existing Cisco WiFi throughout the rest of our school. Upgrade your systems and test them out well before 1:1 begins. Everything failing or falling over once the iPads get to school is a bad look. Not only is it frustrating for students and teachers, but its another sign to parents that you haven’t properly thought the whole thing through and their confidence in the whole thing may take a hit from day one.

5. Step back and allow magical things to happen

When implementing new things, the temptation is to plan every last thing to the finest detail to ensure you get it right. This is a good way to be, but not when it comes to student learning. Remember, the whole point of this is that students now have a personalised digital learning tool that should create very dynamic and individualised learning spaces in your school. Once again, if more often than not every student is sitting in their seats using the same app at the same time doing a set activity all in the same way, then you’ve stuff it up. This is the opposite of what you were hopefully aiming for in the first place. One of the things that is classically over-planned is apps on the iPad. Research shows that one of the huge benefits of 1:1 is students having their own ‘personalised‘ device. So why, as soon as they get it, do we feel this need to give them a long list of apps they all have to have on it? We get all these devices in and then try as hard as we can to make them all the same. Does every student really need the exact same apps? Of course not. There needs to be some commonality for sure, but there also needs to be scope for students to discover their own apps that will help them at points of need, and also to install apps that meet particular ongoing needs for them. One student might need a fractions app that is very basic and visual because they really struggle with fractions. For many other students this app is a waste of time because they’re well beyond it.

My advice is start simple. We put out a list of 20 apps that we want all students to have, spending only 20% of the total budget for apps for each family. We will then respond to needs as they arise, great apps as they are invented, or allow students to take their own path with apps that fill particular learning needs for them. The 1:1 iPad trials in Victoria showed that when you install a whole load of apps onto student iPads right from the start of the year it leads to students and teachers never really being sure of what most of them do. The majority of these apps end up being rarely or never used. By the end of the year students have only used a few of the apps they started with and have a whole list of apps they would have preferred to have but can’t because there was no money left.

Apps should be a toolkit that students can pull up to complete tasks as needed. As such, they need a familiarity with them to know what needs they can fulfill. Need to attach audio to a picture? Well, I know this app can do that. Then I know I can edit the image with this app etc. Start with a small and simple list and allow students and teachers to become confident users of these apps, then respond to needs as they arise.

I appreciate all this is far harder to achieve in a larger Secondary school that in a Primary/Elementary setting, however this is just one of many cases where the old school structure needs to be challenged in order for ‘real’ 21st Century pedagogy to begin to be truly taken on.


Our first days of 1:1 have been fantastic and well worth all the hard work. We are desperately trying not to be a school that doesn’t use this opportunity to its full potential, and hopefully our experiences through the year can help others to achieve the same.

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1:1iPad program rationale

November 18, 2012 by · 2 Comments · Teaching

At Kalinda we are launching a 1:1 iPad program in 2013.  As a part of that we are setting up a website where parents can buy or lease the iPads and read information relevant to the program. I’ve just finished writing our rationale for the program for this site, and as our journey is so similar to many schools at the moment, and there are so many parents asking the same sorts of questions of teachers and principals, I thought I’d share it here in case its helpful for anyone else.

1:1 iPads @ Kalinda 2013

“We believe the curriculum we present should be individualised to suit learning strengths, differentiated to meet academic need, and structured in a way that encourages and values our student’s creative passions. We strive to provide this within ‘real world’, meaningful contexts in a way that will develop the varied skills our students will need in order to be successful in the 21st century. We believe the iPad is a tool that can help us achieve that goal to even higher standards.”

 Our children are growing up in a vastly more complex world than we did. There is now so much information that is freely available on any topic at any time. Communication can happen in an instant with people in any part of the world. Because of this, the ‘basics’ of education have changed. Yes, literacy and numeracy are still the core of our school’s focus. However, school is no longer about learning content as much as it is about learning the skills and habits of mind that will allow a student to be a successful life long learner. Skills like information literacy, collaboration, creativity and innovation, critical thinking, problem solving, and of course ICT literacy all now form part of what should be ‘the basics’ of a child’s education.

As a result, what happens in our classrooms has changed quite dramatically from even a few years ago. Students are now involved in real world challenges that require them to solve problems as a part of a team. Their solutions are designed from their own investigations which involve researching a wide variety of resources and communication with experts and relevant members of our community and the wider world. They are not only learning about the topic at hand, but about the power they can have to affect change in our world, and what it means to be a global citizen in an increasingly interconnected world.

In this environment, ICT tools are essential. It is no longer good enough to have a scheduled ‘computer time’ on shared devices. On the other extreme, it is also not appropriate to have students ‘staring at a screen’ all day. The tools our students use as part of their investigations need to be there, in the background, available when they need them as a small part of a bigger task. Much of the student’s iPad use might be in 30 second blocks. They may need to check a fact, look up where a town is on a map, jot down a key bit of information. Having a tool on hand progresses their learning immediately.

It also allows them to document their learning in a way they never could before. Being able to take a photo or video of an experiment and save it to their blog along with their reflections, recording a video diary of their learnings at each stage of a process, sending photos or sections of a piece of writing to their teacher via email or a shared document to get real time feedback. These things, which were all fantastic futuristic visions only a few years ago, are now being made a reality for Kalinda students.

And of course, in the key areas of explicit numeracy and literacy teaching, our students will have 1:1 access to hundreds of thousands of resources and apps that can support them in their learning. Every imaginable resource is on hand for them, from a virtual calculator, to interactive tables games, to spelling and grammar resources – there are so many possible learning avenues that the iPad makes possible, with every different learning style now being far more easily catered for. These digital resources also allow our teachers to differentiate their curriculum to meet your child’s specific needs in a way that simply wasn’t possible before. Interactive videos explaining specific Maths or English concepts can be accessed by the students at any time in any place. It’s no longer a case of ‘if you didn’t understand the teacher when they explained it then you’ve missed the boat’. Kalinda is extremely excited by the possibilities our 1:1 iPad program represents for our students next year. We hope you are too!

(here is a link to our information session slides for those that are interested)

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Do you know your CBL from your PBLs?!?

November 11, 2012 by · 5 Comments · learning spaces, school mangement, Teaching

Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn

The above quote could easily be thought of as inspiring Inquiry Based Learning…except that it was said by Benjamin Franklin about 250 years ago. The more things change in education, the more they stay the same!

At my school it has become time to formally institute a new curriculum structure that best suits the needs of our 21st century students. But which pedagogical approach do we go with? Or rather, should the question be, which acronym do we go with? There’s IBL or EBL (Inquiry Based Learning or Enquiry Based Learning, depending on which brand of English you prefer), CBL (Challenge Based Learning), and an awful lot of PBLs (including Project Based, Product Based, Problem Based, Play Based, Passion Based and Process Based Learning!).

Lets make it simpler. In truth, Inquiry Based Learning is more like an overarching philosophy that the other acronyms are specific workings out of. It’s based on the premise of students asking their own questions and seeking their own answers to form their own understandings. It evolved from Discovery Learning, which itself was a response to the traditional idea of a student as a silent receptor of knowledge imparted by the teacher.

Project Based Learning is probably the most commonly spoken about term under this Inquiry umbrella, especially in the US. Project Based Learning is a particular incarnation of the inquiry approach focussed around students completing a project set by the teacher through which they can ‘construct’ their own understandings of what needs to be learnt. Project Based Learning is heavily influenced by Piaget and Papert’s theories of constructionism; the idea that learning is most effective when the learner engages in activities that ask him/her to construct a meaningful product that exists outside their head and can be shared.

Product Based Learning is just now evolving, probably as a response to badly implemented Project Based Learning. It calls on educators to facilitate the students actually producing something for a purpose, that has been designed and refined to perform a task or solve a problem.  In other words, traditional teacher designed projects about presidents or explorers no longer go far enough in preparing these 21st century kids for what they will be called on to do in their professional lives.

In Australia, the term ‘Project Based Learning’ was never really widely adopted, partly due to a more formalised version ‘Enquiry Based Learning’ being so well championed by people such as Kath Murdoch, and the connected concept of Play Based Learning (or Developmental Curriculum) in the junior years by Kath Walker. Each of these ladies have written their own specific approaches that schools in Australia, and perhaps particularly in Victoria, have taken on to varying degrees.

When I say varying degrees, I think we all share the broad ‘inquiry’ philosophy, but let me put it this way: I’ve worked at a number of schools that have shared a similar journey, through topic based units, to inquiry learning, to integrated inquiry learning and back again. Probably the most consistent thing I’ve seen is that a school’s ‘integrated’ units have their own time in the day to be taught, their own books to be taught in, and in general are about as ‘non-integrated’ as it is possible to be. Likewise, I’ve showed up to work in ‘inquiry’ schools and after spending quite some time working with the school, almost being embarrassed to ask the Principal “are you aware that your ‘inquiry based’ school isn’t actually doing any real inquiry?” As for ‘Play Based Learning’, that can look like just about anything, and has come to broadly mean ‘letting little kids play with stuff in an unstructured way’. (Kath Walker’s ‘Walker Learning Approach’ defines a set developmental, or Play Based, pedagogy but I’ve rarely witnessed it being strictly adhered to by schools).

In general I find that teachers and school leaders can throw a lot of these acronyms around without having a deep understanding of what they actually represent, and the philosophy behind why you would teach like that. Or perhaps once upon a time the school leaders of a particular school did know the ‘why’ and ‘how’, but more than half the staff have changed over in their school since all the original PD was done, and what has resulted is a broken down, fatally weakened version of whatever the ideal originally was.

Most consistently what I’ve observed is teachers wanting to retain too much control over what goes on in their rooms. They control the activities that are done by students, denying them almost any choice in their learning, and in general just talk too bloody much! (If I had one piece of advice to give to every teacher, it would be: “the kids don’t learn by listening to you talk!”) To cut to the chase, this means that in many Australian schools, the ‘Enquiry Approach’ is actually a topic decided by the teacher, followed by a brain storm of questions relating to that topic by the students (if you’re lucky) with a series of activities that relate to that topic that the students complete, with an ‘enquiry project’ (read: set project) tacked on the end.

Don’t let my casual tone bely what this really means for our kids: this situation is a disaster happening in our schools. Our kids just aren’t getting the opportunities to develop the skills that they critically need to be successful in the 21st century.

Inquiry type curriculums had their origin in the 1960s, and the theories behind them date back even further, probably to John Dewey’s writings on education at the turn of the century (yes, 1897 and 1902 believe it or not! Not new ideas at all!) But the irony of it all is that our students need a true inquiry approach now more than ever before.

That is because information is now so freely available, and what is important to know so rapidly changing, that learning ‘content’ is no longer an appropriate focus for our classrooms (and never was according to Dewey writing more than 100 years ago!). What is important now is learning how to learn. Questioning is more important than answering, and understanding broader concepts that can be applied across many specific situations and topics is far more important than knowing specific information about specific topics.

This move to a ‘concept’ generated curriculum (another acronym just waiting to happen!) is a vital step for any school. By ‘concept generated’, I mean beginning from a starting point of the student’s learning being focussed on concepts that can be applied in many situations and understood at many different levels, rather than the traditional beginning point of focussing the learning on specific content that ‘needs’ to be taught. (For example, the concept of ‘Change’: When a student understands that change is inevitable, they can take that understanding and apply it across different stages in their learning. For example, a six year old may understand that people and animals grow and change over time, while a ten year old may begin to recognize that relationships change over time.)

For a local school I recently visited, it has meant that instead of teachers walking into a planning meeting and saying ‘Term 3 is going to be our unit on the Gold Rush’; they  might instead walk into their classrooms and present the concept of ‘Change’ or ‘Courage’ to their students, who then generate questions and ideas around that concept. They narrow these down to an ‘Essential Question’ that will drive the focuses of their investigations relating to this concept. Then, as a part of their investigations, the more specific content knowledge specified in the National Curriculum is skillfully drawn in by the teachers as it becomes relevant to what the student needs to learn as a part of the goal they are trying to achieve.  (For example, recently our grade 5 and 6 students planned our school fete. The entire Economics curriculum was suddenly something the students needed to know, rather than something that would in previous years have been forced upon them).

Which brings me to the ‘CBL’ mentioned earlier, as this is basically the thrust of Apple education’s ‘Challenge Based Learning‘, which is an effort to design a specifically 21st century version of Inquiry Learning. The ‘challenge’ that is presented to the students (or in pure CBL, arrived at by the students themselves) at the beginning of each unit is a ‘call to action’ that should break the boundaries of the classroom. It is calling on your students to create a solution to a ‘real’ challenge/problem in the ‘real’ world, and then to communicate their results not just to the teacher, but to the wider community and the world, usually in the form of a multi-media presentation posted on the net.

As I mentioned, I see CBL as like a 21st century update of the Inquiry approach, with a set focus on real world application and 21st century skills. You can read more about it here or better still, check out all the great resources on Apple’s iTunesU by searching for CBL. (CBL was initially developed with Marco Torres and is still being refined by very fine educators across the world).

Whatever acronym of a curriculum model we choose for our school, I believe the important thing is that it basically fits the following description: an engaging, real and relevant student driven curriculum developing understandings of broader concepts that students can apply in countless situations, fostering 21st century skills such as collaboration, problem solving, innovation, information literacy and the communication of ideas through multi-media mediums. It calls on students to be curious, demands of them to question and be critical, and challenges them to engage with the real world to find answers and be an agent for change.

Now, as far as I’m concerned, if your pedagogy manages to do all that, you can give it whatever name or acronym you want!

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