Sunday, November 21, 2010

Is Facebook evil?

I have been a bit busy lately and finding it hard to keep on top of reading. I have set myself a goal to read and reflect on one academic paper a day to get back into the swing of things.

I started off today by reading the 2010 Horizon report. This report highlights trends that are ‘identified as key drivers of technology adoptions for the period 2010 through 2015’ as well as other issues and challenges. As I cast my mind over the issues arising in this report around innovative use of technologies for teaching and learning I found intersections with my thinking about the use of Facebook (FB) in education. My thoughts are predicated on the fact FB is for 13 year olds and up.

The Horizon Report stated that ‘The abundance of resources and relationships made easily accessible via the Internet is increasingly challenging us to revisit our roles as educators in sense-making, coaching, and credentialing.’ Also that ‘People expect to be able to work, learn, and study whenever and wherever they want to.’ These two statements fit with the notion of using a platform such as FB for educational purposes.

I have been thinking about FB and how it has become a word synonymous with fear and ridicule in some circles. FB is that place where people are posting drunken, embarrassing photos of themselves and sinking their careers. Teachers are losing their jobs, politicians are revealing their misdeeds and even the wife of the MI6 has exposed the holiday location of a man supposedly at the top level of security and secrecy. Students are making themselves unemployable because what they put on line in FB will haunt them in years to come. This social software platform is truly a thing to be feared.

Or is it?

What makes FB any different from blogging, or any other online experience? FB has just received all the negative press. In my opinion, as educators, this is a perfect opportunity to put some things into play.

It is our role to help students learn how to stay safe in this new environment

Students, and many adults too, are navigating a new ‘world’ with new ways of interacting with each other and the environment. A new set of rules is needed and a new etiquette learnt. Rather than throwing up our hands and leaving FB to the kids to navigate without support, there is a great opportunity here for teachers to explore how this social software platform can be used for educational purposes. And at the same time help the students to understand how to exist in the environment safely and with respect for themselves and others.

It makes sense to use a platform where the students already carry out most of their online activities

Students use FB for more than just connecting with their friends. A lot of personal learning occurs within FB. It may not be the academic learning that we would hope for, however students are forming groups around interests such as music and hobbies and taking part in collaborative discussions and resource sharing activities. FB has so many built in features that would make it ideal for a class to work collaboratively. Using a group, students can ‘join’ and therefore have all the information pulled from that group onto their walls. This could be used to make sure they receive the latest important information, sharing of resources and links that can help them with their studies, or engaging them in discussion around various topics.

But what about the distinction between private and public life?

Many teachers are hesitant to use FB with their classes because they see it as their private space where they interact with family and friends. And that is a very valid point. However FB as a platform is much more than just that space. It is a community of spaces that can be kept separate. A group can be set up for a course or a class, which does not pull in any of the user's private information. The sole purpose of the group is to interact in that one space. The people who join do not get access to your private FB profile.

I think the point I am trying to make, is not that we should all rush out and use FB, but that we should take a step back and see that it is just another social networking platform which is neither better or worse than others. I think that we should stop listening to those trying to scare us away from our responsibilities of helping students navigate the sometimes complex waters of online life. What issues such as the furor around FB offer us are a new way of looking at how people learn and live.

Just as the introduction of Wikipedia highlighted the increasing need for students to become sophisticated researchers to ensure the credibility of online information, Facebook is highlighting the need for students to understand how to present themselves, and behave in an online environment and to consider consequences of their actions.

That is what I have been thinking, anyway.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Kidz @ Conference

I have spent the last two days at Kidz@Conference at the Dunedin College of Education. We have put this event on now for the last five years and it is always so exciting. The students come for two days of workshops using all different technologies with the idea that they can then help implement these back at school. Each school also sends a teacher along with their students so it is good PD for the teachers too. My job is to get all the students' work up onto the wiki before the end of the second day. On the wiki I have tried to include links to information about the software as well so there are examples of work and information for how to get started in your classroom.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Graeme Aitkin - Teaching what matters and selecting content and pedagogy

Today I am lucky enough to be presenting at and attending the First Time Principals' Conference in Auckland. The final keynote speaker is Graeme Aitken, the Dean of Education from the University of Auckland, these are my notes from his session.

The title of Graeme's talk is - Teaching what matters and selecting content and pedagogy.

For me the session was full of provocative questions and I'll leave them with you in the hope that you find them provocative also.

He asks us 'How do you decide what to teach? and How do you decide how to teach that content?' We need to do more things that matter and do them well.

Teaching itself is not simple.

The role of school leaders in teaching:
  1. Modeling effective teaching
  2. Creating the conditions for effectiveness
  3. Providing feedback about effective teaching to others - not just as part of the appraisal process but it is part of the ongoing process of being in and out of classrooms
  4. Helping to identify and resolve teaching problems
  5. Recognising effectiveness in selection - thinking about the criteria you use in selecting new teachers to determine effectiveness.
There is no one right way to be effective.

What are teachers obligated to be?
efficient, organised, in control, warm, enthusiastic, empathetic, interesting, humorous ...

What are teachers obligated to do?
overviews at the start, group work, cooperative learning, open ended questions, inquiry learning, use visuals, storytelling, whole class instruction ... This list is long and disputed when you look at what research states teachers are obligated to do.


What are teachers obligated to cause?
Successful learning, greater interest, greater confidence ...

To what extent are you 'causing' what is valued in teaching? It is effective to focus on what you need to cause, and how what you should be or do influences that.

There is a critical interaction between 'be' 'do' and 'cause'

Being ineffective is where students experience misalignment, lack of engagement and lack of success. This includes duplication, confusion, busy work, waiting. Graham Nuthall found in his research that a significant number of intermediate students already knew the content the teacher was presenting.

Being effective means giving students more time to be engaged and learning about things that matter.

We should be proud of the effort that teachers are putting in to engage and help students learn. Effective teaching is the effort that goes in to create learning environments and learning students. Teaching as inquiry in the NZC is a model that supports effective teaching. This model asks you to consider what is important and therefore worth spending time on given where your students are at before engaging in teaching and learning activities.

So what does Graeme consider are teachers' obligations?
  • Focus on outcomes that matter - desired results.
  • Cause students to appreciate the value of the desired results
We need 'student sensitive' learning, but maybe not 'student centred' learning. We don't always have to start with something that students are interested in. They don't know what they don't know. It is up to us to spark the imaginations of students.

Wiggans and McTigue (Understanding by design) discuss the twin sins of design - Coverage focused teaching and Activity focused teaching.

Important questions to ask are ...

Why does this learning matter for these students at this time?


What is the best way of teaching this?

In choosing content that matters there has to be some sense of standard against which you are measuring.

Then there is the tough task of appreciation - how can I help students appreciate the value of this learning?

How will we know when we have caused engagement and success?

If what you are doing is not working ... Then try something else!

What are some of the things we can look at to look for engagement and success beyond the obvious standardised tests?

For example:
  • observe the responses of the students over a period of time in a systematic way to ascertain engagement?
  • Ask students to rate activities - challenge, skill, importance, interest, success, relax, self-esteem. Choose one or two of these elements and genuinely ask students their opinions, not necessarily a tick box activity.
  • Ask students to report or explain what they are doing, why they are doing it, how it will help them, how it fits with previous learning and how will they know when they have learned?
  • At the end of a lesson - the one minute response to what is the most important thing you have learned - where did you get the most lost or confused today.
Be prepared to make changes when you identify what is not working, and what is working well. You cannot be effective unless you are curious enough to embark on finding out what works. Be open minded to new possibilities and understanding student experiences, observe your own practice and suspend judgment. Have the wisdom to be conscious of your own ignorance and have a sense of OPTIMISM.

Graeme's last statement :

Wise use of time, wise action, wise use of evidence leads to a profession of wise people.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


I've just come across LiveBinders which I thought would be of great use in the classroom. Often you have lots of things for your students to view online and on your computer but you don't want them to get lost in the world of clicking. With LiveBinder you can put all your word documents, videos, and web sites on one page with a series of tabs across the top. All the information you have collected for that lesson or unit is available from one url.

I'm going to explore using it for workshops. Will make things a lot easier than jumping from one application, or one website to another.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

CORE Education Foundation awards

Awards Poster

IF you are interested in applying for one of the CORE Foundation Awards, visit

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Students and privacy online

I thought this video about keeping yourself safe online, for 11 to 16 year olds, was very well done. It has the right tone to make kids think without being too over the top scary. I will definitely be showing this to my teenagers.

Thanks Andrew

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Developing whānau priorities

I was privileged to visit Te Kura o Hiruharama up near Ruatoria a couple of weeks back and I was struck by a comment made by a parent.

"It's about everyone having an input on a whole, it's not the teachers are there and the whānau are there, we are one unit working together hopefully."

It made me think about the old adage 'It takes a village to raise a child'. Sometimes there can seem to be a big distance between school and home, sometimes, we even speak different languages in our different villages. This school has spent a lot of time talking with whānau and gathering in results of surveys to develop a set of three priorities that the school and home can work on together (sometimes these surveys result in developing something that the school can work on, on behalf of the parents, rather than in partnership with).

These priorities are evident in the school mission statement, in the school vision, and are evident in the planning of inquiry units. The concept of split screen thinking is evident here, as the priorities are skillfully and thoughtfully woven throughout elements at the school.

This led me to reflect on my own experiences in teaching:
Were the parents' priorities evident in my school vision / mission statement / lessons?
Was developing the school vision considered when planning units of work?

(image: I think this is Mt Hikurangi, at least it is a photo I took of a huge Mt on the way out to the school :) )

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Beware when you blog

Before I start my rant - let me state I subscribe and enjoy a good deal of talented teachers' blogs and learn a lot from them. Let the rant begin ...

I saw a blog post yesterday which made me quite worried and provoked me to write this post. I'm hoping that the post in question will be taken down soon and so I won't link to it.

I once heard someone say that technology is an amplifier. It can amplify good practice and it can amplify bad practice. I have two cautions I want to put forward:
  • Principals - subscribe to all the blogs being written in your school. You are the leader and need to know what is being put out for the world to see. Also you can then support, nurture, and encourage as well as moderate. This is not micro managing, this is being involved.
  • Teachers - think! What is the purpose of your blog? Who is your audience? What is the hidden message coming through?
The post in question that has provoked this rant is a typical post where a teacher has described an activity the class has undertaken. It sounded like a great activity. The class had read about 50,000 people protesting against mining in national parks. They discussed the use of signs in the protest. Discussed the language (I hope) and made their own signs. This would be a really powerful lesson - however, this is where the amplifier came in. The teacher in question seemed to missed out the powerful bits and then amplified this to the world through the blog.

The post displayed the signs made by the children including these statements (and there were more!):

"John Key the donkey"
"Don't mine NZ, that's what Australia's for"

Now in my mind the powerful parts of this lesson could be to talk about separating political attacks from personal ones. I doubt it would be acceptable to teach children to call anyone names, let alone the leader of their country. Who, even if you disagree with his politics, deserves some respect.

Another powerful part of this lesson could be to talk about what made mining acceptable or not. Is it okay to mine in one place not another, in one country over another?

I thought this was a timely reminder that you really need to have a good pedagogical framework before you start blogging.

In one sentence "Why do you blog?"

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Telling a story with photography

A while ago I wrote a teaching sequence for English online called Telling a story with photography

I have always loved using photography with my class to bring out a whole new side to story telling and creativity. I have just watched a video on Teachers TV that I thought was great for people wanting something simple to get them started with the idea in the classroom.

Boost your teaching - tips for better digital photography.

There wasn't an embed code, so head on over to have a look.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Final cut express 4.0.1 update

I'm writing this post because I have spent a frustrating week trying to find out how to get my final cut express to install the update. I tried the software update many times but it didn't find anything. So after intensive Googling I resorted to ringing the lovely people at apple support and it turns out ...

the Final cut express application must be in the applications folder not in a subfolder !!

Duh! I had tidied up my applications and put all the final cut express stuff into a folder. So the answer was to pull the app outside the folder into the applications folder, run software update and viola! There was the update ready to install.

I hope this post saves you the time and frustration I've just been through.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Teachers TV

Teachers TV is an online site that provides education video resources, lesson plans, inspiration and ideas to use in the classroom. However, it is more than that, Teachers TV also broadcasts on the television in the UK which means that they produce a large volume of high quality content to support teachers in their everyday jobs of teaching and learning. This site is worth a visit. From my point of view they have cutting edge ideas for the display of digital media and discussed the fact that digital media should not replace text but provide teachers with things that are not possible in just text.

We were fortunate today to meet with John Richmond, the international development executive of Teachers TV, to discuss how Teachers TV works. This is part of our PD to develop our skills in digital media for CORE Education. John took us out to Brook Lapping which is an internationally acclaimed independent documentary production company who make many of the films for Teachers TV. We came away with a wealth of ideas of where to next for our processes and procedures for digital media in our projects at CORE.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Leigh Academy - Dartford Kent

We visited an innovative secondary school today. Leigh Academy is a new school that was purpose built. Frank Green, the CEO of Leigh Academy explained that the school was designed as a result of being required to find new ways to raise educational standards.

There are some interesting things happening in this college. Firstly they employ vertical integration where students from 11 year olds through to 18 year olds are integrated into the same classes. This is based on research stating that students learn best when they can learn from, and teach, each other.

Another innovation is around class sizes, operating classes of 50 to 60 students with three teachers, in large open spaces. This is a technology rich school and as we walked around we saw students working in all different types of groupings and purposes. We saw a large space with a lot of students and three teachers walking around, and we saw smaller spaces with students working one on one or in small groups.

And one more innovation is around school sizes. Based on research it was found that the optimal size of a school was no more than 500 students. Above this and there is less achievement and more chance of behavioural problems and so on. This was a hard issue to overcome in a very large secondary school and their answer is, I think, genius. The secondary school of over 1200 students was separated into four different colleges. These colleges are all housed in the same building as their own blocks. Each college has the exact same layout and their own speciality. DaVinci college specialises in (you guessed it) the arts, Chaucer - humanities, Darwin - the sciences, and Brunel - technology. Each college has its own principal to run the school and staff, this ensures that every child is known well as an individual by the head teacher and staff. Frank's role is as the CEO over the entire academy. Students belong to one college, however move between colleges for the specialities.

It was quite a treat to visit this school and see how new answers can be found to old problems. We recorded interviews with Frank Green and these will be available on EdTalks shortly.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Training day with Urban Fox

Today I was fortunate enough to spend the day in one-on-one training with Christina Fox of Urban Fox. Christina has an extensive career as a camera woman for the BBC, working on projects as diverse as the news and playschool and so many other genres in between.

It was a treat to have her all to myself for the day. Christina had viewed some of my work before I arrived for training and had devised a programme to move me on. It was amazing. I didn't know how little I knew until I worked with her. I had been doing an okay job as a self taught videographer, but I now needed to step up to the next level.

Firstly we started with the bare bones essentials - the techie bits. We explored my camera and I am now confident to shoot video with the camera fully in manual mode. This answered a lot of my questions about how to get the image crisper, clearer and with the right tones and colours. I apologise to those I have shot who have turned out an orangy colour because I didn't know how to set the white balance!!

Once the techie bits were mastered Christina offered me some suggestions on what she considered as my next steps in editing based on the work I had previously shot. We talked about the effective way to shoot interviews and some of the techniques for shooting sequences to cover editing points. The video above is just a quick exercise at using different shots to portray the same story - master shot, over the shoulder, close up, and face shots. To get these shots the actor (in this case Christina) has to act out the scene four times over. This gives you four different angles to use to make the sequence more interesting.

I'm a little annoyed that I didn't do this training before I shot the video at Sawyers Hall as I can see so many places to use my new knowledge, but luckily, tomorrow I am shooting video at Leigh Academy, so I can try out my new skills then.

Triumph over adversity - Sawyers Hall College

My colleague, Christina, and I were fortunate enough to win a professional development scholarship from CORE Education which has enabled us to travel to London for professional learning. Our plans while here are to shoot a digital story at Sawyers Hall College, attend a day's training with Urban Fox, visit Leigh Academy to shoot an EdTalk, and visit Teachers TV. Our aim is to build on our skills in digital story telling.

We visited Sawyers Hall College in Brentwood. They are using CORE's EPS web based self review tool and our task was to shoot a case study of videos with management, teachers and students about their experience with the tool.

The story that made me sit up and think though, is based in student voice.

Sawyers Hall was a school that was going downhill fast and facing closure due to bad performance. Stephen Capper was appointed as the head teacher (principal) and slowly started to turn things around. He told us this story, which is the philosophy of the school:

A wise old man was sitting at the beach watching a young boy. There had been a storm and hundreds of starfish had washed up on the shore and were slowly dying. The young boy was walking along throwing the starfish back into the ocean one by one. The old man walked up to the boy and asked him why he was wasting his time, he couldn't possibly make a difference with so many starfish washed up on the shore. The boy looked at the old man, then picked up one starfish and threw it back into the sea, "made a difference to that one," he replied.
Because of the care of the staff and the philosophy of the school to put students at the heart, the school has slowly turned around and is making progress now in leaps and bounds. They are truly making a difference. This difference was not because of measurement, but because of seeing each child as an individual.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Technological nomads

I have been reflecting on my time as a facilitator and have noticed that you have to have a certain temperament to be good at this job. I think I have finally developed this temperament now. It has a lot to do with patience and caring.

When you work with people (teachers) there are often a lot of things that come into play. A lot of teachers are frightened and threatened by being faced with something they are unfamiliar with. In the past teachers have always been the holder of all knowledge, the supreme authority, the buck stops there ! With our wonderful new curriculum we are encouraged to be learners, to admit we don't know and then embark on finding out with enthusiasm.

There is one type of teacher that I work with a lot and it makes me wonder about how far we have come down the track of letting go of authority and embracing learning. I have called these teachers the technological nomads.

They kNOw nothing and they get MAD at you :)

I'm okay at working with these teachers now as I can smile and lead them gently until they understand and feel familiar and less threatened. But I wonder what would we do as teachers if our students did the same thing? Is that student who is struggling with reading coming to mind now? Those struggling students who play up all the time and display aggression?

Anyway, just my thoughts... How do you cope with the technological nomad?

Friday, February 26, 2010

An idea for smooth transition to primary school

I was lucky enough to visit Otonga School in Rotorua while I've been here for the conference and to find out about some cool initiatives they have running. One that stood out for me was their 'Ready, Set, Go' programme to help children transition from preschool to primary.

This programme runs for one day a week over a period of ten weeks. The parents bring their children to school for one hour and take part in a targeted programme. Ready, Set, Go is an example of split screen thinking or using one idea to serve many purposes.

This is how it runs:
The parents and children all start together in the classroom with Jill, a very talented NE teacher. Jill takes the children through an element of the key competencies. When I was visiting the topic was how to get help in the playground. Jill demonstrated how to find a duty teacher and how to find other children to help, and how to find friends and make friends. This session gave the parents the security of knowing what is in place for their kids and the vocabulary to be able to talk to them at home.

Next the parents all leave with the leadership team to have a meeting in the staff room. They wave to their children as they leave and the children are becoming quite happy with parents leaving and their staying and taking part in the classroom programme. And the parents are happy with seeing their children feeling secure. The parents then meet with the leadership team to take part in a discussion around the same issue the children have been talking about however at an adult level.

Why I think this is an effective programme:
There are so many elements here that make this work. Firstly this is a superb idea for consulting with parents and making sure they feel a part of the school, know how things run, and feel like they can speak to the staff at any time.

Also, the parents are fully versed in the learning and teaching culture of the school. Since the programme they are taken through is based around the key competencies the parents fully understand the basis of the NZC and that the school is interested in their child as a whole person.

Additionally, the children become really secure and happy to be at school and make a much easier transition to the school. They already have a group of friends before their first day and they know all the routines and expectations of the school before they start.

I'm making a digital story at this school and it will be available on Key Competencies Online shortly (I'll link when available).

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Creative commons at Learning@School

I'm presenting a few workshops at Learning@School but the one I've been enjoying putting together is a session on how to find or make images and music for use online without stealing (copy friendly images and music).

By teaching kids how to attribute when they borrow or amend an image or music you are teaching them how to reference from a very young age. I can promise you their uni lecturers will thank you in the long run!

Adding music and images to a piece of writing broadens a students ability to express and also levels the playing field a little. No longer do those students who excel in writing rule the roost, students with a flare for images or a flare for music have just as much of a chance to express themselves powerfully. I had my students write a 'feelings' poem. I've been doing this for years, however the year I added imagery and music to the lesson was the most powerful.

A student writes I feel .... then needs to find or make an image to illustrate that feeling, then needs to find a sound effect or music to illustrate that feeling. Now that is a lot of learning out of something that was once a quick way to write a poem. Add on top of that a public performance by critiquing amongst peers or putting it on the web and you have a truly powerful learning experience which adds motivation by the truck load.

Every step in this lesson has a breadth of learning. It is not narrow by any means of the imagination and that is what I love - deep, broad embracing of language. By language I mean the way we communicate and let's face it, we very rarely communicate solely through writing.

I'm gathering up some resources to share. Feel free to take a look and add some more that you know of :)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Show me what's wrong

I just had to share this site I've come across (thanks Allanahk). is a website that allows you to set up a url, send this to your friends, colleagues, family or whoever is asking your for help with a problem on their computer. By clicking the link you have sent them it sets up a screen recording function that records everything they do on their screen, plus records their narration of what they are doing. When they click stop recording, this screen recording is sent to your email so you can see exactly what they are doing and how to help them.

I can see this coming in very handy!

Saturday, January 02, 2010

365 photo blog challenge

Yesterday I started the 365 photo challenge, I've always wanted to take part in one of these but never had the discipline. On the first day of 2010 as you do, I was wandering around on my computer and noticed a number of tweets being posted by my fellow NZ edubloggers about starting a photo challenge and I thought I would jump on board.

I'm hoping this will renew my passion for blogging as I have gotten a bit stuck lately. For blogging to work there must be a purpose. When I was in the classroom and working as a facilitator there was a strong purpose for this blog. It was where I recorded all the exciting things I was seeing, doing and experiencing with ICT in the classroom. Since I have moved across to my new position as an online editor I am finding it more difficult to write on the blog as I write online all day. If anything, I now have much more to write about as I am seeing first hand the marvelous things happening in schools around our outstanding New Zealand Curriculum. I'm hoping 2010 will be the renewal of my blogging.

So if you're interested, my photo blog can be found at

Happy New Year everyone.