It’s not about the technology…

Over coffee with an ex-colleague who works in IT, we chat about technology in schools. He mentions reading some of my blog posts and I’m suddenly aware that I rarely write about technology any more.

When I started this blog, I had a tag for tech, a tag for web 2.0 tools and a tag for 21st century learning.

Now it’s a given….

Scenario 1: Year 6 learners connect with classes in Japan, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Thailand and Singapore for their inquiry into inter-connectedness.

Read: Skype with Japan.  Skype with Australia.

Tags: Skype, Blogs, Twitter, Googlemaps

Tags: Learning, geoliteracy, communication, intercultural understanding, inquiry…

Scenario 2: A Year 5 class creates videos to demonstrate and explain mathematical concepts and embed them in their class blogs.

Watch: Number Lines with Noah.

TagsiPads, Showme app, blogs, web 2.0 

Tags: Learning, creativity, authentic audience, mathematical thinking, communication…

Scenario 3: A Prep child who is away from school after an operation creates daily books about what she’s been doing and emails them to her class.

Read: My Operation by Ellie.

Tags: iPad, Bookabi, web 2.0 ,email

Tags: Learning, communication, creativity, authentic audience, literacy, purposeful writing…

Scenario 4: A couple of Year 2 students explore then enact the life cycle of a butterfly. They create and upload a video to share their learning.

Watch: Now it’s a Butterfly by Noa and Brooke.

Tags: iPad, iMovie, blogs, Youtube

Tags: Learning, inquiry, collaboration, creativity, communication, visible thinking, scientific understanding…
Just a tool...

You get the idea…

Now, how should I tag this?

A new direction…

At the start of 2013, I’ll be reducing my role as Teaching and Learning Coordinator at my school and looking for new challenges.

Since I will no longer be employed full-time, I’ll have time to share my educational knowledge and experience, in person or virtually, and I’m excited by the possibilities.

I’d love to facilitate workshops for teachers (or students, or student teachers) in inquiry learning, creating a culture of thinking, 21st century skills, concept-driven learning, educational leadership, global connectedness, promoting creativity…. or anything else I have written about on this blog that appeals to you.

I’d be happy to help you develop a vision for implementing technology, work with teachers to promote student centred learning, assist in building a community of practice, or help your school articulate your learning principles.

You can contact me at Please do not send me sales emails of any kind. Guest bloggers post here at my invitation only. If you have other ideas, offers, collaborations or workshop requests, please email me!

A different kind of conference…

There are 44,500 people under 25 homeless every night in Australia. A few years ago, Bianca was one of them. Now she is working in her dream job, helping homeless youth.


Mike is a basketball coach who works with disabled and disadvantaged kids in the Helping Hoops Program, which helps build confidence, teaches respect and trust, promotes social inclusion and develops teamwork skills.


A huge amount of fresh food goes to waste every day and yet many people cannot afford enough food to eat – especially healthy fresh food. Sarah works for SecondBite, who redistribute fresh food to ensure that people who are homeless or living in poverty get fresh food every day.


In many places, girls don’t go to school, missing out on important opportunities to escape poverty. But girls are the solution to problems too. Through her work at CARE Australia, Lyrian works to help women and girls lift themselves, and their families, out of poverty.


These and a dozen other speakers will present interactive sessions to ninety Year 6 students this week at our Equity Conference. This is the second year, we have arranged this very different way for our students to learn and it’s exciting to plan better learning opportunities each time. The idea developed last year from an idle thought first into a plan and then into a powerful learning experience.

The conference is the start of our Year 6 PYP Exhibition unit.

The central idea: ‘Developing awareness and understanding of inequity empowers us to act’. Students will spend the next two months inquiring into this conceptual idea. It will provide the context within which they will find something they care deeply about to explore, culminating in the exhibition, where they will share their learning with parents and guests.

The aims of the conference:

  • To expose learners to all kinds of  issues of ‘inequity’ and to provoke thinking on a range of related issues.
  • To provide the opportunity to hear from people who have worked in areas that are taking action to right inequities.
  • To help students develop convictions about what is right, what is wrong, and what needs to change.

In between sessions, students will gather in small groups to process and reflect on what they have heard and experienced. They will be encouraged to ask themselves: What does it make me feel? What does it make me wonder? What does it make me wish? What do I believe about this?  They will share their thinking with their groups and consider each of the issues in terms of the concentric circles modelDoes this relate to the world? The local community? My family? How might it connect to me?

At the end of the day, there will be an opportunity for students to express their feelings in any way they like. Stations will include a graffiti wall, art materials, tools for oral, written or video reflection… and learners will be free to choose one or more media through which to express themselves.

The day will embody all our learning principles and promote all the attributes of the IB learner profile.

And it’s only the beginning of the learning…

Do you waste learning time?

I used to think… Now I think‘ is one of the most powerful thinking tools (Visible Thinking routines). It allows you to grow, without having to have been wrong. It allows me to develop my ideas, change my practice, increase my understanding, deepen my thinking… and change my mind.

I used to think that the more tightly I kept control, the more efficiently time would be used in the classroom so that more learning could take place.

Now I think that the more I let go, the less time will be wasted on management, control, delivery and work… and the more time there will be for learning.

Here’s an example:
Scenario 1
The class sits in a circle to discuss an interesting issue. students raise their hands when they have something to share or ask. The teacher ensures everyone has an opportunity to speak. He often rephrases what students say in order to clarify or validate contributions. Many students spend long periods of time listening passively (or not listening at all) while they wait for an opportunity to engage. the teacher spends a fair bit of time asking people to be quiet, pay attention, stop fiddling, raise their hands, not talk while someone else is talking…

Scenario 2
The same discussion takes place in small groups and the teacher moves between groups, listening, occasionally asking a key question, listening, requesting clarification or justification, listening. Students practice effective communication by listening and speaking one at a time, but in a natural conversational style, without raising their hands. All the students are more actively involved in the conversation. They are not expected to share details with the whole class, although they might be asked to share only the most interesting or the most contentious point that was raised.

There are so many routines and procedures that happen in classrooms, just because that’s the way they have ‘always’ been done.

How often do kids stand in line waiting for their turn with the teacher?
How often does the whole class sit passively (or not!) while the teacher explains something half of the students already know?
How often does the teacher expect everyone to wait will she checks who’s done their homework?

Do you ever stop to think about how productively class time is being used for every student’s learning?

Are you ready to change something you do?

10 ways school has changed…

It’s less than a year since I wrote lamenting the empty space in our new building, while teachers kept their doors shut and the learning inside their own rooms. Walking through ‘the space’ these days, as we approach the end of the school year, I’m struck by how much has changed.

There are groups of kids everywhere, sprawled on the floor, huddled on the steps, sitting around tables, even standing on chairs so that they can film from above! They are collaborating on inquiries, creating presentations, making movies and expressing their learning in all kinds of creative ways. It’s active and social, noisy and messy… as learning should be. 

School has changed…

1. We used to imprison the learning inside the classrooms… Now the whole school is our learning environment.

2. We used to find information in books and on the internet… Now we also interact globally via Skype with primary sources.

3. We used to control everything… Now students take ownership of their learning.

4We used to think ‘computer’ was a lesson in the lab… Now technology is an integral part of learning across the curriculum.

5. We used to collect students’ work, to read and mark it… Now they create content for an authentic global audience.

6. We used to strive for quiet in the classroom… Now the school is filled with vibrant and noisy engagement in learning.

7. We used to teach everything we wanted students to know… Now we know learning can take place through student centred inquiry.

8. We used to set tests to check mastery of a topic… Now learning is often assessed through what students create.

9. We used to plan differentiated tasks, depending on ability… Now digital tools provide opportunities for natural differentiation.

10. We used to have an award ceremony for the graduating Year 6 students… Now every child will be acknowledged at graduation.

Not every point is uniformly evident across the school irrespective of teacher, class and time (yet), but most are well on the way. Learning in our school has changed enormously… and is constantly changing. Is yours?

Where do great ideas come from?

Reflecting on 2011, we have done some amazing things to create engaging learning opportunities in our school.

Where did the ideas come from? Watch the video…

What do you mean?

How often do you assume that students get ‘what you mean‘ without checking to see if it correlates with ‘what they mean‘?

How do you know if ‘what you mean‘ is the same as ‘what they mean‘ when you converse with your colleagues or work in a team?

Do you ever find yourself in a setting where you wonder if what ‘what you mean‘ is different from ‘what they mean‘? I’m certain there are times and contexts where I imagine we mean the same thing… but we don’t.


What do you mean when you talk about students?

Do you mean the kids in your class who have to do what you say? Learners who sometimes misbehave and get off task and need to be disciplined? Human beings with feelings, talents, limitations, interests, stories and rights?

What do you mean when you talk about team meetings?

Do you mean disseminating information and instructions to the team? Rehashing things the same way you did them last time? Ticking off items on your agenda? Listening to everyone’s opinions and sharing ideas in the spirit of true collaboration? Providing opportunities for everyone to lead and instigate change?

What do you mean when you talk about your learning space?

Do you mean the classroom where your students work? The whole building, inside and out where space can be shared with other learners? Your class blog, Google, Skype, the internet? The whole world?

What do you mean when you talk about literacy?

Do you mean the ability to read and write? Interpreting and creating still and moving images? The ability to locate, organise and evaluate information using digital technology? The ability to express ideas and opinions, to make decisions and solve problems?

What do you mean when you talk about professional development?

Do you mean compulsory, imposed whole staff sessions presented by ‘experts’, usually from outside the school? Active, engaging workshops with opportunities to share, create and debate? Continuous learning from and with a global community of educators, via social media?

What do you mean when you talk about teaching?

Do you mean transferring information to students? Delivering content and covering curriculum? Listening carefully to kids’ conversations and asking provocative or guiding questions? Providing engaging opportunities for learners to construct meaning in different ways? Asking learners how they would like to learn?

What do you mean when you talk about learning?

Do you mean students absorbing information and passing a test on it? Kids answering questions you have set for them? Students asking their own questions and seeking answers? Learners taking ownership of their learning, pursuing their own inquiries, following their passions, experimenting with what’s possible, creating valuable content, collaborating globally, making a difference in the world?

Has your meaning changed?

Is it continually changing…?

Embracing technology…

It was another great tech session with @lindawollan at our Year 4-6 campus on Friday. This time the topic was effective internet searching, equipping teachers with the knowledge and skills they need to support their students in the inquiry process. We’ve been having similar voluntary sessions for a couple of years, exploring web 2.0 tools, setting up class blogs, discovering alternative presentation tools, learning about copyright and the like. The group has grown to the point where almost every member of staff participates.

We used to have:

  • Computer labs with desktop computers.
  • An ICT teacher teaching a computer lesson each week.
  • Teachers afraid of technology, teachers who lacked expertise, actively resistant teachers.
  • Lots of notebooks, ring-binders, posters.
  • Learning limited to the classroom.
Now we have:
  • Sets of laptops that students can use anywhere, carry around, get when they need.
  • An ICT facilitator with a flexible timetable, available as required to work with classes or groups
  • Teachers blogging and collaborating on googledocs, comfortable to have a go and willing to learn.
  • Less paper, more on-line presentations, class blogs and wikis.
  • Learning via Skype with people in other places.
A little more than a year ago, we set some goals:
  • The implementation of technology across all learning areas to support learning and inquiry.
  • The use of technology to support creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking.
  • The use of technology for global connections to promote authentic learning, not limited to the classroom.
  • Familiarity with a range of tools to document, share, organize, create and present.

We wanted teachers to understand that:

  • Learning is not limited to the classroom. Technology provides opportunities for meaningful global learning outside of the classroom.
  • Technology is an integral part of learning.
  • Integration of technology is not optional. The school is educating for the present and future in which our students will live. Each teacher needs to take responsibility for their own learning and that of their students.
  • Literacy today includes the traditional literacies such as reading and writing, as well as technological literacy.
  • Implementation of technology should always be driven by learning requirements.
  • There is a wide range of tools available to share, organize and present learning.
  • Web 2.0 allows for communication with and feedback from a wide-ranging authentic audience.
  • Web 2.0 provides opportunities for practicing trans-disciplinary skills such as communication, collaboration, creativity
  • Technology can provide access to a broad range of sources of information, through both primary and secondary sources.
  • Technology creates opportunities for natural differentiation and multiple learning styles.
  • Technology provides opportunities for student choice and facilitates students taking responsibility for their own learning.
We thought they should be able to:
  • Use word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation software  tools efficiently
  • Read/use email regularly. Know how to set up a group in email.
  • Use the school intranet proficiently.
  • Use the multimedia tools that come with the interactive whiteboard. Make it a student tool as well.
  • Be confident users of hardware and peripherals such laptops, printers, scanners, photocopier, still and movie cameras, flip cameras, iTouch/iPads.
  • Download and manipulate images and digital movies.
  • Be confident web users
  • Be able to search efficiently.
  • Understand copyright issues on the web, and make sure students are copyright aware.
  • Know how to locate the wide range of tools available for learning.
  • Use a wide range of web 2.0 tools to create, share, organize and present learning.
  • Create a class wiki or blog and use it to support learning, including reflection, communication with and feedback from a wide-ranging authentic audience.
  • Be able to embed from web tools.
  • Make global connections and collaborate with people outside the school, using eg Skype or Voicethread.
  • Use digital technologies as part of the information process
It all seemed a bit out of reach at the time and it’s rewarding to see just how far we have come, without ever creating a formal plan of how we would get there. Not everyone is at the same level. Some teachers (and students) are more confident users than others. We all still have a lot to learn and the rapid advance of technology means we will always be learning.  But it’s exciting to see that every single teacher has taken steps forward to embrace technology and change the way we think about teaching and learning at our school. I wonder where we’ll be in another year…

PS. Participating in #elemchat this morning and hearing how teachers are using Google docs in their classrooms, I was momentarily overwhelmed by both the possibilities and the obstacles. But then I remembered that we got where we are through an approach of trying one tool at a time, working with one person at a time, having one conversation at a time, overcoming one obstacle at a time… slowly but surely… it’s the only way.


Effective professional learning…

I listened carefully. PD

I thought about the subject matter.

I looked at my watch.

I focused for a while.

I checked my email.

I tried to listen.

I thought about other things.

I asked a question.

I wondered why the question wasn’t answered adequately.

I disengaged.

I thought about effective professional development…

Have you ever been to a PD session like that? (Rhetorical question! I know you have.)
Staff at my school spent some time last year developing shared beliefs about learning. Why shouldn’t these principles apply to teachers’ learning too?

  • We learn in different ways, depending on abilities, learning styles, preferences and interests.
  • Learning takes place through inquiry: questioning, exploring, experimenting and problem solving.
  • Learning includes acquisition of skills and knowledge, constructing meaning and transfer to different contexts.
  • Learning is active and social and is enhanced by collaboration and interaction.
  • Learners need to feel secure, valued and able to take risks.
  •  Learning needs to be challenging, meaningful, purposeful and engaging.
  • Learning includes meta-cognition and reflection, which support learners taking ownership of their learning.
Help me write my latest post in the ’10 ways…’ series. I’ll start and you can add points via comments…

10 ways to ensure effective professional learning…

1. Teachers need to be responsible for their own learning. 

To inspire others to learn, you need to be a learner yourself. Actively seek out professional learning opportunities.  Engage with educators via social media. Read blogs. Sign up to Twitter.

2. Differentiate.

Don’t plan whole staff sessions for teachers with different levels of experience and varied needs. Include choice.