An inquiry into remote learning…

In Australia we have now begun planning for continuous remote learning, given the inevitability of school closure to limit the spread of COVID-19. I’m reminded of my very first blog post, more than ten years ago!

It is important to start by recognising how incredibly fortunate we are.

How many children around the world experience interruption to schooling due to disease, natural disaster or war? How many have access to an education at all? Of those that do, how many are lucky enough to have ready access to the resources that we do? Do we understand that in remote communities, this might be the way learning always looks? Do we appreciate the technology, books, materials, time, space and people to whom/which we have access? Do we acknowledge the collective wisdom and generosity of other teachers and schools with more experience than we have, readily sharing their ideas and expertise with us? We have so much to be grateful for.

The initial response of our teachers, ranging from excitement to panic, depends on individual perspective, personal circumstance, prior experience, technological ability and comfort level with the unknown. So our stance, at my school, will be to see this as an opportunity rather than a challenge. We will approach it, as always, as an inquiry, an extension of our 2020 focus on building cohesion. We will expand our whole school inquiry into building community and a sense of belonging into the new and unfamiliar territory in which we find ourselves.

So these are some of our initial inquiry questions:

  • How might we continue to build cohesion when we are learning from home?
  • How might we create a sense of community despite being physically apart?
  • How might we ensure that everyone feels safe, comfortable and supported?
  • How might we seamlessly (almost) continue the children’s learning, and our own?
  • How might we remotely plan for and provide opportunities for rich learning experiences?
  • How might we ensure the wellbeing of our whole learning community, students, educators and parents?
  • How will every member of our learning community contribute to all the above?
  • And… how might we extend the learning into other communities?



Shared photo streams – Imagining more connected learning…

Creating shared iPad photo streams was a brainwave – so simple and obvious, yet so effective!

They provide a space to gather evidence of learning, share practice and celebrate the learning taking place across the three campuses of our school. It’s an opportunity for members of our learning community to find out what’s happening in other grade levels, the kitchen garden, the art and music rooms… We’re encouraging more comments and conversation around what’s posted to make this even more meaningful.

We’ve come a long way in the past few years in terms of flattening classroom walls and connecting with the world. Today, the images I see in our shared photo streams suggest new possibilities…

Our art teacher posted a series of beautiful artworks by our 5 year olds. Beyond sending them home to be stuck on the fridge… imagine if photographs of these creations were published in an online book, along with captions written by the children and photos of them at work creating them?

Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 8.32.13 am

There is some powerful thinking happening in Year 6 as their awareness of inequity is raised. Imagine if they were collaborating with learners globally, sharing their tough questions, exploring different perspectives, comparing and contrasting action taken in different countries and deepening their understanding together.


Year 5 learners revisited and reflected on their class agreement, halfway through the school year. What if they compared their agreements with those established by classes in other parts of the world? Imagine how communicating with other classes, discussing commonalities and differences might heighten awareness and strengthen learning communities within and beyond their own classrooms.


I love the photos from the Year 1 inquiry into how we express ours ideas and feelings through performance. Imagine if these performances were filmed and posted online for children in other places to see and our children received feedback from all over the world.


And, as I was writing this post, a fresh idea just struck me.

Imagine if two or more classes of similar age in different parts of the world created a shared photo stream and posted images, shared learning experiences and wrote comments to each other. Are you in?!

Our access to digital technologies make all of this, not just possible, but easy.

Just imagine… and then we can make it happen.

Beyond geography – A global collaboration

Geography, when I was in primary school, included rote learning of capital cities and populations and, most fun of all, making flags and colouring in maps.

Half a century later, Year 2 (7-8 year olds) at my school are inquiring into how geography affects the ways people live. They will explore landforms, climate, people and how they live, not from a textbook, but by connecting with children their own age in other parts of Australia and the world.

So far, each of our five classes has made contact with a class in another part of Australia and partnered up with classes in Indonesia, China, Canada, Singapore, New Zealand and Cambodia. Some of the teachers on both sides are new to this kind of interaction, but all are keen to connect via Skype, blogs, email and whatever other creative means they can think of.

Romy, one of new Year 2 teachers and her class connected this week with Sari and hers, from Surabaya, Indonesia, who was one of the participants in my recent digital citizenship workshop.

“The kids were so fascinated that they could be in touch with a school in another country and it really provided them with an opportunity to think about how different things are between the two schools and countries, but it was wonderful to see the smiles and wow moments when they realised they had things in common.”

A few years back, many of our teachers were nervous about getting involved in this kind of interaction without a great deal of support. Connecting with kids in other places has become more natural over time, but has often consisted only of a single Skype session, with little if any follow-up. Before each Skype session kids would prepare questions… and then sometimes be so busy waiting for their turn to ask, that they’d forget to listen to responses. We’re great learners though, always refining the process and learning from our mistakes.

This is the first time a whole Year level is on board at once and I’m as excited as the teachers are. They have made initial contact with their collaborators and most have decided it’s worthwhile connecting with their classes informally the first time, so that the children know who they’ll be interacting with. They have come up with a range of lovely ideas such as creating puppet videos to introduce themselves first!

There are many opportunities ahead for reading, purposeful writing for an audience, speaking and listening, mapping, learning about our own and other countries… and a host of worthwhile trans-disciplinary skills. And there will be opportunities for the development of a variety of attitudes such as appreciation, confidence, curiosity, respect and cooperation.

In the next few weeks, our Year 2 learners will be calling for photos from all over the world, with descriptions of how local geography (in the broadest sense of the term) influences the way you live.

Watch this space!

Connecting Cultures…

Jessica Dubois has worked for the past 3 yrs in a remote South Australian community as a primary teacher and Student Learning and Wellbeing Coordinator at Mimili Anangu SchoolIn this enlightening guest post she shares her reflection on an interaction with Year 5 students at my school…

“For a long time, people don’t know that we live out here. They don’t know our stories. They don’t know what we do out here. We need to teach them”.

Sandra, the Anangu Coordinator with whom I work, shared this thought with me recently. We work together in a remote Indigenous school in far north-west South Australia. Sandra recently helped our middle school students share their stories with a class of year 5 students in Melbourne, some 2000km away. As part of the Melbourne students’ inquiry into Indigenous identity, our classrooms were connected to learn about each other’s cultural and religious beliefs and values.

This was the first time our school had been involved in such a learning experience that made use of video conferencing technology – not a small feat in the middle of the Australian outback! While the call was not without technological hiccups, the learning that took place in such a short period of time was invaluable.

Sandra and our middle school students expressed wonder at how a classroom of students in Melbourne knew about us to begin with. How did they contact us? How did this happen? I explained how a connection was made through twitter and how we can use technology like this to connect with other people and classrooms from around Australia and the world. Amazing!

During the call, we loved the confidence with which the Melbourne students asked and answered questions about their religious beliefs. Sandra commented on this and compared this confidence to Anangu culture. Anangu way, according to Sandra, involves asking questions in a round about fashion. Direct questions, especially to ones face, are usually asked only after a relationship has been formed between the people involved, something we were yet to do with these two classrooms. This reminded me of what I was told during my induction to Anangu culture before beginning teaching: “For Anangu people, the wise person learns by careful observation and by personal experience, not by asking questions”. Sandra and I spoke about this at great length. We share the belief that we as educators have the role of providing learning experiences for Indigenous students that help them learn how to belong to and be successful in two worlds. They must learn the values of their own culture (Anangu culture) and what is expected of them in the broader Australian society.

This skype link up helped to provide such a learning experience. Here, our students were involved in asking and answering questions, communicating in English successfully (their third or fourth language) and developing a relationship with a class of mainstream students in Melbourne. In order to do this, they spent some time learning and inquiring into their own cultural stories and beliefs with their Anangu teacher, so that they could share this information with others. Honestly though, we had not spent enough time preparing. We had just returned from a three day whole school sports, dance and singing competition. Time was short but we thought we’d persist with the call anyway. Reflecting on this together with everyone involved from both schools has been a learning experience in itself. We feel better prepared to engage in collaborative projects of this nature in the future and we’ve identified other meaningful ways to enhance the connection between our schools and develop those vital relationships between our students.

This experience made clear for us the importance of valuing Anangu culture and providing our students with opportunities to learn and articulate their histories, experiences, cultural beliefs and values. Sandra supported this idea when she said in reflection; we need to teach our children how to be proud of their culture so that they can teach other people about it. This will be a focus for us as we head into the final Term of the year. Similarly, we have seen the importance of providing a stage for our students to practice and gain confidence in speaking publically and with people they don’t know. We hope that providing these learning opportunities will help our students feel successful in both worlds and gain confidence to effectively code-switch between the two.

I am extremely proud of our students and their teachers for jumping in and giving this a go. What we learnt during the call, but particularly the learning from our reflective conversations after the experience has been incredibly powerful for our growth as educators and our student’s development. Through one small ‘tweet’, a connection was made and a learning journey embarked on. The opportunities for technology to connect people from all educational and cultural contexts are endless; as is the learning our students and yours can gain from such connections.

Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara are the two main languages spoken in Mimili. Anangu is the Pitjantjatjara word for ‘people’ and is the word used to identify the cultural group that lives across the APY Lands. So, the local community members in Mimili will call themselves Anangu, to identify who they are and what Indigenous cultural group they belong to. 

Contrasting conversations…

I’m a huge admirer of the work of Sugata Mitra, as you will know if you read this blog. It was great fun today to talk to a class in Hong Kong… and Sugata himself! As an e-mediator with the SOLE and SOME project, I was asked to do a session with this group as part of a demonstration for teachers there to see the possibilities of such global interactions.

The class of extremely well behaved, somewhat formal 12 year olds, sat quietly and watched as small groups came up to the camera to talk to me. They introduced themselves politely one at a time and answered my questions about their school subjects, their hobbies and their interests. They respectfully asked a few questions and, with some encouragement, sang their school song. These students are clearly from well-to-do homes, as many have travelled extensively and some have even been to Australia. When I asked what they thought the similarities and differences between our countries might be, they thoughtfully expressed their ideas. They all speak Mandarin and Cantonese and most of them spoke very good English. Although I had a problem with screen sharing (I hadn’t practiced with the latest version of Skype), it was easy to engage them in conversation for about an hour. They were interested to hear that at my school, we use Skype for interactions of this sort as part of class learning.

No sooner had the conversation ended, then I had a call from one of the SOLEs in Hyderabad. There was lots of activity and noise in the room as kids came and went. The usual core group of girls stayed at the computer, chattering cheerfully. I have been away for a while and they seemed excited to see me, waving, making faces and all talking at once, mostly in Hindi! Much of the conversation (if you can call words and short phrases a conversation!) was typed, as the background hubbub made it hard to hear and anyway we use text to support the communication and help overcome accent and language barriers. It was Thaseen’s birthday and she was wearing a glitering red and silver dress and distributing chocolates to her friends. I asked about their birthday traditions and they told me she was having a party for friends and relatives and there would be cake but not gifts. We sang happy birthday, they clapped for themselves and laughed at me pretending to eat the proffered chocolate, mimicking the expressions on my face. I showed them how to fold the wrapper into a boat and while this modeling and copying was going on, more kids appeared and told me their names, talked over each other and redirected the camera to themselves.

I caught up with Rodger, another Australian e-mediator for a few minutes afterwards…

[7:12:01 PM] Edna: hi rodger
[7:12:17 PM] Edna: did you talk to HK too?
[7:34:29 PM] Rodger M: yes… how was it?
[8:06:45 PM] Edna: very different than the indians!
[8:07:02 PM] Rodger M: yes… much better english …
[8:07:15 PM] Rodger M: and much better communication quality
[8:07:27 PM] Rodger M: but more reserved and formal
[8:07:41 PM] Edna: and better off, well travelled… quite a few had been to Aus
[8:07:52 PM] Rodger M: yes .. quite different
[8:08:02 PM] Edna: then i had a bunch of noisy jiya kids with poor english… more fun!
[8:08:15 PM] Rodger M: yes 😀
[8:08:20 PM] Edna: lots of laughing
[8:08:47 PM] Rodger M: yes … just being themselves
[8:09:19 PM] Rodger M: 🙂

Contrast makes life interesting…


10 ways to create global connections…

Use your imagination….

Picture two boys on opposite sides of the world playing chess in a foreign language. Imagine kids in Australia asking kids in Thailand about conditions where they live. Visualise 5 year olds in different countries singing for each other. Suppose kids in a privileged school could find out from kids in an Indian slum what not having ready access to water feels like. These are some of the global interactions that have taken place at my school in the past year. I’m dreaming of bigger things…

I know there are teachers and classes who have been connecting and collaborating successfully for longer than I have. I was inspired by them. I still am. This post is to encourage those who haven’t taken that first step…

1. Think small.

Connect with a teacher you know (me for instance!). Exchange ideas. Start simply, by having your students exchange emails.

2. Be inspired.

Read about great global collaborations other teachers have made. For inspiration read posts by Kath McGeadySylvia Tolisano and even some of mine.

3. Connect asynchronously.

Set up a Voicethread and have students ask questions. Share the link with others around the world. Encourage participation from everywhere. Create a conversation.

4. Sign up to Skype.

Make a start by having your class talk to someone. Practice with the class next door. Ask a contact in another place to Skype with your kids. One thing leads to another.

5. Make friends with your tech support people.

Ask for support. Show appreciation. Tell them what it’s for. They’ll probably be interested and more inclined to help.

6. Make it relevant.

Don’t just communicate for the sake of it (although that could be a starting point.) Find someone to collaborate with on a topic that’s relevant to the learning in your class. You can try sites like epals, but we’ve had our greatest successes via people we know from Twitter and blogs. Check out Yoon’s post about our recent connection.

7. Let kids own it.

They can make connections too. They can plan interactions. They can think about who to talk to and what to ask. Listen  to their reflections.

8. Consider the benefits.

Think about the difference between learning in the classroom and learning directly from and with people around the globe.

9. Don’t be put off by obstacles.

Ask for help. Accept there will be times when it doesn’t work. Have a plan B for when technology fails. Be patient. Be persistent. Don’t give up.

10. Think big.

There is a whole world out there and learning doesn’t have to be confined to the classroom.  Invite people or classrooms around the world to collaborate with you on a global project.


Thank you for teaching me…

I’ve written several posts about the interaction between a group of children at a rural school in India and a group of private school students in Australia. They shared their reflections in a post too.

It’s the end of the school year in Australia and I just received this thank you note from a girl who I didn’t actually teach… or so I thought.

Dear Morah (Teacher)

Thank you for introducing me to the Indian children. I know I didn’t actually have you as a teacher, but thank you for what you did for me. I appreciate it.



This kind of learning is really powerful, it seems…

Understanding our geographical neighbours #2

Year 6 students are learning about our geographical neighbours. They have considered carefully what kinds of things they need to know in order to best gain an understanding of the countries around us, so as to help them develop a global perspective.

On Monday they Skyped with Raj, Kuppu and their Zoho University students in Chennai, India. Today small groups engaged via Skype with teacher Keri Lee Beasley in Singapore, Will Kirkwood and his students in Thailand and Jude Lasantha, an engaging young Field Officer at Adopt Sri Lanka, introduced by Clive in Sri Lanka!

This kind of learning is really powerful.  Here’s what some of the students said afterwards:

  • Learning directly from people who live there means we know it’s true and reliable – Natalie (We’ll have to discuss that one!)
  • It was amazing..I thought all Sri Lankans had a hard life and Jude’s life is so good.- Jordan
  • When you look it up on the internet, it could be written by anyone who hasn’t even lived in the place. – Tyler
  • We could find out how the actual citizens feel about a country. – Natalie
  • I thought life was harder for everyone in all developing countries. – Rosie
  • It ‘gets more into me’ when someone tells me, than if I was reading about it. – Tyler

Jude said ‘ I really love the way children are researching about their neghbouring countries. I love to speak with  them again. I really enjoyed sharing my thoughts with them. I hope that  your children got more from me. If you have any questions please ask me I will be ready  to answer them at any time.’  Thank Jude, the kids loved it… I’m sure we’ll be back.

It was summed up perfectly by Vytheeshwaran, a passionate. young teacher in India, in a comment he wrote on another post:

Today’s technology has enabled us to break physical barriers and connnect with our peers at a global level. Such connections will lead to a scenario of global collaboration and mutual understanding, which is the key for a brighter tomorrow. Keep up the conversation and you won’t believe how much is in store for you!

We have a Voicethread with students’ questions too, so if you are somewhere in the Asia Pacific and would like to help with the inquiry, let us know.


Understanding our geographical neighbours #1

Year 6 students are learning about our geographical neighbours. They have considered carefully what kinds of things they need to know in order to best gain an understanding of the countries around us, so as to help them develop a global perspective.

Yesterday they interacted on Skype with our friends in India. They asked about social inequities like gender discrimination and were fascinated by the responses of Raj, Kuppu and their students at Zoho University. Here’s a sample…

Watch this space… Tomorrow small groups will Skype with Thailand, Singapore and Sri Lanka. We have a Voicethread with students’ questions too, so if you are somewhere in the Asia Pacific and would like to join the inquiry, let us know. We have collaborators in Japan, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Vietnam, New Zealand and the Philippines, so far!

Remember when we could only learn from textbooks?