An authentic learning experience…

Plan: An inquiry into web 2.0 presentation tools. An exciting afternoon of inquiry-based learning for a hundred Year 6 students

Rationale: In preparation for expressing  their learning for a literature unit through digital presentations, we would expose them to a variety of possible tools, then allow them to explore on their own, discover which they like and decide which will be most suitable for their needs. 

Skills: Communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking.

Task: Experiment with the tools of your choice and figure out how to use them. Create a simple experimental presentation relating to the big idea of your unit, as a trailer for what’s to come.

Tools: Glogster, Voicethread, Photopeach, Toondoo, Capzles, Blabberize and Prezi. 

Venue: All the Year 6 classrooms, the open space between them and the open-plan learning resource centre.

Intention: To ‘let go’, allow students choice as to which tools to explore and who they want to work with.

Considerations: The school agreed to pay to increase our bandwidth for the day. We organised volunteers willing to be on-line as backup support for students to call on Skype if they needed help and no teacher was available.

21st century backup

The session encompassed so many things that we value and try to work towards in our school. Collaboration, both by teachers and by students. Meaningful implementation of technology. Student centred learning through personal inquiry. Engaging, purposeful learning. Student choice. Natural differentiation for different abilities and interests. Teachers willing to take risks and explore new possibilities. Opportunities for creativity and higher order thinking. Flattening of classroom walls to include outside experts. Flexible use of the physical environment.

What could possibly go wrong?

  • Monday (Take 1): The whole school network crashed earlier in the day and we had to cancel before we even started.
  • Wednesday (Take 2): A long and frustrating delay during which nothing got done, while everyone tried to log in at once.

What did we learn?

  • 100 students logging into the school network simultaneously is not such a great idea.
  • Most kids persist way beyond the point where adults give up.
  • You need to have big ideas and be willing to experiment, or you will never know…
Over-all, in spite of the problems, it was definitely worthwhile. Here’s a student reflection to prove the point:
I have always relied on Powerpoint because it felt safe. Now I have tried Prezi and looked at other tools and found some tutorials that help you. I found out that there are other ways than Powerpoint to show my learning.


Learning beyond walls…

Learning for teachers isn’t limited by the walls any more. We can share ideas, discuss our practice, learn with and from other educators outside our own institutions. And I don’t mean through conferences and workshops, live or virtual…

Skype allows us to collaborate with anyone anywhere. As soon as I asked ‘Who wants to learn with us?’ Judith Way said she would love to!

We often gather before school to learn together. I’m lucky to work with a group of teachers committed to ongoing learning and always in search of ways to improve teaching and learning in our school. Over the past few years we’ve had regular voluntary early morning sessions before school, to discuss readings, explore new tech tools, share learning from outside workshops, push each others’ thinking and learn from each others’ experiences.

Yesterday was different, though. Judith Way, a well known teacher librarian and seasoned presenter joined us via Skype to chat with us about responding to literature through a range of web 2.0 tools. She talked us through a variety of examples on her reading wiki and teachers enjoyed seeing familiar and unfamiliar tools used in novel ways to express student learning. One favourite was Google Lit Trips, which we haven’t used at all and teachers were excited by the possibilities for using Google Earth in interesting ways.

Watch this space for follow-ups! Des, who a year ago was a reluctant tech adopter without a shred of confidence to experiment with new tools, was applying ideas from the session already today. (Read about her transformation here.) She was thrilled with her class inquiry into how best to express their learning and their shared exploration of Toondoo. In our next week’s session, we’ll take some time to explore Judith’s wiki slowly on our own and discuss how we might adapt her ideas to suit our learning needs. 

There were teachers from all over the world who expressed interest in learning with us. Hopefully we can create more opportunities to make this happen!


10 steps to successful tech integration…

It’s an expectation that every class at my school will have a blog by the end of this year. We thought it best to invite people to start when they are ready, offering individual support as required. We’re only three weeks into our school year and it’s exciting to note how many teachers already have blogs up and running, even if some are still at the stage of learning how to post. It was also great, during planning sessions last week, to hear several previously tech-resistant teachers suggesting ways to incorporate new tools to support learning. While we still have a long way to go before technology is seamlessly integrated into the learning throughout our primary school, it’s encouraging to realise how far we have come.

Here are some tips, based on our experience:

1.  Start with two people.

Ideally you need a technology facilitator and another teacher whose focus is more on learning and pedagogy. That way, it’s never lonely when there’s resistance, there are complementary outlooks and more hands are available to help.

2. Invite volunteers.

Don’t try and force anyone to implement technology before they are ready. Work with a small group who’s willing to give it a go. Gradually others will come on board, when they see what’s been achieved by their peers or when their students initiate it. Don’t even think about presenting tech PD to large group of teachers all at once.

3. Offer plenty of support.

Once teachers have seen a tool demonstrated, they will need support practicing and applying it. Don’t be judgmental. Differentiate. Everyone can learn, but we all learn in different ways and at our own pace. It looks like thisAllow for it. Team teach. Offer to go into a class with a teacher who’s ready to give it a go. Demonstrate. Solve problems. Be there.

4. Aim for ‘just one thing’.

Don’t expect teachers to be experts. They just need to be willing. Make them aware of that. Aim to get teachers to try just one new thing. The concept is expressed really well here!

5. Get teachers teaching teachers.

Once teachers have used a tool to enhance learning in their classes, provide an opportunity for them to show others what they did. Have a show-and-tell session where ideas and examples are presented by teachers for teachers. Invite teachers to show others how to use tools they have already mastered.

6. Start from the learning.

This one is the most important. Tech for tech’s sake is a waste of time. Teachers are far more likely to integrate technology if they see the educational purpose. Begin with your learning goal, then plan your learning experiences and see what tools might support or enahnce the learning. See an example here.

7. Bring Admin onside.

If the heads are not leading the way themselves, invite them to training sessions. Invite them to classes. Show them what’s happening. Talk about what’s possible. Tell them what you need in order to move the school forward. Share examples from other schools. Share examples from yours.

8. Involve the students.

Teachers don’t need to know how to do everything. Kids will readily and enthusiastically help both the teacher and each other. Encourage teachers to release control to their students and become learners themselvesHere’s one teacher’s take on it.

9. Follow-up.

Create a wiki for teachers to refer back to. Add the tools they have learned. Include examples of how the tools can be used for learning. Add written instructions to which they can refer back if they are stuck. This is our wiki, maintained by the inimitable Linda (@lindawollan)

10. Be persistent.

Never miss an opportunity to suggest a way in which technology could enhance the learning. Offer to take care of the tech side yourself, if it means teachers will try something new in their teaching. Never, ever give up.


The Little School Up The Road

Guest post by Clive in Sri Lanka (cross posted at his blog)

#7 in the series ‘Learning in different contexts’

I’ve started working with the little Muslim School up the road from the office. Here are a few of the younger children. Just look at them – gotta love ’em!

You don’t have to look hard to see the same enthusiasm, zest for life, dreams, aspirations, sense of fun, capacity to learn, liveliness and potential as any kid in the West but I expect few will reach the same heights. Only a quarter will go on to A-Level and a fraction of those will go any higher.

This school has three computers – two are old and broken. I’m told the third works but there’s no internet and no computing teacher. More importantly, there’s no electricity. There’s no power for computers, or indeed the lighting, fans or photocopier, because the Department of Education won’t pay the bill (the limited funds they do have seem to go to the bigger schools first), and the community is too poor to find the money. I wonder if it’s pure coincidence that this is a mainly Tamil (minority) community. Computers are not the root problem, of course, just a symptom. Others include the fact that there don’t appear to be enough teachers, there were certainly no locum teachers covering leave or sickness, the school buildings and facilities are poor, and the lack of health care affects attendance, as do various other family concerns.

I’ve been to the school three times. The first time, both English teachers were present. The second, only one. The third, neither. I couldn’t understand the reasons for their absences but I’m meant to be assisting, not deputising. Last Thursday I ran five classes on my own! Luckily I could continue with the stuff I’d been doing previously but it’ll be interesting to see how this works out.

Meanwhile I’m enjoying working with the kids immensely. On both days I start off with grades 9 and 10 and then swap to the younger children. One of the reasons I survive, I think, is because of the novelty of being a white person there – when that eventually wears thin they’ll probably run rings around me!

On Thursday the older children were analysing pieces of English text to discover a person’s job and reasons for doing it. We discussed what jobs they’d like to do as adults. The girls mostly wanted to be teachers and doctors. The boys wanted to be a singer, business man, scientist, civil engineer, CID (Criminal Investigation Dept) officer and more. All excellent goals. I hope they achieve them.

In passing, their goals contrast markedly with those of the Indian kids I worked with before coming here. The best many hoped for was to become mothers or Tuc-Tuc drivers.

It Ain’t Necessarily so…

#5 in a series on Learning in Different Contexts

Guest post by Michael Stout (@mickstout )

Michael is a Canadian, born in Toronto, who has lived in Japan since 1997. He has taught learners from 3 to 80 in language schools, secondary schools and universities. He has an M.Ed (TESOL) from Temple University. At present he teaches at Toyo Gakuen University and Shibaura Institute of Technology. He was the founding chair of the Nakasendo English Conference. He has have been involved in the Japan Association of Language Teaching for over 10 years, and has participated in teacher training projects in Laos, the Philippines, and Bangladesh through Teachers Helping Teachers.

I seldom see a doorknob.  Where I live doors open automatically. The toilet in my apartment resembles a jet fighter cockpit. It’ll power wash and dry my bottom with just the touch of a couple of buttons. Toilets in Japan are very high tech, highest in the world, I’ll bet – and that’s not all! Mobile phones have smart cards in them and you can use them to pay for a ride on the train, and you can buy a coffee from a vending machine by just touching the phone to a sensor on the machine. Every one of my students has a mobile phone, and they are the norm for university students in Japan. Young people in Japan spend nearly 2 hours a day doing e-mail, and browsing the web on their mobile phones. No surprise right? Technorati’s State of the Blogosphere for 1 May 2006 reports that 31% of all the blog posts in the world are written in Japanese, followed by English at 25%. Now that’s a surprise!

So, you’d expect all this technology to be in Japanese classrooms too, wouldn’t you? Well, it’s not.

I’m choking on chalk dust every day.  Most classrooms I teach in still have blackboards. Interactive whiteboards are becoming ubiquitous in classrooms in the UK and elsewhere, but not here. There just isn’t much of a connection made between education and technology in Japan. When I was teaching at a high school, I can only remember ONE classroom, apart from the computer room, that was connected to the internet. When I refuse to accept handwritten assignments, rather requiring my students to submit their assignments as attachments by e-mail, they are shocked. I’ve had students, even at the Institute of  Technology where I teach, complain about my insistence that they do assignments on a computer – none of their other teachers do, after all. Suffice to say that, despite appearances, few learners and teachers are ‘digital natives’ in Japan.  Nevertheless, I’ve been integrating technology into my teaching for the last 4 ½ years.

In January 2004 I started a teacher blog  in order to participate in a blogging project that my students were doing in another class. I’ve written extensively about it in a paper I wrote with Adam Murray called Blogging to learn English: a report on two blog projects. All I will say here is that I was disappointed the students didn’t blog more. Interestingly, two of them started blogs in Japanese, and kept them up longer than their English blogs. Another interesting thing about this group of kids is that now many of them post on facebook almost daily, and their exchanges with each other and other Japanese are usually in English. So they are willing to do it on their own, but not so keen to do it when a teacher asks them to do it.

It’s complicated. I haven’t given up hope. I’m still using web 2.0 applications. Whenever I think I should just pack it in and forget all the hassle of using a CALL room and web 2.0 applications in my courses I remind myself that most of the time my students feel that they can’t use English, except in my class (or in another class with a native English speaking teacher, if they have one).

One needs to understand that this digital natives vs. digital immigrants dichotomy is just plain wrong, especially in Japan and other countries in Asia. It’s not just about the national culture or even the generational culture. It’s about the specific educational culture. The trouble is that most of the research is done in European cultures (including Australia, New Zealand, North and South America.). This research assumes a fairly homogeneous educational culture. The assumption is that the difference in other countries is affluence and modernity. That assumption is wrong. Japan is affluent and modern, but its educational culture is not European, and that makes all the difference.

We need more action research. We need to see what’s going on in a variety of learning contexts. We need to see what’s happening in classrooms.

For further reading please see:

Birchley, Sarah Louisa and Taylor, Clair (2008). Virtual cards:an action research project exploring how far online flashcards can invigorate vocabulary learning for students. The Bulletin of Toyo Gakuen University 16, 47-55. Retrieved 3 October 2010 from

Stout, Michael (2009). Web 2.0 and Mixed Ability EFL Classes in Japan : Challenges and Possibilities. The Bulletin of Toyo Gakuen University. 18, 247-257. Retrieved 3 October 2010 from:

Taylor, Clair (2009). Setting up a MALL?CALL tracked self-study component to a course. The Bulletin of Toyo Gakuen University. 17, 233-242. Retrieved 3 October 2010 from


What teachers need to know…

We’ve been using the McTighe Understanding by Design model to create a technology plan for our school.  My previous post was Part 1: What teachers need to understand…

Here are the goals again:


  • The implementation of technology to support inquiry and learning across all learning areas.
  • 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.

Part 2: Knowledge and Skills (Suggestions welcome, as always)

You may have read an earlier version of this in an earlier post by Linda. We’ve developed the ideas further now, considering our particular school setting.

Teachers will be able to:

  • Use a range of tools to document, share, organize, create and present.
  • Use word processor and presentation software tools proficiently.
  • Read/use email regularly. Know how to set up a group in email.
  • Use the school intranet proficiently.
  • Use digital technologies as part of the information process.
  • Search the internet efficiently.
  • Navigate web pages.
  • Be confident users of hardware and peripherals such as laptops, printers, scanners,  cameras, flip cameras, iTouch/iPads.
  • Use the multimedia tools that come with the interactive whiteboard. Make it a student tool as well.
  • Manipulate digital images and movies.
  • Understand copyright issues on the web, and make sure students are copyright aware.
  • 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.
  • Be able to embed images, video, and audio into a blog or wiki.
  • Make global connections and collaborate with people outside the college, using tools such as Skype or Voicethread.


What teachers need to understand…

We’ve been using the McTighe Understanding by Design model to create a technology plan for our school.  I’m sharing some of our ideas here, in case readers find it interesting or helpful. But before anyone tells me (again!) that there are people in the world who don’t have access to technology, let me reiterate that this is based on my school setting and the requirements of my school. Any other sorts of feedback are welcome and appreciated.


  • The implementation of technology to support inquiry and learning across all learning areas.
  • 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.

Part 1: Understandings. Teachers will understand that…

  • Technology is an integral part of learning.
  • Integration of technology is not optional.
  • Each teacher needs to take responsibility for their own ICT learning (with support).
  • Literacy today includes technological literacy as well as the traditional literacies such as reading and writing.
  • Implementation of technology should always be driven by learning requirements.
  • Learning is not limited to the classroom. Technology provides opportunities for meaningful global learning outside of the classroom.
  • 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 and critical thinking.
  • Technology can provide access to a broad range 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.
  • ICT in an essential part of the information process. (Define, locate, select, organize, present and assess)

It was so simply put by Jessica recently on  Stars and Clouds:

This morning I woke up and thought: Why do people make such a big deal about technology? I ask myself that because it is so much part of my life, it is ‘natural’ to me. Shouldn’t we just accept technology into our classrooms just like we accept books, maths manipulatives, and playdough in kindergarten? Why is it that schools do not reflect ‘real life’ anymore? …

Coming next: Part 2: Knowledge and skills.


Why do I need an interactive white board?

I still don’t get the point of  IWB’s. I’m open to being persuaded since I have one in my classroom. The things I use it for could just as easily be done with a data projector though.

It seems like a tool which promotes the sort of teaching where kids  face the front and focus on the teacher. It doesn’t seem to encourage interaction, collaboration, creativity or thinking. I’ve been told that it doesn’t need to be teacher centered. I’ve been told that having kids come up to the board individually or to work in a group is engaging. But what’s the rest of the class doing meanwhile?  It would surely be less costly and even more engaging to give the kids iPads or laptops and have them interacting in groups.

IWB By whatedsaid | View this Toon at ToonDoo | Create your own Toon

Maybe it’s because I haven’t had any IWB training. Maybe it’s because I haven’t tried hard enough. Or maybe it’s because they don’t quite fit with what I believe about learning…

I believe that learning takes place through inquiry: questioning, exploring, experimenting and problem solving. I believe that learning for understanding includes acquiring skills and knowledge, constructing meaning and transfer to other contexts. I believe that learning is active and social and best takes place through collaboration and interaction. I believe that learning includes meta-cognition and reflection, and requires learners to take ownership of their learning.

Could that be why I haven’t seen value in IWB’s?

If you really feel they add something to learning, please convince me!


Mobile Learning…

Guest post by Linda. @lindawollan

mobile learning

At the beginning of the year our principal offered  grants for three initiatives in our school proposing  innovative educational programs. With some imagination, our  head of  Learning Resource  Fiona (@fionannbir) proposed the acquisition of  a class set of iPod Touches.  They would allow her to implement an e-reading program in the school, as well as encouraging podcasting and voice recording, especially for second language learning. She was awarded one of the grants and we purchased our first set of iTouches.

On further investigation we’ve realised what rich learning these motivating devices can bring about for children. Fiona and I recently attended the Slide to Learn Mobile Event, put together by teachers from all over Australia who are finding real benefits using these devices in an educational setting. You can meet the team here.

I highly recommend having a look at the site – there are links to live sessions from the conference, as well as people with great information that they willingly share. One of the highlights was an international session with Tony Vincent, whose blog Learning in Hand gives fantastic practical advice. He talked us through creating podcasts and narrated slideshows using the voice memo capability in combination with sites like Posterous.

Further sessions showed how apps like Reel Director and Sonic Pics allow students to be creators of content, rather than consumers. Some schools have decided to go 1:1, with either student or school-owned devices; others have gone down the class set route like us. Either way, there are operational, strategic and technical issues to be addressed.

These are exciting devices which provide another tool to enhance student learning and we’ve taken a small step on our journey.