Monthly Archives: September 2006

Alex, as you have done me the courtesy of addressing me personally in your most recent blog post, I will do the same here as I engage with the challenges and queries that you pose. You are dead right - at no stage in my recent post do I describe what my classrooms look like or detail how learning is structured or constructed or how I interact with my students. I appreciate the fact that you acknowledge that I am seriously endeavouring to be open in my blog here, opening up my practice and ideas potentially for others to ridicule, critique or engage with (hopefully mainly the latter). But is easy for me to hide behind a haze of words, descriptions of what should be as opposed to what is, so shortly I am going to have a go at being insightful and honest. It's easy to have a go at the teaching force in general but that's because to detail the shortcomings that I have seen in some classrooms would be targetting specific individuals that I have encountered on my teaching journey. I don't want to labour that point any more. I'm not perfect, far from it, and there are stacks of educators out there who believe they are doing the best job they can. I don't have the qualifications (who does) to sit in judgement on other people's work especially when my own depth of experience only covers six schools. Enough....

Here's what I want to do. This statement is a good starting point.

...the classroom is merely an architectural edifice within which we contain experience...

You blogged about painting a picture for others of my learners 'classroom' and that's what I'm going to try to do here. It may help anyone who reads this blog to get where I'm coming from.

Ceduna, 1989.
My third year of teaching, Year 5 class on the Far West coast of Souh Australia. Still very young, wet behind the ears, I still remember writing up my weekly program at the desk on the side of the classroom because life outside of work revolved around sport, the pub and traversing vast distances to get to both. Trying to recall the type of classroom I ran is quite difficult now but I do remember buying into a spelling quota system because that's what the strong willed teacher next door with the other Year Five class was doing. There was a strange fine line in the relationships struck up in that classroom as social life and school life crossed over so much. I could be marking a student's work and putting "Well Done" stickers on a well structured piece of creative writing and then standing his older brother in the B grade footy match on the weekend. (Footnote: I was a woeful footballer. Back pocket and bench specialist.) I remember taking the class on an overnight camp to Smoky Bay, 40 kms away and that was something we had planned together as a class. Nothing fancier could be afforded as the district was gripped in a similar drought to the one currently going on. I remember having frank and open conversation with parents at interview night and the utter crushing disappointment when some parents requested that a child be shifted from my class because they felt that I didn't really know what I was doing. It nearly turned into two students except for some fast talking from my then principal. I do recall feeling frequently out of my depth and just shy of drowning but being absolutely wiped out when the position I was filling as a contract was filled by a transferee from the city. I had no chance of staying in this incredibly complex and demanding school with its mix of indigenous students and farming kids wavering between tolerance and prejudice. Looking back though, I remember so many of that class by face, voice and personality. I think that's a good thing.

I prepare for my teaching day in my classroom, Ceduna, 1989.

Willsden, 1993.
The Year of Indigenous People saw me with one third of my Year 4/5 class identifying as being Aboriginal at this smallish primary school in Port Augusta. I remember running reward systems where kids who had followed class rules and worked hard ended up for a lunchtime visit to Hungry Jack's at my expense. We explored topical issues in Social Studies - and with my next door team teacher we ran a Conference Writing program where kids created pieces of writing in all forms of genres and as a large group we sat and peer assessed their efforts. "I think that needed more colour." "That really looks like a real menu." "There should be more writing than that for a good writer like you." "I loved the recipe you wrote - was it good to eat in real life?" I think that I was handing the reins over to the kids for the first time in one respect. They had control in this part of the school week - within the structure they could choose how and on what to focus their efforts and did so knowing that the end result would be evaluated just as much by their classmates as their teacher.


1992 camp for Year 3/4's - Willsden Primary School. Some of my class at Alligator Gorge, Flinders Ranges.

Flagstaff Hill, 2001.
How do I try and describe the stuff I tried to do with my class and other students on a school wide basis? I was the push behind a whole new rethink of Student Voice and I worked a lot with our Student Leaders who ran this new system of sub committees and committees - they chaired and minuted meetings, distributed information, brainstormed new ways of improving the flow of decisions and information. My class was part of a double class that had moved into the old library space at the school and we even had a negotiated vision that dictated the sorts of things we did as part of our learning. Computing was still an optional experience for many teachers so my class spent more than their fair share of time in the computer lab creating web page driven CD-ROMs of our camp to Nelson, Victoria and dabbling with Powerpoint as a mode of presenting Resource Based Learning projects back to their peers. I had the kids join up to e-pals and we sent e-mail to a couple of classes in the USA - matching up with the Northern hemisphere school year was always a problem.


Quiz time - Year 6/7 camp to Nelson. 

Lockleys North, 2005.
I had this interesting conversation the other week with another teacher who had done a similar thing to me, taking on a coordinator position that necessitated sharing the responsibilities with another teacher. I told her that I thought that I was a better, more creative teacher when I was the full time person in front of the kids. (Make of that what you will.) It has nothing to do with control and everything to do with having dual responsibilities and not having the time to fully develop projects and ideas for learning with the kids themselves. I've found myself falling back into old habits and using old structures because they were time efficient to set up and run. I can start something like exploring the use of mobile phones in the classroom but run out of time to develop their ideas and hook it into the curriculum.

If I wanted to look for a common theme throughout my career, something that I believe defines me as an educator, it would be this. I care about people as individuals. That doesn't mean that I have managed that with every student that has crossed my path - personality, situation, priority all play a role. But I can honestly say that my intention every year has been to get to know every student in my class as a person, find some way to tap into their world and offer myself as a person who happens to be their teacher in return. I tell them about me, my experiences, stories from previous classrooms and listen back to them about their netball games, cousin's weddings, obsession with dinosaurs, their famous relatives and their family tragedies. If you are only in front of kids a couple of days a week, these relationships take longer and are more work to maintain. They need to know that I have their best interests at heart ... that if they suffer from dyslexia, I will give them alternatives to showcase their understanding, if they are loud and exuberant, I will channel that energy into leadership and if they are quiet and unsure, I will quietly encourage from their side and keep praising up their successes and helping to smooth over the bumps. That's where I am as an educator - now in my role, I am challenged to apply these same ideals to dealing with my colleagues.

So, this has ended up being a bit of a history tour and I don't know if I've achieved my aim of revealing what my classroom looks like. Go easy if you decide to comment!!

I've been trying really hard to keep tabs on the travelling roadshow otherwise known as the Future Learning in a Networked World unconference. Such a amazing idea - get a diverse bunch of educators from around the world with expertise in various forms of e-learning and online education, using a flat organisational structure and get them moving from one of New Zealand to the other, meeting and discussing networked learning with locals and each other. It hasn't been easy - so much content has been generated via Flickr streams, wiki, blogs, vodcasts, podcasts and so on. As I type, I'm listening to a fabulous podcast recorded by Stephan Ridgway that brings together a number of the participants and explains the goals and achievements of this ambitious venture - the mastermind of the whole event (is that a good name for it?) Leigh Blackall, Alex Hayes (his name gets bandied a lot around here), Konrad Glogowski and Sean FitzGerald. I've received a daily email from the Google Groups forum and I've tried to pick through the different emerging themes including a fascinating exchange between Stephen Downes and Teemu Leinonen on the difference between groups and networks and their impact on learning environments. I sure hope they both clarify their own thoughts more in their own blogs so that educators like myself can challenge our own practices and beliefs. So while these pioneers forecast and brainstorm possibilities for the future of learning on a global scale, I've been working on the future of learning at my local site and so grabbing bits and pieces of the FLNW feed hasn't yet painted me a full picture of the whole unconference deal. Maybe you have to be there to gain full value or more will unfold as participants return home and start the reflection process. The good thing is as the group has Flickred, wikied, bloggers, podcasted, vodcasted and posted their way around the Land Of The Long White Cloud, there is a huge stockpile of content to pick at and peruse at anyone's leisure. Thanks for allowing the networked world to be a part of this - such a great way to throw out the rulebook and push the boundaries of innovation - something I was whining about last night.

As I mentioned on Tuesday, Alex Hayes responded to my Blurry Visions post with a whole bunch of insight - I would urge regular readers who may only read via RSS subscription to go and read the whole thing, comments and all to gain some context. I was checking my blog while I was waiting pre-conference day in the lobby at TSOF and I quickly read his reply, then tapped out a response. A bit like most of my blog comments, it was completely off-the-cuff and was triggered by one or two of Alex's points. Sometime later that day (10 past midnight! Probably even later NZ time!) Alex opened fire on his blog. Here's the line that triggered that response.

I think moving forward unfortunately depends so much more on the teaching workforce than any dynamic and adaptive qualities of the students we teach.

Alex said:

Whether it was a crazy night for you or TSOF effected, I really don't get where that line above came from. In fact my thoughts on this spurned me onto coin in my blog today ;

" Students seek not to be taught rather to be assessed. Learners seek ways to better get to know you, the educator, as the content you deliver is often of little consequence to their learning".

I'd follow that up now with " to suppose that students give a toss is to imbue your perception with the very divides that seperated you from your learners in the first place. The essence of what a learner seeks is not what time to learn rather the opportunity to de-construct the clock and reasemble it so it works for them "

Alex does exactly what he should in this situation - call me out and say,"What the hell are you talking about? Am I hearing you right?" (Disclaimer - not his actual words!) So here's my go at explaining where that line comes from.

I used to think I was just an average teacher. When Joanne and I moved back to Adelaide I had the good fortune to work at Flagstaff Hill Primary where I learnt a whole heap about team teaching, resource based learning and middle schooling from my good colleague and friend, Lindsay. My boss at the time encouraged (pushed) both of us to apply for Advanced Skills Teacher status and in 1997, I achieved that with a presentation that blended student presentation and technology. There's a fair bit of mixed feelings amongst teachers that I have known about the worth of this status in our education system - it is meant to be a stepping stone for educator leadership but many experienced teachers believe that the work involved isn't sufficiently renumerated or in a more negative vein, that teachers going for and achieving AST1 were big noting themselves and putting themselves on a pedestal above the common practitioners at the chalkface. Not everyone thinks that way but whenever innovation or change is on the agenda and those same teachers mentally dig their heels in and start complaining about the new things they are "expected" to take on, I really wonder how education in this state is possibly going to move forward, how can momentum be sustained when heavy weights pull back on the rope. So, the moving forward I'm referring to is the developing of relevant learning for students, the pushing of boundaries and the realisation of value in innovation in the classroom. Our students have no problem moving forward and adapting to the rapid pace of change but too many classrooms are static or only changing grudgingly, seeking to stay the same using "established" modes of operation. So, the teaching workforce is key to this moving forward because the classroom teachers create the environment in which the students spend four to five hours a day, forty weeks of the year. If the majority of these classrooms have an innovative, dynamic educator leading and constructing the learning in a constant cycle of re-invention then the students will have an educational experience that keeps pace with the rest of the world, giving the students the skills needed to thrive and take control of their own learning. However, if the teacher is reluctant to let go of their "expert status", wants to control and stage manage every aspect of the school day, has the "answers" already and sees technology as an unnecessary intrusion to their structure and order - well, you get the picture. What the teaching workforce looks like in the classroom as a whole dictates the typical experience of our students.

I am proud that I achieved that AST1 level back in 1997. I was proud when I succesfully had it re-assessed in 2002 - and I was even prouder when I won my current job as an ICT coordinator. It was important for my own self worth as an educator - that trying new ideas, going against the grain, inventing new stuff, being mocked by cynics in the staffroom behind my back, taking a risk was worth it. I don't think that I am especially talented in my chosen field. I have many chinks in my armour and many flaws in the way I do things. I do think that I am passionate however, and that I have never been content to sit still and say, "I'm done with this. I'm just going to be a steady performer from now on." Education should be evolutionary and revolutionary at the same time and I worry that too many of my colleagues have neither the desire or bravado to embrace change and keep looking for better ways to engage and interact with the students in their care. Maybe, there aren't enough revolutionaries anymore. Maybe too much creativity has been stomped out by unrealistic work pressures and mandates from above.

So, Alex and my other loyal readers, I don't think that teachers are redundant or that teaching is dead - certainly not here in the primary school sector. I just want a culture of risk, boundary pushing, being open to new ideas to dominate again (did it ever?) and that teachers who do this to be encouraged, celebrated and held up as role models and that they dominate the classrooms of this nation, equipping students with the skills they need for the 21st Century.

Time to get off the soapbox. I'll leave you with this gem from Alex - it sums it all up.

Teachers and I'm one of them, are like verbs. We should always be in action.

One of the major things confronting the education sector is the new ways that digital information can be redirected, reused and reshaped via the format of RSS. I use the word confronting with purpose because it's a word that came through strongly in a comment left by Christine Haynes, an experienced ICT educator following my post reflecting on the Web2Showcase. As an educator myself who has chosen to immerse himself in these technologies, reading educational revolutionaries like Will Richardson, Stephen Downes and Leigh Blackall on a daily basis and conversing with other grassroots peers like Jo McLeay, Doug Noon and Mark Ahlness, it's easy to forget that this network of people is only a tiny fraction of the global teaching force. It explains the comfort level of my fellow presenters, all in tune to the ongoing FNLW unconference unrolling in New Zealand as I write. They're part of the ''Global Conversation" but if you're not involved, it's hard to grasp what is going on. It explains the cross-referencing that went on throughout the entire presentation - how Vonnie could be bookmarking an Alexander Hayes resource based on a conversation I had with him via Skype last week, how Mike could be re-using a Stephen Downes podcast from last week in Africa that even if I hadn't heard it, I was certainly aware of. But what of the audience? Those who've heard about these new technologies and want to work out what the fuss is all about? And those who weren't there (at the venue or connected via the online tentacles of Centra) who are either oblivious or couldn't care less? Is it important to reach out to the wider educator community to make them aware or can our slow moving education system carry the technophobes for a while yet? Maybe there are pockets of expertise that don't require technological impact but I doubt it. And when teachers realise that it's inevitable and they face irrelevancy, will they be able to "catch up" to the teachers making the effort now?

I suppose that's why the Web2Showcase group originally got together - a desire to spread the word, to "educate the educators" about the changing nature of information. It's why I asked for feedback on my last blog post - I wanted to know what impact a small group of Web 2.0 enthused people could have on those who made the time to attend or tune in. I know that 15 months ago I was just as oblivious as some of those serious faces in front of me as I stumbled through the finer points of wikis and StartPages but my entry to the world of Web 2.0 was one of excitement and discovery. Why do I get the feeling that starting out now seems to be more about fear and trepidation? I hope I'm wrong. I hope that "confronting" can be a good thing.

One of the things I was keen on was some feedback from the Showcase. Keen until I read Artichoke's latest post on that very topic where I foolishly attempted to articulate what I was after....

...being on the receiving end of feedback could fall into a few categories:- (a) feedback about the actual performance. Did I speak clearly? Were my demonstrations easy to view? Could people view my web resources adequately? (b) feedback about what the content/concepts/ideas did to people's thinking/perceptions. What are the implications of my topic? What were your immediate reactions to the material? What will it prompt you to do now (or not do)? and then (c) feedback that inflates the ego. Why were we great? Was I wearing a nice shirt? Was it the best presentation of its type you've ever seen?

Arti kindly offered that the shirt indeed might be the key factor and recommended some key reading (which I will follow up) but the deep thinking Bill Kerr added in his observations and then expanded them on his blog. In the end, I have come to the conclusion the only meaningful feedback I will get might well come from good old fashioned chat and conversation with others. As Artichoke pointed then in the comments to Bill:

...even feedback has texture, nuance and poetry - perhaps it is also the case that feedback when offered in f2f encounters makes it easier to determine meaning than feedback offered through text alone. [finding meaning in text can be a treacherous experience]

After all, when you are reading text, it takes a lot of skill to express opinion clearly and coherently in the Web 2.0 world.

For those of us who think that being an educator takes over too much of their life or in the words of a colleague this morning, "What life?", Hugh McLeod has an alternative take to consider. the last hundred years or so we lost the plot. Suddenly "Leisure" started taking over. Suddenly useless things like lying on a beach, reading trashy novels, watching dumb movies, going shopping, attending art openings, and visiting Disneyland started to become not only common, but an end in itself.

The day looked promising enough the end of work, I'd had enough and my normally calm demeanour was showing a few cracks. It wasn't all bad though.

  • Started with a quick trip into school to brief the boss on things that unfurled during her two days away on conference - no problem.
  • Got down to the EDC and checked Bloglines via a web terminal in the reception area as I had left my laptop back in the classroom. Saw that Alex Hayes had left two comments on this blog - more fantastic food for thought. His responses had me mentally tuned to listen out for the word COMMUNICATION in the Leading Learning Conference day I was there to attend.
  • Unfortunately, the Conference was a bit of a letdown. Someone who was due to present couldn't and not much of substance was in its place. I was struggling to connect with the information - it wasn't giving me anything in terms of leadership development and the word COMMUNICATION was nowhere to be seen. Figures.
  • When I got back to school, the entrance to the carpark was blocked by a tree removal truck so I parked in the street in a No Standing zone, not operational until 3pm. I would just shift it later when the truck had gone. Of course I forgot and at 3.07 pm, I got a $50 parking fine. Not happy now.
  • Tried to pay some bills after work and found that credit card payment wasn't accepted - EFTPOS limit for the day couldn't cover it all (insurance bills) so I could only pay some of it and go back tomorrow.

I think I'd better tune into the FLNW feed and relax.........

Flickr Image - no standing by .steve.T

I have to agree with Mike. It was great to co-present tonight with such passionate educators eager to open up their experience and expertise to the wider educational community. This was to a f2f audience of nearly 60 and out to 9 venues via Centra. Now I reckon that doing demonstrations of Web 2.0/social software/ read/write web stuff is very hard to do via the videoconferencing medium and I think that being conscious of catering for a group of people I couldn't see interfered with my presentation which I thought was below my own expectations. Luckily, everyone else was brilliant and covered for my not showing how to edit a wiki (conscious that the Centra audience wouldn't see) and not being able to retrieve my links for StartPages from my wiki when I needed to. As always, a workaround is always necessary but it wasn't until I was enthralled by Mike's excellent Mashup that what I already knew dawned on me. If I can't access a link from a previously identified source that I've set up, then my content is re-packaged and re-distributed via RSS in a number of ways that I could have accessed more easily than typing in the URL by hand!! I needed to run my StartPage section from my links page on my wiki but it looked like wikispaces decided to go down right at that moment. (I still maintain that using Internet Explorer was a big factor. Go Firefox! Go Flock!) So, if I was confronted by that in the future, I could have gone straight to my blog or my Bloglines or my PageFlakes feed for my blog and grabbed the links from my StartPages review or gone to Mike's Bloglines feed for my wiki RSS feed.

Anyway, I wasn't sure what to make of the audience response to our presentation. There was quite a bit of joviality and smiles amongst the presenters but the audience was very serious - they were either concentrating hard or concerned about what it all means for them. Love some feedback from anyone who was in the audience - what did you make of it all?

Flickr Image - Mike's view of Vonnie, Al and I. 

Just spent tonight putting the finishing touches on two goes at 15 minutes of fame at the Web 2.0 Showcase at TSOF tomorrow afternoon. I've got my links ready on my personal wiki and yesterday I had the brainwave of putting together a StartPage for the event that could showcase a variety of the presenters' web ventures to show how easy it is have fed into one spot. The result - the Web2Showcase PageFlakes page, made public for your viewing pleasure. The idea is that after my initial splurge on wikis, I'll use the free wireless at TSOF to add any referenced resources to the page to show at the end of my StartPages session. I've got vonnie's feeding in, Mike Seyfang's youtube masterpieces, blogs from all the presenters and a section showing some of the less serious flakes developed by the PageFlakes community - i.e. a daily George Bush quote, an ESPN feed and my own tagcloud.

Fingers crossed.

My sinuses have been playing up, and I'm currently suffering the worst hayfever since the early nineties. Back then, I was teaching in Port Augusta, gateway to the Outback and from late winter the dry northerlies would bring down the red dust from the direction of Woomera and beyond. Moving back to Adelaide and a milder (and less dust laden) climate has seen things settle down in my nasal regions over the past decade but the record dry here in South Australia has my nose, eyes and throat in a time warp.

So, I'm wondering if the cooler New Zealand weather would be kinder to my current state of health. Kicking back with the likes of Leigh, Alex, Stephen, Jo Kay and even Artichoke at the amazing The Future of Learning in a Networked World travelling open space conference would be pretty good. In my conversation with Alex the other evening, he described the whole event as "lo-fi" - in a good way. If I could somehow put my current life on pause, then this would be a great event to attend. The line up of thinkers and e-learning experts in tow is phenomenal - just check out the list on the right hand side of the official blog. Leigh Blackall is the mastermind behind this "unconference roadshow" and it is a masterful example of social networking and flat collaboration. For 10 days across a range of venues over the Shaky Isles, taking in the eFest in Wellington as well and talking e-learning with all and sundry at the various visits and events along the way. Even Artichoke who is not associated all that much with TALO (not that I'm all that active there either) signed on the other day. So my challenge is to participate virtually, reading the blog, checking out the wiki, sign up for the The Future of Learning in a Networked World Google Group and check out the Flickr feed. Not quite as good as being there but I'm not missing out totally.

Then there's the Global Summit coming up in October. That looks awesome but at A$795 a head plus airfare plus accommodation to get to Sydney and stay (not including my release from my work for that time) it's beyond my reach unless someone from educationau reads this blog, takes pity on me and offers sponsorship in exchange for massive live blogging of the event. Never mind, Al Upton will be there (I think) and I hope he gets to go to Leigh Blackall's session there and say "G'day" for me.

But there is a great conference available at a price that suits me and won't cause any ripples to my family life routine - the K-12 Online Conference. I still have to read more thoroughly about how it's all going to work and it has received a fair bit of publicity around the edublogosphere. On Sunday afternoon, I checked my home desktop for e-mail and saw that Wesley Fryer had shared his Skype details with me and was online at the time, 11.40 pm his time. (Don't you just love my blogger name dropping!) I had to say "G'day" and after a quick exchange of pleasantries, Wesley asked if I had considered submitting something for the K-12. I had never even considered that I'd submit anything but as Wes is in charge of the Overcoming Obstacles strand, he got me thinking that maybe I should give some thought to participating in this way. The deadline is Sept. 30 so if I make sure that I attend to my own local school priorities, it could be a goer. Anyway, it promises to be really good with keynote podcasts, online resources and heaps of great learning. And while on the topic of Wes, I appreciated his pointer to a great resource for use in the primary school classroom, Mission Possible: Successful Online Research - an online video produced by I used it this afternoon with my class on the ACTIVboard after our Go-Go golf session was rained on (ironic, considering how I started this post) and the kids were engaged and pulled some good pointers from it. Even though, someone muttered under their breath towards the end that they thought it was an extended infomercial for!! At least it's something educationally useful being plugged - a resource that helps kids to gain and sort through the information overload of the web is a resource that teachers should become familiar with. Hope there's more in the information literacy vein at the K-12 Online Conference. See you there.


Last Thursday I had the privelege of a Skype conversation with Sydney based mobile-technologies-in-education advocate, Alexander Hayes as part of the Talking VTE series. We talked about the impact of emerging mobile technologies and their impact and possibilities for the primary school classroom - as usual with any conversation with Alex, I have my mind buzzing with new ideas and a realisation that I spend more time in contemplation and conversation than in implementation in this area! Anyway, have a listen to the podcast - link here - we covered some interesting ground.
Actually, the way Alex went about constructing the audio was really interesting as well. He had me download the latest version of Audacity and then record my conversation at my end as an mp3 file while he did the same synchronously on his PC. I then had to upload the resultant file to podomatic so that Alex could retrieve it and mix both tracks back into one conversation. The uploading took forever - or so it felt. Interestingly, Alex had suggested this conversation two evenings earlier when we exchanged a bit of Skype chat but as it was 10.30 pm already, I declined at the time. (Imagine how late that would have been - a hour chat plus an hour upload to podomatic! And later for Alex being an half hour ahead of my time!) Thanks, Alex, for the opportunity and I do have a mobile phone based lesson planned soon for my Year 5/6 class that will be fun.