Monthly Archives: May 2007


Had a very interesting and informative evening with parents and some staff from my school exploring some of the issues and aspects of the internet from their kids' point of view. It's Safe Schools Week here in Australia and so it was good timing to do this event as part of the school's series of Parent Information Sessions. I tried to cover the area of what kids are going online to do these days and not to play up the "internet danger" angle. I've uploaded the slides to SlideShare for your perusal and re-use if you feel inclined and the handout sheet for the parents can be downloaded here. No audio as it was a guided discussion as much as anything and I was also a learner along the way. I need to research more on things like MSN chat as it is an application kids at our school use frequently but I never touch. A big thanks to all of my colleagues who came on a week night to support me and share the learning - the parents must have appreciated it as there was a round of applause at the end!

[slideshare id=57320&doc=parent-internet-awareness-night-27713&w=425]


One of the big criticisms about interactive whiteboards is that it looks too much like a traditional classroom tool and that if we are serious about making education relevant to today's world, then digital reincarnations of yesterday's tools aren't going to cut it. Interestingly, the other alternative according to some advocates is 1:1 laptop computing which gets the technology into the hands of the student. Some recent reports out of the US are now reporting that concept hasn't always paid off in the manner predicted and some critics are labelling 1:1 laptop initiatives a failure. So what does work? Like my UK colleague, Tom Barrett, I'm in charge of a school initiative to get a small scale wireless laptop program up and running. Like Tom, we're not looking at every student with a laptop that travels between home and school but rather a flexible computing solution that doesn't require a timetabled lab or computers tied to limited access points. In short, the goal is for kids to have the computing power come to them, at their desk, clustered in workgroups around the room without the constraint of cables and the time and momentum loss of shifting to a dedicated computing room. The laptop is not the focus of the classroom but a tool to be used when applicable. Same goes for our interactive whiteboards.

I've spoken to and presented about our Promethean boards to five or six different schools so far this year. As well as explaining how the Activboard and its standard software program works, I always try and get our visitors to look beyond the "Wow" factor and picture the type of learning they want to be happening in their classrooms. I've often felt that the IWB does fit really well in junior primary classrooms with group learning and collaborative play and the older the kids, the more you want other technologies at their disposal.

So it was interesting to talk to a couple of high school Assistant Principals charged with envisioning a brand new middle school complex about how the use of these boards could be an enhancement or a hindrance to effective classroom practice. As I talked then through the software, the capabilities to use the internet and interactive content, both of my visitors started to talk amongst themselves about the IWB being a vehicle for pedagogical change. Not that the IWB has magical powers to transform and learning but that their inclusion in a new sub-school setting would signal a change, a new way of doing things, a package deal that would wrap up cross curricular teaching teams and technology-based learning opportunities for their students.

They also both cited a colleague from the IT faculty who had said, ''Why not just get data projectors?" So that's when I pulled my blog up on screen and navigated to my post from early 2006 about the interactive whiteboard being a vehicle for moving non-techie teachers into embedding digital resources into their teaching. Some critics will point out that this might mean a reproduction of traditional transmission mode teaching, but my experience in my current role has reinforced that in working to get teachers moving along in any area of their practice, you have to start from where they are. I have seen teachers who thought mastering email and formatting Word documents put them at the cutting edge really evolve their practice using an interactive whiteboard and in turn, offer their students more technology-based learning opportunities.

So, I really like the suggested way Tom describes the thinking behind his school's plans:

"...a vision for the future of our school. We would like our children to have a uninhibited personal choice when to use technology; whether that be a calculator or sharing an online spreadsheet on a laptop. "

I also think that having a bank of laptops available to a sector of the school is also a challenge to the way our teachers currently operate. The way I see it, the IWBs together with the teacher laptop put unprecedented digital power and opportunity in their hands. The IWB also open options for students but the laptops add a new layer for student learning, making it possible for students to more regularly access the web, their files and other digital tools when they fit in with their learning tasks.

Reading about laptops in classrooms led me to Chris Lehmann's blog where a post explores some of this interactive pedagogy required with laptops or IWBs. He writes:

But also, too many folks have this thought that if we just hand the kids laptops, presto learning happens. You need a web-based learning environment that acts as a virtual center of the community, that gives the kids something to anchor the learning that happens, you need courses that teach kids how to use the laptops to further their learning, not just how to use them, and you need a vision of education that is progressive and project-based so that the kids can use them as research, communication and creation tools.

There's also a feeling here in South Australia reflected in a remix of Chris's statement: But also, too many folks have this thought that if we just install Interactive Whiteboards in classrooms, presto learning happens.

It's what changes when you decide to use the technology for learning that makes the difference, not the technology alone. But without the technology, you can't move forward.


I received a pleasant e-mail the other day from Anne Mason who's the National Facilitator, Online communities from ICT PD Online who are organising the Time4 Online Conference over in New Zealand which started today! She wanted to check that a link from the Pre-Conference Preview area to my K12 Online Conference presentation from last year was fine with me. Just goes to show that you can be featured in a conference without doing anything extra - it's extremely flattering. I mean I was amazed when I found my own words quoted back at me on a wiki created by Rachel Jeffares, so potentially being re-introduced to more Kiwi educators via a re-run of my presentation will be very cool. (Of course, just because it's there on the page doesn't mean anyone will click and view!) And the whole event is available for anyone connected to enrol and learn. I'll certainly be checking it out.time4online.jpg

Like Bill Kerr, I've submitted my workshop and presentation abstracts for CEGSA 2007 here in Adelaide, subject to approval. Hopefully, they'll help to shed light on some of the things I've been exploring here via this blog. This year, I'll try and record my presentations so that their availability isn't dependent on being at Thebarton Senior College on the 19th - 2oth July, 2007.


Course Title: Online Teachers - Stay Connected and Relevant (presentation)
Description: Innovative teachers are connecting online and providing relevant, globally connected learning for their students, leveraging emerging online tools. In the 21st century, it is my position that all teachers should have an online presence and it has never been easier to be connecting and learning with other educators. Hear from two real teachers pushing the boundaries of connected learning - Chris Harbeck, a middle school Mathematics teacher from Manitoba, Canada on his students' unprojects and Vicki Davis, award winning teacher from Georgia, USA on her wiki based projects, Flat World and Horizon projects that brought classrooms scattered across the world together to work on emerging issues relevant students. By building on their pioneering work, and being prepared to share their own experiences and resources, teachers can make the online world work for them, ensuring that their students have powerful role models who use technology for lifelong learning.


Course Title: IWB 2.0 - Web 2.0 meets the Interactive Whiteboard (workshop)
Description: The interactive whiteboard is capable of so much more than what is offered with the standard software package. When connected to the Internet, the IWB can become the classroom's collaborative digital portal. By using the latest Web 2.0 tools and sites, the IWB will allow your class to participate in global classroom connections, to access breaking multimedia information and share ideas and learning with others. In this workshop, you will get an overview of the most suitable Web 2.0 tools and interactive websites that will maximise the use of your IWB and start or add to a bookmarking account for sharing of these excellent resources.

I'm also doing a joint workshop called More Cool Web 2 Tools with Vonnie from SouthOz E-learning. I won't post that here yet because we have to hammer a few more details out but it will be a tour of some of the newer tools on the Web 2 block. Should be fun!


I had an interesting day. I was ''in charge'' as all other leadership was out of the school for the day. I had two school groups coming to look at our interactive whiteboard program and a vendor coming to look at our network regarding an upgrade to our switches and the setting up of a wireless laptop program for our MYLU students. In between those commitments I was going to work on my Internet Safety Night presentation for our parents next week. As Murphy's law would have it, the day didn't turn out like that what with mix ups with relief teachers, looking after spare kids who didn't bring notes for a local excursion, checking that kids who weren't going on camp actually made it to their temporary classrooms and dealing with a misbehaviour issue. So, at the end of the school day, when I suggested to my learning team colleagues that our meeting should be held at the local coffee shop and get away from the school grounds, they agreed.

At this meeting over cappuccinos and Coke, the subject of several disengaged students came up. One teacher observed that when one student was on a computer with a set of headphones on and his choice of website based music going full tilt, his focus on his task improved noticeably and his disruption factor towards other students faded to nothing. The conversation wandered one to the possible use of iPods or any sort of personal mp3 player being a useful tool for these types of kids where they could hide behind a "barrier of sound" that eliminated distraction and temptation when working on their own set work. We talked about the equity issue, the setting of ground rules regarding appropriate use and if this idea would help some students in concentration or whether it just avoided the development of coping skills in the regular classroom environment. I suggested that we open this idea up for discussion in class meetings with the kids and see what they thought as a first step.

Marg, one of my colleagues, suggested that I take it to my learning network, which shows that my colleagues appreciate the power of my online interactions even if they aren't involved with their own. There's been plenty of posting regarding the use of iPods as a mode of instruction but this is a slightly different angle. So, while posing any sort of request to the edublogosphere is a mixture of hope, imposition and assumption, I'm asking any classroom educators or consultants who see a fair bit of classroom life to consider responding via the comments or a trackbacked post on your own blog to the following questions.

Does your school have a policy on iPod use (or equivalent) for students within the classroom?

Have you seen iPods (or equivalent) being used in classrooms?

Have iPods (or equivalent) been used as part of a student's preferred learning style?

Have iPods (or equivalent) helped with students achievement or engagement?

How has the use of iPods (or equivalent) been negotiated within these classrooms?

Any other general comments about our discussion very welcome. We really aren't sure about what approach (if any) to take...

Attribution: Image: '"Studying for class"' by jakebouma


twitter.jpgWhen Leigh popped up as my 50th friend on Twitter, I just had to send him the message "@leighblackall. Welcome to the twitterverse." It'll be interesting to read what he makes of it all and whether he reaches the same levels of enthusiasm (and criticism) as Alan Levine.

I've been playing with twitter when the opportunity arises. I've been loathe to twitter from work as the department filter blocks it by default (although I do have the magic override password) and I've been finding that when I do sit down to compose a tweet, I've got nothing to say!

Every evening seems to be the same - on the wireless laptop reading blogs, following links. But today was a beautiful autumn day.

The challenge is saying something meaningful in 140 characters, and not treating it as some form of long term chat format. There's enough in-talk throughout my little network without me adding to it. If I direct a "tweet" to someone, the @friend method seems to be the way for others to know that this particular post may been meaningless for them to read.

For me, this has been my first real play with a social networking tool with the adding of friends etc. but interestingly, my friends list is a composite of my Bloglines account, mainly edubloggers ranging from the frequent, the local, the recent and the well-known (but not necessarily tweeting much). I haven't really discovered that many new voices via twitter (Jennifer Maddrell and Arvind S. Grover aside), but that could say more about me than the tool.

For now, I'll keep tweeting.

Over a Skype chat with Vicki Davis during the holidays, I agreed to help out on the Horizon wiki Project by helping out as a Sounding Board in the peer review of the project. My class became part of the official project and I became very unsure of how we were going to do justice to the whole enormous enterprise. I have to admit that when I introduced the whole idea to my class, they were completely puzzled and a bit overwhelmed by the whole thing. So, I became a touch concerned that once again, I had bitten off more than I could chew. But a couple more Skype chats sorted that and my class was assigned the job of peer reviewing the videos throughout the wiki project. That is no mean feat in itself because, as Vicki pointed out, there are other 50 videos embedded in the six emerging trends. I took this back to the class and they were keen to fulfil their role.

I tried to work out how this peer review process would work. My class of 10-11 year olds were too young to try and decipher this content effectively as individuals but as a collective group, it could be manageable and the group could feed from each others' views and ideas. I thought about recording their thoughts as an audio file but after our first viewing on Friday I was glad we didn't go down that route. My class find it hard to sit passively and are keen to be involved so navigating my iRiver around the classroom would have picked up a lot of noise and it may not have made a lot of sense to a listener unless it was heavily edited down.

I decided that we had to make a start and to see where it led us. Vicki had posted some preview videos on her blog, so I turned on the Activboard and let the embedded YouTube video upload, then sat the class down to view the first Mobile Phones video. Although we hadn't settled on how we were going to feed the feedback back, we watched, then commented and I scribbled down their thoughts. It was very interesting how they approached that task. As you might expect from reading Marc Prensky, this generation of kids expect their visual media to be of a certain standard, and knowing that this work was produced by students just five or six years their senior didn't dull their sharp observations. Voices that were too fast, subtitles that were too small, background music that didn't fade to the background, hosts looking down at scripts instead of the camera were all noticed and noted. It's true. There are no harder critics than your own peers.

But they weren't just critical - they noticed things they liked as well. Acted sequences that showed the future were praised, screen grabs of relevant technology appreciated, sections that were well paced earned acclaim. So, after reviewing four videos on Friday afternoon, I formulated an easy format for gathering the feedback. A common format for getting kids thinking about concepts is P,M,I (plus, minus, interesting). By using that today as the starting point, one student was chosen as the feedback agent for the particular video to be viewed. We watched, and the feedback agent wrote down a point or two for each P,M or I, then recorded the class's general feedback into their PMI sheet. If every child does that over the space of this week, then each child can type up a paragraph or so of peer review comment that can be pasted into the wiki comments for the video creators. The process seemed to work fine today but it won't happen in a day because of the need to find time for the video viewing without carving out huge chunks from the rest of the school curriculum. But writing reviews is an important English skill, so doing so for a real and purposeful venture like the Horizon Project is an ideal situation and as I keep telling the students, a real privilege as well.


There's a quaint Australian expression "flat out like a lizard drinking" that people like to use when they are extremely busy and struggling to meet commitments. It's a contradictory term and can just as easily be repurposed for satirical purposes when life is uncomplicated and slow. Apart from conjuring up images of a goanna sucking on a beer stubbie (Australian term for a small beer bottle), it's one I've heard teachers use at this time of the year when report writing beckons and every committee is in full swing. They buzz past each other on the way to the photocopier or to the staffroom pigeonholes, clicking on their email inbox with never enough time to engage in significant dialogue. That's what was great about such a large group of us going to Melbourne last week - we had time to step back and see the bigger picture.

The teachers I work with cite time as one of the major barriers to engaging with and using technology as part of their practice. It's not as if they don't use technology. On our Melbourne trip, every teacher used their mobile phone to stay in touch with family, organise taxis, touch base with the school and keep track of each other's movements. It's the online world where many teachers’ confidence is at its lowest. Hours can be and are “wasted surfing the web", and even though our school system has offered Learning and Teaching with the Internet courses for a few years now, many colleagues have expressed a feeling of being lost or overwhelmed in the online world. The time investment required to come to grips with the information overflow seems to be too great - and the pressures and requirements of the job easily deter teachers who feel their personal time being compromised.

It becomes a question of priorities. Those of us who are involved in blogging, online networking, collaborative student projects, podcasting, bookmarking. ninging etc. see a real need, otherwise we wouldn't be so evangelistic. We see amazing potential and a danger of irrelevance to our students if we don't engage. Maybe the majority of teachers don't see it that way - that all of this technology stuff is icing on the cake but the cake still is basic, traditional skills and knowledge focussed.

It's also a case of whether these emerging technology-enabled practices are supported from higher up in our system and by our government who funds public education. An innovative company like Google gives its employees twenty per cent of their working week towards exploring their own work related interests. Imagine that system for teachers! But of course, the government is already under pressure from an electorate who believe (thanks to the media) that teachers already get too much time off and are supposedly afraid of accountability.

Maybe it's not a case of frustration that more teachers can't find the time to get online in a Web 2.0 way but a sense of amazement that there are this many of us involved anyway despite the pressures of our profession.

Disclaimer: This blog post was composed on my Pocket PC in small grabs of time like break times or gaps after meals and between bath schedules. I wouldn't want to give the impression that I have more time than the average teacher. 

Attribution: Image: 'Goanna' by agentdeclan


Darren Draper posted recently on the use of mobile phones in classrooms and called for more international data on mobile phone ownership amongst K- 12 school students. I gathered my data from our 4 middle school classes and sent it on. But if Darren is gain a good overall picture of this trend, he needs more contributions beyond the US state of Utah and one Aussie contribution tacked on. So, I'm appealing to any of you reading this blog who teach K-12 kids - take a quick informal poll in your classroom, ask who owns a mobile (cell) phone, count the hands in the air, put that number plus the total number of students in your class into an e-mail and send it off to darren.draper [at] I'm sure he'll even do the percentage calculation for you if you want but it's worth gaining as much data as possible.

Help the poor guy out. Send him your stats ASAP.

Attribution: Image: 'Phon-ey Call' by makelessnoise


It's starting to become a mantra of my mind - "How Do We Get All Teachers Online?" and I've been conscious of references that back up this point of view when I see them. Via James Farmer, is a great danah boyd article from the Knowledge Tree on social networking and its impact on students today. danah points what she thinks educators' role should be:

Mediated publics are here to stay; yet they are complicating many aspects of daily life. The role of an educator is not to condemn or dismiss youth practices, but to help youth understand how their practices fit into a broader societal context. These are exciting times; embracing societal change and influencing the norms can only help everyone involved.

This is a really good read - and how can teachers take on this role without some form of online experience? So keeping in touch with our students' world is a powerful reason - it will empower us to be able to affect and promote positive student choices. But there's another powerful reason, as Ewan McIntosh explains:

...the importance of sharing great work and ideas online (in amongst the naturally less great ones we all have) is gathering pace.

This was also pointed out at my recent conference by the presenter, Jay McTighe, that educators can leverage the internet as a medium for sharing practice and resources and reduce the isolation and constant re-invention of curriculum planning and implementation. He offered his own site as a place for UbD sharing, our school's Interactive Whiteboard program has the Promethean Planet site for uploading of flipchart resources, and there are new wiki based repositories and open content creation ventures like Wikieducator. And although Ewan wasn't specifically writing about teachers, his ideas are easily transferred:

If you work for the public sector it seems normal that the public expertise be shared in a manageable fashion for colleagues and other public servants, too. A blog is a great way to do that. Manageable from the perspective of writing it (I'm doing this in ten minutes at the end of a day when this thought is fresh in my mind) and manageable for the person wanting to learn (they don't have to go anywhere to get the information or pay for a consultant to show it to them).

When I spoke with Jo McLeay the other day, I broached the subject of getting more educators to engage with the online world and become contributors, not just consumers. I asked her how she thought this might happen. Her paraphrased response that educators like us just need to keep sharing more of our stuff (ideas, resources, opinions) and others will continue to steadily join in until it becomes the way things are done.  So that's what I'll continue to do. There are more online educational contributors now than was a year ago - and once an online presence is developed, very few committed people drop off the map.


I'm composing this post sitting on a Virgin Blue flight back to Adelaide at 7.52 pm. The bloke in front of me has just reclined his seat back into my face pushing the complimentary copy of Virgin Blue Voyeur magazine (you're got to wonder about Richard Branson sometimes) out of my hands. The little LCD screen on the back of his seat is at a absurd angle for viewing (not that there is anything worth viewing) and my assistant principal, Bec, has just bought me a Coke. I've barely used my Pocket PC on this trip to Melbourne and so with plenty of battery power in reserve, it's time to scribe a post.

The purpose of this trip was a conference called Teachers At Work thrown by the publishers at Hawker-Brownlow. Six of us went from my school with the sole purpose of doing the two day Understanding by Design workshop with US education consultant, Jay McTighe. Some edubloggers may be familiar with his work and I know Kim Cofino is one educator using his ideas as part of her work.

Surprisingly, I had never been to Melbourne before. But I have led a fairly sheltered existence and was looking forward to the experience. Over the two days I've experienced the sunny weather, rode in a Silver Top taxi and rode in a train past the MCG. As well as the serious business of the conference, I had hoped to catch up and meet a couple of fellow edubloggers with whom I've been interacting with over a period of time - Jo McLeay and Warrick Wynne. Unfortunately, Warrick had other commitments but after leaving voicemail at Jo's school, she rang me back on my mobile at a break time, keen to travel for more than an hour into the city centre to catch my colleagues and I for a meal and chat. That was absolutely fantastic of her to put herself out like that just to meet me and speaks volumes for the power of online connections and communication. It was also great for my teaching colleagues to see a real blogger who is a real teacher and that this power for mutual sharing and learning is real (and very easy). We chatted and although I will probably never meet the vast majority of my online teachers face to face, taking the opportunity to do so is a really cool thing to do. And just like Alex and Leigh, the Jo McLeay I got to know via The Open Classroom is the exact same person who shared a meal with us down on the Yarra.

Attribution: 'building the new city' by mugley