Monthly Archives: July 2008


This writing of this post has nearly been as drawn as the unit of work that I want to write about. But it needs to be documented as sharing what I actually do in my classroom is an important role of this blog. So, here goes.

I'm starting to feel a little more confident about using the Understanding By Design process when co-planning our inquiry units. I've always used Resource Based Learning methodologies in my classroom (later rebadged as Problem Based Learning) but have never really planned as meticulously and strategically as in the last eighteen months. This is all part of our school wide push that places inquiry and UbD as the cornerstones of delivering a large slab of our curriculum (SOSE, Science, some parts of English and Mathematics as well as Technology) and part of my role as the ICT Coordinator is to model the strategic use of learning technologies in these units of work.

I think I'm getting better at choosing the right tool for the right purpose (Dan Meyer's first vodcast drove home that point pretty clearly) and that helps when other teachers seek out my input on the effective embedding of ICT in their own unit plans. But the practice of co-planning teams planning and implementing our inquiry units has been driven by my progressively minded principal and our talented Assistant Principal who see inquiry as the pedagogical vehicle for managing our broadly defined curriculum. There is a scope and sequence planned that overlays the appropriate outcomes from Science, SOSE, Health and Technology tied to essential questions that guide the unit design.

Maria, my co-planning buddy and I have worked hard to make the last inquiry unit really effective. We have stuck as best as we could to the Backwards By Design principles in using the planning proforma and thought long and hard about the essential understandings and essential knowledge that the identified outcomes required. Our main question was "Can We Really Make A Difference?" and the unit had to cover the SACSA Science outcomes and SOSE outcomes of:

Science - Life Systems
Explains the interrelationships between systems within living things, and between living things in ecological systems. They relate these ideas to the health of individuals and to threats to the sustainability of ecological systems.
SOSE - Place, space and environment
Identifies and describes significant resources, explains the threats which endanger them, and suggests strategies to combat threats.
Interprets and represents data about natural and built environments, resources, systems and interactions, both global and local, using maps, graphs and texts.
Identifies factors affecting an environmental issue, and reports on ways to act for sustainable futures.

We identified the Enduring Understandings:

Students will understand that:
The behaviour of living things are interrelated and interdependent.
Actions by humans can have positive and negative impacts on the earth’s ecology.
It is necessary at times for human intervention to maintain a balanced, sustainable environment.

And the key pieces of Knowledge:

What students will KNOW
Definition of environment, ecosystem, interrelated, interdependent, sustainable, ecology.
Facts about Port River dolphins, their current environment, their anatomy and species, life cycle and identification of individual dolphins.
Facts about the Port River area and general history.

One of my key ponderings that I gained from my global collaborative wiki project with Doug Noon and his sixth grade classroom was whether students at this age might be better off grappling with local issues rather than making the big leap into international connections. He had reservations about the in depth understandings gained about our respective cultures and although my class learnt a lot about the use of wikis, and how to pose more effective questions, I would agree that a deep understanding of our counterparts' lives was not achieved. In fact, the most beneficial thing we did as a class was a day excursion into the city of Adelaide as the resulting documentation of our own immediate surroundings meant a clearer perspective of what worth sharing with others about life here in South Australia. So this year with the key question "Can we really make a difference?" we decided that looking locally was definitely the key to engaging successfully with the key ideas and knowledge behind this unit. My co-planning partner and I decided that the example of the Port River dolphins would be an excellent lens through which to examine the question and the whole idea of human impact on natural environments and existing ecosystems. We started in with a tuning in activity where student groups were given five topic related images that were sorted in priority order and then had to justify their choice back to their peers.

One of the initial catalysts for student engagement was our guest speaker, Ann, from the Whale & Dolphin Conservation Society. Her knowledge and expertise were backed by skillful presentation skills and the students were "hooked" into the concept of human impact on these very social marine mammals. Ann also provided the link to Dr. Mike Bossley, an eminent local scientist who happily fielded questions via email. I also got my students to view some online topic-connected video and got them to draw out initial connections in their blogs.

By this point, the kids were gaining a fair bit of disconnected facts and concepts so it was time to it was time to head out for an excursion to make it all "real life". We took both classes down to the Port River and the Maritime Museum dolphin cruise - the kids were treated to more of Ann's expertise, and most importantly, headed out onto the water to hopefully view the dolphins in their own environment. You can see from some of the images taken by the students that the human impact along the waterway was very evident.

There were more lessons and sessions picking apart the concepts of ecosystems etc. seeking to unpack the ideas and knowledge we had identified as being important but eventually towards the end of last term, we were ready for the final assessment task, designed to see if the students could connect the knowledge to the concepts. Now, in UbD, the final assessment task(s) is one of the first thing designed - the whole point being that way, you are always conscious of the purpose of the whole unit but we did change from our original task as in typical teacher fashion, we were overcomplicating our ideas. Finally, the students worked in pairs with a selected image from the excursion and they had to write some accompanying explanatory information including the location of the photo, facts established by the photo and finally the connections between the Port River dolphins and those facts. It became a very accurate way of assessing whether the students had come to a deeper understanding about human impact on the dolphins.

Of course, all units could be better when viewed in retrospect, and the glaring element missing here isthat we didn't really get to determining whether we can "make a difference". Hopefully, that will improve in this term's effort but I believe that the students really did make headway towards a solid understanding of the big concepts of this unit.




Our annual CEGSA conference is underway and being hosted at the fabulous ASMS (Australian School of Mathematics and Science) here in Adelaide. For a small scale conference, the line up of keynoters and sessions is pretty good. Here's what unfolded today.

Opening Keynote - Martin Westwell, Director, Flinders Centre for Science Education in the 21st Century,
Flinders University. "The Future Of The Mind: how technology changes the way we think."

My key takeaway from his presentation - video games do hone specific skills in students but should education be including these in the classroom or is our role to focus on other skills that are also valuable but less likely to be part of the students' lives.

I went to a very good workshop run by Pam Thompson on classroom blogging. Check out her class blog here and give her a shout out on Twitter.

Chris Betcher delivered a great keynote after lunch based on the conference theme of "Learning Is A Conversation" and gave a great big picture view of the PLN concept and the key tools that can be utilised.

Key notes - "It's not what you know, its who you know!"

So, if learning is a conversation then the more people you converse with then the more supercharged the learning. Showed an opening example from Sheryl's blog where three educators in Texas hooked up to another in Winnipeg, Canada as part of the K12 Online Conference organising committee.

How to explain and sell what an online PLN is until you dive in and experience it. If you get a large enough group of people, then it is possible to create wisdom from crowds. You need diversity in your network, but you need independence. You also need decentralization _ related the story of how Linux got started as an idea of one person, assisted by decentralized individuals contributing. Final factor is aggregation - but have to beware of the echo chamber. Not much learning if everyone agrees about the same ideas. Best learning happens when there is conflict.

My key takeaway from his presentation - It is hard to explain and sell what an online PLN to educators until they dive in and experience it.

I had two presentations in the afternoon - one with Peter Simmonds where I did a basic re-run of my parent info night on Student Blogging and another which ended up being a ramble about starting up one's own PLN. It sort of flowed on from Chris's keynote and used the contributions of the educators who added comments to my Kickstarting A PLN post of a few days ago. Thanks, guys! Hopefully, you all get a few more subscribers out of it and a few more voices to add to your network.

Day two tomorrow, and thankfully there will be no candid birthday pics.


It kind of bugs me when I read posts like this and I have concerns about the thinking behind posts like this and this. But before anyone thinks I am taking potshots at these worthy and well meaning folks, think about my point of view here...

... where if face to face is such a big deal, why bother reading and interacting with someone who you are almost certainly never going to meet? Isn't that the whole point about the potential of social media? Connecting to new people, new ideas, collaborating on the basis of shared interests - it doesn't need a f2f meetup to make it all "real", does it?

My chain of thoughts started last year when this sentence from a Steve Dembo post created an itch in my brain:

Warlick looking around the room during the first session and commenting that he was sitting in the middle of his aggregator!

I know that my aggregator would be impossible to ever assemble in one room. I then read a brain teasing post from Ryan Bretag that spawned a comment that has evolved into this post. My parting sentence there went like this:

The way I see it, edubloggers (or tweeters or ningers) are all parts of a very complex ecosystem and how we interact with each other and the conversations we have without ever meeting are more important to re-shaping our worldview and impacting the students and colleagues we work with.

Then last week, I read this post from Lisa Parisi and almost left a comment. Don't get me wrong - I really enjoyed and valued her reflective post. There were only a few sentences there that tie in with this topic.

I knew going to NECC that I was most excited about meeting face to face people in my network. What I didn't realize was just how important that face to face contact is. Jo McLeay is someone I follow in twitter and communicate with at times. But meeting at NECC got us talking about a collaboration. Now we have a plan for a really cool project that will fit in nicely with our geography unit in the fall. I doubt this would have happened without meeting f2f.

(Full disclosure - I have actually met Jo McLeay f2f. But it didn't alter my perspective of her because she is such an authentic writer.) But my thoughts were not coherent (maybe still not) and then Lisa left a comment on my blog and I thought any comment from me might come across as being inconsiderate and dismissive of her point of view. But essentially, it was the same thing that really bothered me. There seems to be an extremely high value placed on a face to face meeting with someone in your network. I'm just wondering if we as adults are struggling with a new paradigm shift - from the f2f workplace (known as school) to the real world where people can and do communicate and collaborate without ever meeting in person. The paranoia in my mind is fuelled by the dawning possibility that maybe online networked educators will place a higher value on the writings, ideas and resources from someone they have "actually met f2f" and ignore others. This was confirmed by a worrying comment on Lisa's post from Susan RoAne, author/professional speaker (her description, not mine) who wrote:

Your enthusiasm and energy are palpable. As a former teacher, I read your blog with some envy. During my days in the classroom, there was no internet to connect us before we met face to face with colleagues who were strangers.

As author of the forthcoming, Face to Face: How To Reclaim the Personal Touch in a Digital World, you validated the premise of my book. With all our online, digitals options, connecting in- person is in-credible.

So, the whole purpose of the internet is to connect people who will inevitably meet face to face? That would make global collaborative projects for students kind of pointless, wouldn't it? Maybe, hermits like me only deserve an aggregator of under a dozen feeds.

Anyway, sort of proving my point just in time, this Tweet from Dean Groom popped up and sort sums up why I think that placing that there is a problem with over-emphasising the f2f interactions that evolve from our networks. For me, meeting someone who I "follow" f2f is the cherry on the cake but it is definitely not the actual cake.


Like Chris Betcher (but to a potentially much smaller audience), I am planning one of my presentations for our annual CEGSA conference. My (somewhat pretentious) title is "Connected Global Professional Learning" and I have 45 minutes to convince some South Australian educators that the best place to learn in a professional context these days is online.

I plan to ask whoever's in front of me, "Who's in your Personal Learning Network?"

I also want to offer the most useful way to create and maintain an online PLN. As part of my plans, I want to show the 2006 model which for me centered around my blog, reading other blogs and commenting. This diagram shows the methodology I employed to great success.

I would propose that a 2007 model would have involved the use of a tool like Twitter or Ning, or a combination of both with blogging. Blogging isn't quite as vital in this model especially if you can find the ideal Ning community - Classroom 2.0 is an outstanding example of this. Twitter also enabled people to gain a sizeable network quickly without a big blog presence - an example is West Australian educator Russel Montgomery who posts at a quality blog without a huge Technorati dent, but has incredible reach with his Twitter network. (If you're reading, Russel, this is a compliment!)

My conundrum starts when contemplating a 2008 model. What would you recommend as the most current way to kickstart a PLN?

Believe me, you'll be credited in my presentation. (Even if more people will read this post and hopefully comment than will be in my session!)

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This post by Cindy Barnesley ties in nicely with this recent news article about the Americanisation of everyday Australian English spoken by young people today.

Cindy writes:

Accents and idiomatic expressions have a powerful appeal and no less so than in Australia, which has its own particular linguistic “flavour”.

The article points out that our unique use of the English language is being changed by the "prestige" of the American way of speaking as seen in movies, music clips, sports broadcasts. Not only the choice of words is changing but the actual pronunciation according to Professor Roly Sussex, a linguistics expert who points out:

"We're now hearing DIS-tribute, RE-search and CIG-arette quite regularly. This is an American pattern we are starting to pick up and follow."

Add to that the fact that we appropriate and use so many phrases from American culture and it means that phrases as found in the Aussie Slang Dictionary could be cultural oddities from the past.

Personally, I think the cartoon show The Simpsons has a lot to answer for in the speech choices of Australian kids over the past decade! When we had an exchange teacher from Colorado at my school, she spent the year describing her life back in the States and having it immediately referenced to an episode involving Bart, Marge or Homer by her students.

The demise of classic Aussie sayings like "drongo" and "fair dinkum" has a lot to do with relevance. Cindy's post quotes the huge influence that a diverse immigrant population has had on our culture. In my own classroom, a significant number of my students hail from a Greek Australian background - using well worn Aussie phrases often produces looks of puzzlement. And why wouldn't it? These are kids of second generation Australians who spent their youth conversing in one language in the playground and then switching back to a mother tongue at home. Enter the era of the internet and while the Aussie accent is probably going to survive for a while longer, what is uttered using that accent is becoming increasingly globalised by the most dominant English speaking culture in the online world.

Sucking stubbies on a stinking hot day might be replaced by draining bottled ales and taking a screamer at the footy might be replaced by the slamdunk on the court. Unless, I'm totally mistaken and have a kangaroo loose in the top paddock!

Image: 'Stubby Holder'


I was hoping to get this up last night so that attendees at my presentation at ALEA08 could access this post as a form of online handout. Edublogs was playing up so that foiled my plans somewhat. So, if you were at my session and have checked back now to see if I was true to my word, I hope that these notes and links are useful. Because my presentation featured student work that I don't wish to share online and contained unscripted demonstrations along the way, I have trimmed the slidedeck down somewhat. I did not get through everything I planned as presenting on a less than solid platform threw the alignment of my loan Teamboard out somewhat. I'd also like to thank my presentation partners in Rod from Era Publications (who invited me to participate on the topic of interactive whiteboards) and Matt from BSS, who brought in the Teamboard and the short throw projector and ensured that all my technical hitches were down to a minimum. Two very cool independent South Australian companies - without any multinational connections or pretensions!

My Abstract:


The Interactive Whiteboard has emerged as a popular tool in classrooms all around Australia enabling the use of digital resources for student learning. This powerful technology allows the teacher to use multimedia, the internet and literacy-based software as part of their literacy program in new and innovative ways. This workshop will showcase some of the ways an experienced classroom teacher has used the IWB in his classroom over the last three years and how his practice has changed along the way. You will see examples of how the IWB can be used for explicit literacy skill teaching, how the interactive components can assist the understanding of concepts and ideas, how the IWB can be a focal point for the modelling of problem solving and the use of key information literacy skills and how the embedding of multimedia (images, sound, animations, interactive activities, video) can enhance student engagement and relevance. Finally, see how the IWB becomes the vehicle for students to take control of their own learning, creating and directing learning opportunities for their peers and using the connection of online tools (read/write or Web 2.0) to reach beyond the physical constraints of their classroom.

My presentation notes (edited to make sense and including links to resources referenced):

My presentation will try to explore the potential between a custom technology tool, the iwb and literacy in the classroom. But first in the spirit of new modern literacies, I'll introduce myself using an idea from University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, using 4 image slides.
What about the iwb? Let's consider the tools at most traditional classroom teachers disposal - whiteboard or chalkboard, teacher's own handwriting and illustrating skills dictate the quality of delivery of content or concepts, some use of OHP, photocopied sheets, exercise books with occasional access to computer suites or pods. Meanwhile, students have started accumulating their own tools as well - mobile phones, USB drives, ipods, SD cards, laptops
all adaptive tools with learning potential but not necessarily serving that function in students' lives. Interestingly, use of these tools are mostly involved in some forms of literacy - visual, digital, musical. Teachers are playing catch up but
technology has started to creep in for teachers - overhead projectors, laptops and sometimes data projectors. The iwb is a specialised education tool - two of the leading companies SMART and Promethean, have education focus - it is not a sideline.
How does the iwb change your classroom? iwb introduces digital content and multimedia, allows teachers to upgrade their presentation standards, content can be presented, altered, manipulated and annotated before being saved as a file. This file represents flexibility - flexibility for re-use, sharing, improvement but ... it is no guarantee of improved teaching. It is my experience is that magnifies teaching practice - good and bad.
The jury is still divided on their overall effect on results -
Whiteboards fail the ultimate test: they don't improve children's test results"
"Many pupils have been turned into "spectators" as teachers use the technology to create faster and more complicated lessons"
My personal journey began in July 2005 - with the iwb installed in my classroom. I also had the pressure of learning to use this tool effectively in my classroom as well as leading out for five other teachers involved in the initial rollout. I started like most teachers - using the iwb as a digital ink version of a whiteboard. It took time to become familiar with the most commonly used tools (pen, eraser, highlighter, typing, reveal, fill bucket, handwriting recognition) and how to save and retrieve files. I eventually started to use some of the more complex tools (ruler, timer, camera) and created flipcharts to help run the school day, also starting to use the objects from the library and sorting through the pre-made resources. I started to spend time creating flipcharts to be used in my own English lesson - trying to incorporate interactivity with digital worksheet activities. (I showed my Apostophes flipchart as an example of my practice at that time.)
Defining interaction and interactivity is actually an important discussion to have - best summed up in this presentation by Jason Denys. One of the key points that Jason makes in this presentation is that iwb is a tool and it is the pedagogy chosen to use with that tool that will make the difference.
"I'm so over flipcharts". - Maria Paladino, 2006.
It didn't take me long to realise that creating detailed flipcharts was not a sustainable way to go. If the goal is tactile interaction, drag'n'drop interaction then online is the place to go. So many resources - digital texts are easier to manipulate. Teachers have been well known for remixing content - fair use comes into play as long as not shared beyond the classroom. I started by using Google to locate resources. "IWB and literacy" - Google search pulls up many repositories of resources. A better place to search is - social bookmarking to save, tag and share literacy and iwb resources. search for iwb and literacy

There are many forms of writing suitable for use on the iwb - explanation, persuasive, poetry, reports, instructions. One example would be to get your students to write in the style of a newspaper article. Show the task, head off to a link and use the annotation tools to discuss, dissect and plan for the students' own writing. iwb is also useful for work on specific English skills - punctuation, grammar, handwriting or word knowledge. An important focus is information literacy - searching (visual search engines like Boolify, Quintura and KartOO) can be easily and explicitly demonstrated.
Interactive Whiteboards make the teaching of Multiliteracies easier - text, still images and moving images. Text - big books, blogs and other social media. (Era link, Project Guttenberg, Wordle) Still images - photojournalism (B
oston Globe Big Picture) Images tell their own story - or do they? (My flipchart using images for communication) Images that can be easily sourced and used are user-generated and shared images from sources like Flickr (flickrstorm, flickrCC) Moving images - this can include advertising, short films, user-generated media, digital stories and presentations. I put them all together to teach a writing genre - fables. (Text, animated versions & video)
iwb as vehicle for student led learning
Showed a student's completed fable - The Grass And The Tree - the iwb was ideal for sharing his work with the class.
Interactive construction of learning - "Can We Make A Difference?" - construction of understanding on a concept, Year 5/6 class seeking to answer the inquiry question using Port River dolphins as the local example to create understanding from - this is a flipchart constructed between teacher, librarian and students over the course of an 8 week unit that involved the use of an excursion. I finished the presentation showing examples from my classroom that fitted under the description of interactive student initiated learning.

As usual, feedback welcome either in the comments or use my contact form on this blog.