Monthly Archives: January 2009


One of the first inquiry units we have on the planner for 2009 is called ''Myself As A Learner". All classes are meant to be exploring this theme in the first fortnight and as part of our professional tuning in we had a couple of staff members run us through a "Learning Preferences" survey which we shared informally.  This one came from the John Joseph book ''Your Amazing Brain" which charted preferences on a four way axis that listed the following - Dynamic Learner, Innovative Learner, Procedural Learner and Analytic Learner. I remember doing a similar exercise quite a few years  ago at a Julia Atkin workshop - it would be interesting to see how that diagram stacks up against my latest version. Anyway, the teacher running the session pointed us towards some more of these surveys available online.

It shows how much this concept of "Learning Styles" is unconsiously accepted as gospel by teachers when my learning team colleagues decided that getting students to do some of these online surveys and analyse themselves as learners would be a great idea. So, today I started to look at some of the links and to bookmark a number  of them when I found my own delicious bookmark to Professor Dan Willingham's video "Learning Styles Don't Exist". This was one of those I'll-get-back-to-it-when-I-have-time bookmarks so I watched it through and pondered its perspective with what I was planning to do with my new batch of students. Now the video is very thought provoking (and I know it had been discussed at length by many of  the edublogosphere's deepest thinkers about six months ago) but the good thing about the internet is I don't have to only listen / view  /read / experience to just one perspective.

I found Chris Craft's post which led me to Matthew Tabor's thought provoking post which critiqued another perspective which was well worth the read. This gave me the chance to read some varying educators' opinions going beyond the "you must cater for learning styles in your classroom" mantra that I see blindly accepted in many classrooms. (Mine included for much of my career but truth be known I think that I tended to operate on the common sense approach rather than formally set up learning approaches catering for a particular learning style.) Students give varying abilities and skill levels into their classroom and we all have activities we prefer over others in terms of learning but to state that a particular learning style is the best way any one student can learn does not gel with what I've seen in my twenty plus years in the classroom. I recall a big push on learning style analysis a few years ago back when my then school was part of the Blackwood Hills Middle  Schooling Cluster. We were given a number of paper questionnaires and surveys in order to identify our middle school students' learning styles with the hint that we would use this information to customise a relevant curriculum for young adolescents. What  I tended to find was that these surveys were informative for the individual in recognising their learning preferences in both formal and informal circumstances but not once did I cluster the learners of one style into one group and design learning activities and curriculum around that identified style. I have a feeling that back in 2000/01, that was what the leadership driving the Cluster were after. Plus my thoughts at the time were along the lines of if we spend all our time tailoring teaching and learning to kids' strengths, then how do they develop competency in their areas of weakness?

I know it paints a picture of a sheep like teaching force but generally we tend to accept methodologies and approaches without too much question as long as we hear the phrase "the research says." Why else would consultants who merely collate and present the pockets of thought and research become known as "brain experts" or "learning styles gurus"? And then there is the disconnect as described to me by a local education researcher between a teacher's stated beliefs about education and their actual classroom practice. Which is exactly why it is important for people like Dan Willingham to challenge our automatic mindset - even if we disagree, it sends readers searching for what they actually believe happens in the process of learning.

So back to the unit. My tandem and co-planning teaching partners and I are going to strategically use a number of these online measurement tools with our students. The goal is have them take a reasonable sample, collect the results via screenshots and look through them for an overall picture of their learning preferences (note the careful choice of terminology) in a bid to help them gain more insight into their own perception of "Myself As A Learner." The accumulated results should also give me some insight into the group as a whole and help the students to appreciate each other's differences and contributions as we start build the 2009 LA20 learning community.


Thought I'd put some of my contributions to one of the PLP Nings up on my blog as it is worth cataloging here for future reference.

Discussion in my blogging forum / early January.

It took me a couple of years before I was sure enough about blogging as a vehicle for learning in my classroom but in 2008, my students were involved in a very successful blogging program. Each student had an individual blog which was linked to a main classroom blog. I was hoping that this would become a learning community and over time, with the right nurturing, I believe that is what happened. I've blogged about this process in greater detail on my own blog.

My colleagues in my learning team also started individual blogs for their students but they seemed to peter out midway through the year. There are a number of factors that I believe caused that and the next group of teachers taking on this age group this year will learn from that. Every community has its leaders and if you as teacher can identify these students at an early stage then you can encourage and praise their work so that they lead the way and model the potential. Moderating their comments regularly shows the students that you value their interaction. One area I'd like to improve in 2009 is injecting my own comments into their posts on a more regular basis. One or two students really took that role on their own accord - one girl posted more than 100 comments for her 29 classmates over the course of the year.

Now blogging and writing in this way is not motivating for all students but I think I had greater take up from the students knowing that their blogs were not being formally assessed. A few reluctant boys (in terms of their writing) certainly improved in their output and became more conscious of proofreading their efforts because they knew an audience was reading. A core group of students have continued to post and comment during the holidays which is our major summer break right now down under. It is a real pleasure to know that they value and want to use this tool in developing their written voice - and most of the kids doing the writing will not be in my 2009 class!

Follow up comment / just a few minutes ago.

Things have been very quiet and I haven't been putting any new discussion up for a while so I thought I'd just pop in and give you all a bit of an update on my classroom blogging program. We've just started the new school year here in Australia in the middle of a heatwave (5 days in a row over 40 deg C / 100 deg F!!!) and most of my 2008 class have moved next door with my trusted colleague, Maria. But it was interesting to watch my little blogging community over the holiday break and see who was still contributing and how. A small group of students kept commenting and posting over the summer break - one student posted 16 times (which beat me easily) and contributed many comments for other active bloggers and trying to draw other less active bloggers into the conversation. Regularly during the week, I'd have a number of comments to approve and I tried to make sure I did so promptly so that the conversation would continue. And when one of most reluctant writers posted about - - (because of the great support the kids had built up for each other) I felt that the time and effort to help these kids connect and respect each other through their writing was worth it.


Whilst flicking from one task to another I've been checking out some of the "Videos We Like" on Vimeo. I didn't know much about Vimeo until Dan Meyer did his dy/av series and hosted his awesome summer series (during our wintertime) there in mid 2008. He's pointed to a few since then and I find it's more of an arty hangout for filmmakers of varying types and small ad agencies. So, I'm poaching an idea directly from Dan and asking a simple question:

What could you do with this in a classroom?

Suddenly from Magnus Engsfors on Vimeo.

Or this?

lost in a moment from dennis wheatley on Vimeo.

The quality is way better than YouTube and there seems to be less wading through the junk to get to the interesting stuff. But maybe that's just me. These will look great on the interactive whiteboard - but in what context?


Well, we've started back at school this week and I have to admit, everything feels like a continuation from last year and across the state, the basic way school gets done will be pretty much the same way it's been done for quite a while now. The changes at our school are subtle and not all that obvious to the casual observer but there are tell tale signs on the new teachers' faces as they suffer information overload about inquiry learning, interactive whiteboards, co-planning and You Can Do It. I must admit that I enjoy the fact that we are a school pushing forward to improve what we offer our students but it can be a bit of a culture shock for the newcomers from less frantic settings.

And if, as some prominent edubloggers propose, we need a learning revolution it will come as a complete surprise for many of those schools and educators. When most Aussie teachers hear the word "revolution" associated with education, they think of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's Digital Education Revolution. With the unfortunate acronym of DER and plenty of scepticism about the actual vision and subsequent implementation, the whole idea of "revolution" has lost most of its punch down under. Then when our Federal Education Minister starts looking back over her shoulder for ways to improve the Australian education system by inviting controversial New Yorker Joel Klein to provide advice on how to move our schools forward, then the "revolution" terminology starts to look somewhat farcical.

The internet hasn't transformed Australian education - yet. In general, it hasn't transformed Australian educators either but that's not to say it isn't possible. But change is slowly happening with the few of us pushing the web as a participatory learning platform tending to be steady small scale influencers rather than being Che Guervera-like figures.  After all, no-one wants to get fired. It's much more evolutionary than anything else.

So, I find phrases like "I'm Here For The Learning Evolution" to be mildly irritating. Much of the conversation surrounding this tends to focus on the deficiencies of one country's education system (which ironically us Aussies consider for improvements to our system!) and when I look at how few K-12 educators are even using the web for their own learning, how can they even get their unknowing colleagues on board for a people's revolution they don't even know exists?

In 2009, I'll just keep evolving my practice and do my best to help my disconnected colleagues to plug into the potential. Sorry, Wes. Count me out.


Found this article in the local paper today about an Adelaide phenomenon (although probably not restricted to my city) where parents of school age children are positioning themselves for access to zoned (read popular) public schools by purchasing or renting housing within the school zones. As noted in the comments, the post reads a bit like a plug for local real estate agents but does highlight some of the thinking or perceptions by families in suburban Adelaide.

Brock Harcourt's chief executive Greg Moulton said homes in sought-after primary school zones had become particularly popular in the months since the effects of the global financial downturn became pronounced.

"I think people have started to re-evaluate their finances and they're looking for value for the dollar in every aspect of their lives," he said.

"Children's education remains an extremely high priority and they're trying to do the right thing by their kids."

Toop & Toop managing director Anthony Toop said interest from younger families wanting to buy in popular primary school zones had increased dramatically this month.

Now, I teach at one of these "popular" primary schools and from observation, I think that many of these decisions aren't actually based on educational standards. I'm not saying that this is the thinking of all parents but it seemed for some, merely the impression that a place is desirable or hard to get into (courtesy of zones¹) has some figuring that popularity equals quality. Sometimes it's because of the neighbourhood which has some parents thinking that there will be less bad influences in the school yard. It's what my previous principal called "parents with middle class aspirations for their children." A quality curriculum and quality teaching seem more a bonus rather than characteristics actively sought from a school.

Of course, the newspaper editorial doesn't quite see things my way. From an outsider's, journalistic point of view, this is what's actually happening:

FAMILIES moving house to ensure entry to particular public primary schools should be good news for the State Government. It is proof that if schools provide high academic standards, good outcomes for their students and involve the community, then parents will embrace public education.

This alone should remind the Government of the benefits of properly funding schools and the public education system. At the same time, governments should ensure that those schools are accountable to parents in a transparent way.

If this means more open school reports, rewards for better-performing teachers and better resources for schools, then state and federal governments should not shy away.

The long-term benefits to society of a strong, rigorous and quality public education system are immeasurable.

Australia has a public education system of which it is justifiably proud.

Those responsible for managing and implementing our system of public schooling should have nothing to fear from fair, accurate and balanced measurement of educational standards.

My view from the inside is a little different. Does anyone else have something similar happening in their neck of the woods?

¹ Zones are artificial borders drawn around a school to define an intake area from where students are guaranteed enrolment. Students from beyond those borders are denied or given enrolement at the discretion of the school, although I've been told that this isn't really legally enforceable.


I've really enjoyed this holiday break, spending as much time as possible with my wife and sons. We've been to the beach, seen some movies, bought icecream, played board games, shopped for DS game bargains and the time has just been a fantastic time out after the intensity of the 2008 school year. But six weeks zips by pretty fast and although I've tried to keep tabs on my personal learning, there have been evenings where I've veged out and watched a DVD series with my wife or gone and had a hour or so on the Playstation. If it wasn't for the fact that I'm involved in a couple of PLP cohorts as an "Expert Voice" (OK, you can stop laughing now) I may have been happy to put the PLN on hold. After all, it is always there, a living stream of information and people that is constantly interconnecting and growing.

At the moment, I have one minor project on the go and that is preparing a presentation I've been asked to do on Web 2.0 Tools In The Classroom for a group of schools next Thursday afternoon. The interesting thing about this particular group of educators is that their schools will combine in the near future to become one of the new "superschools" planned by our State Government. This day is part of their moving forward, becoming one cohesive group with a shared concept of what their new school will be like. Most of the sites are based in low  income, high unemployment suburbs and the new school is supposed to be an improved opportunity for education not possible with the current situation of smaller schools. The invited speakers are all presenting about the envisioned future of South Australian education, including a link up to Dan Buckley, UK personalised learning expert. I've been given an afternoon slot of 45 minutes, with a small audience of primary and middle school teachers who presumably are new to the idea of using social media tools in the classroom. That's been fun but hard work to do because it feels like going over old ground all the time - blogs, wikis, social networking, 21st century learning, digital footprint, blah blah bah - but I have to remember that the vast majority of this audience will only have a beginner's perspective and won't have all of the reference points (Friedman's The World Is Flat, anyone?) that have helped me to become very comfortable in this space as a learner and (in my opinion) a reasonably astute judge of possibilities in the classroom. I'll post the presentation here with audio if I remember and any other links of relevance. Like I said, for many of you who I connect with on a regular (or even irregular basis) this will be old ground. And I just might refer anyone from that presentation audience over to Jennifer Jones' Onramp series which looks fantastic for beginners and experienced educators online and will deliver key concepts and resources in a more digestible fashion than my 45 minute sprint.

I hope to finish that task by the end of this week and then I'll start thinking about the 2009 school year. I have really given my brain a big holiday in this area and I would say outright that I do not really know how or what I will teach this year. I start another three year appointment as Coordinator with an impressive title of Teaching & Learning Technologies Coordinator. Our DECS ICT grant has helped to provide for an additional day out of the classroom and I'm excited about that time being spent working directly with teachers, their students and our technology. But that means I am only in the classroom for three days out of the five and sharing a classroom with a tandem partner is always an exercise in compromise. So there is no point getting too carried away with plans for say a mathematics or reading program when I still need to meet with Kim (who doesn't really know what she is in for) and carve up our collective responsibilities management and curriculum wise. Add in the fact that with inquiry learning units need to be co-planned with Maria next door, it is easy to see that this is where experience can be beneficial in working quickly and efficiently to get a new classroom off to a successful, focussed start. I have a composite class of Year 6/7 this year with ten students from 2008 carrying on from Year 6 to Year 7 in 2009. That is always a plus in my book as these kids tend to make the core of student leadership within the classroom community, setting a positive atmosphere where kids can take risks and flourish.

I think that I have operated this way for most of my classroom career, always in a state of constant re-invention. Resources, printed or digital, tend to be rewritten or edited as units of work are never the same. I always maintain that the day I can't be bothered doing something fresh and new with my class (very occasional and exceptional times of pressure and constraints excepted), it will be time to give up teaching. We work in a system that grants a lot of creative freedom to teachers in curriculum interpretation - if the profession does not embrace that as a strength, it will be seen by our critics as a weakness to be "cured." Over the next few weeks I'll post a few more times about this preparation process and identify a few goals for my year ahead. I'll also try to share more the resources I create along the way for others to remix and adapt. But for now, this post will help get the ball rolling in the right direction.

... if Web 1.0 was about translating the pre-digital world into digital while maintaining familiar structures and formats...

...and Web 2.0 is about flattening the playing field, allowing anyone with a connection to become author, critic, friend, artist, entrepeneur, journalist, inventor or creator ...

...then it seems that Web 3.0 might be when the powers that be get the vaccum cleaner out and try and suck the genie back into the bottle...


Joanne and I had a rare afternoon going to see a movie down at Glenelg without the kids for our fifteenth wedding anniversary. One of the simple pleasures was just having a wander around the bookstores in Jetty Road without the worry or pressure of the boys - just browsing and checking out exactly what was of interest. I don't get to read that many of the recommended reads from my PLN simply because Aussie bookstores stock very few of those titles. One book did catch my eye, a book that I remember Kim Cofino recommending called No Logo by Naomi Klein, and I purchased it. That still amazes me that an American teacher working in Bangkok can recommend a book to read for me here in Adelaide. Another book by Seth Godin grabbed my attention but at around A$35.00 for the hardcover, I only glanced at it briefly. The blurb on the back was enough to help me understand where I've been going wrong on this blog for quite a while.

I've been really struggling with this blog for some time now. Posts have not come easily for the last six months or so and I haven't felt like that I've had anything important to write for quite a while. It wasn't quite blogger's block but a sense of that the longer I left this space alone, the greater chance of it turning into one of those blogs that gradually becomes one of those spots in the aggregator where after a while you notice, "Well, that person hasn't posted for a long time. Wonder if they will ever post again or should I just unsubscribe?"

(Footnote: Rachel Boyd, if you're reading, your blog is one that I'd love to read again on a regular basis.)

What I got from the back of Seth's book is that a blog is a place to write about ideas. I reckon that would be a good starting point to get back to writing here on a regular and passionate basis like I was a year or so ago. I don't have to wait until I have achieved something of interest in the classroom, have a grand theory relating to the role of technology or a new Web 2.0 tool to evaluate.

I just need to write about an idea. No more fretting about the worth of my thoughts. No more waiting until I have enough background. My readers will help to fill in the gaps and point out the gaps in my thinking. For now, it's time to simplify my expectations for this blog and focus on one thing.

My idea.

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When ken rodoff launched his Edublogs Awards bid, he established his campaign site using a platform that I had not come across before - Weebly. It is actually an extremely popular blogging platform with over one million users already. (I can hear readers thinking out loud, "He's only found out about Weebly now!?")

Anyway, I decided to set up a site to have a go at this microblogging concept. My idea to add in bite sized chunks of web content and thoughts that fall outside the parameter of this blog which is mainly focussed on the professional side of my life. I don't expect that many people will be that all that interested in the minor things that catch my fancy but it is interesting to play with a new platform and see how it stacks up against a familiar technology like WordPress.

Like Stephen Downes said yesterday, I don't need to spend time describing how to use it or dissect its features when I can just link to or embed the appropriate resources.

I noticed that it doesn't easily allow for embedding of single Flickr images or have any method of comment moderation so I'm not sure that I'd use it in the classroom. But the click and type in the editor feature is pretty handy and has a shorter learning curve than the WordPress dashboard.

Anyway, you can check out Graham Wegner - Mix & Mash if you want a short snack sized break from my edtech ramblings and see if Weebly is a worthwhile new format for blogging.