Monthly Archives: February 2009


One of my takeaway moments from Mark Treadwell's day earlier this week is the point that we (teachers and the curriculum we are employed to deliver) often expect students to take on concepts and skills that they are not developmentally ready for. We are so focussed on doing more sooner that whether the kids are actually ready for it or not is a secondary question.

Here's an example. Treadwell proposes that in the Year 5 -7 year levels (10 - 13 year olds) that effectively searching the web in the name of "research" is a skill that the majority of these students are not developmentally ready for. Instead, he proposes that smaller groups of pre-picked websites are a more manageable way for students to develop their critical literacy skills. Considering that the vast majority of teachers that I know struggle to use Google in any more than a superficial manner, I'm beginning to warm to this perspective. It would certainly explain why some of the projects that I've overseen with students are just mere collections of assembled digital slabs - as Mark pointed out, it makes cut'n'paste the easiest way to achieve results.

I was all for students following their own choices thinking that the web provides for the variety of source material to provide a quality overview of their chosen topic. But the reality is that many students rarely use more than a handful of sites, usually whatever is on top of their initial Google search and the result is regurgitation, not understanding. Plus 30 kids working on their individual themes means no-one else to discuss things with, no-one else to push and challenge understanding or to even ensure that the information passes muster. Just because the talented kids can construct something useful and informative does not mean it is an effective way to equip kids with effective web skills.

But what I'm interested in is your point of view. Is Google a tool to be embraced with students of all ages or do we take a more scaffolded approach to helping their develop their search and evaluation skills? I'm really torn between my instincts that want to empower kids as soon as possible and the other possibility proposed by Mark's overall picture of the "21st Century Learner" that also reminds us that we don't just keep shovelling in extra stuff for the students to take on board without working out how to make it manageable or to jettison some practices that just aren't needed any more. Please, help me to make sense of this. Where do you sit in this picture or am I missing something that is obvious?



Back in 1999, started to look at concept of Paradigm Shift ; last macro paradigm shift was 500 years ago but we are at the start of a new macro paradigm shift. Mark works mainly with NZ, Ireland and Australia. In 1998, schools were struggling to put technology in but it didn't really make any difference to teaching and learning. However, technology has improved and costs have dropped. 500 years ago, the printing press was invented and lowered the cost of information, saw the emergence of schools, also sparked the Reformation, allowed people to present new ideas, traders travelling overseas brought back new ideas, some monarchies started to pay people to think.

Robert Branson looked at the paradigms associated with education, wrote paper called "The Upper Limit", pointed out that testing was about recall. Books were a finite resource so libraries were used to maximise this resource.

Big difference between knowing and understanding.

Internet dramatically lowers the cost yet again of knowledge - will mature in about 14 years (2020). Books were part of a resource scarce-environment, so we moved into teaching thematically which makes the copy / paste methods of "knowing stuff" very accessible and problematic in the internet era, as information is now anything, anywhere and anytime. What do we actually need to know? Curriculum is full of "stuff to be learnt". Internet offers new efficiencies and gains - it's now not about our teaching, but their learning. Kids need to leave us as lifelong learners - but one mistake we make is that we presume kids know how to listen and how to think.

Massive shift from the majority service sector to the Creative sector.

Thinking ~ we don't spend much time being logical, sensible and rational. We deal with people every day in the classroom so it is important to know that everyone has a unique world view. What concepts do we need kids to understand?  In NZ, the concept of concepts of subjects were kept (backlash from parents) and competencies were open for all NZ teachers to contribute their own ideas (ownership).

Concept > Learning Intention > Contexts > Content > Sustainability.

Personalised learning is all about who's in front of you. How do we get the data to follow the student? NZ uses a LMS (3 vendor options for NZ schools) for 24/7 access via a login and access to updated student data, reducing the need for teacher written reports. Pointed out that with today's swing back to high stakes testing there seems to be a belief that if something can't be assessed, it doesn't tend to be valued in schools. However, we need to explicitly teach CONCEPTS, not focus solely on the content.

The central vision statement in the NZ curriculum is "confident, connected, actively involved lifelong learners".

Inquiry Learning - Mark demonstrated how inquiry is broken into a developmental process appropriate to specific age levels. He gave an example of kindergartens using mobile phones to pixt images to their profile on the LMS, the parents then get a txt message to inform them that their child's profile has been updated. Interestingly, Mark's model does not have the students searching the internet as teachers handpick sites for student use, in order to build up critical literacy, teachers need to review pre-chosen resources.

Final points re: inquiry according to Mark:

  • the process is the most important component
  • keep building on throughout the years in school
  • very social process, technological process
  • be aware of the developmental process of the kids - if you are running around too much, then what you are doing isn't really working.

FOOTNOTE: After stirring the pot with a few staff members re: the limited future of the book, I then bought my own copy of "Whatever" from Mark. Yeah, yeah, call me a hypocrite. I've been called worse.

The Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd has decided that in this time of financial uncertainty that stimulus money should be spent - and spent rather quickly. Although I'm not sure that improving schools was not the motivation, no one I know is complaining that we are the beneficiaries of some major spending for ... well, the first time I can remember in my teaching career. Mainly primary schools are the recipients of the BER money and I'm in the unusual but possibly not unique position of having a say and seeing how two schools address this opportunity. My own school (where I work) qualifies for $3 million for a major project and the school where my kids go will have a $2.5 million windfall.

An APPA letter emailed out to schools today reveals the priority the government has for this "revolution":

The Commonwealth has clearly identified priorities.  They are:
1)    Libraries.
2)    Multipurpose halls (could be large covered areas, or have a capacity for sport or performing arts).
3)    Classroom block / replacement of demountables.
4)    Refurbishment of hall/library/classroom block building or another building.
5)    If school has all of the above, negotiations may include early childhood centres but they must be an integrated part of a primary school and childcare must not be a major part of the role.

But as usual, there are catches because the PM wants all of this to stimulate the economy now, speed is of the essence. Decisions about what schools will want need to be made by mid-March with the first priority choice projects starting constrcution by mid-year. To speed things along, schools have been given plans and details of recent pre-existing buildings with the theory that these will need the minimum of planning approvals and can be partially pre-fabricated en masse. So if a school in South Australia wants a new Resource Centre / Library, there is a choice to be made - choice A or choice B, photos from existing DECS sites and plans on CD-ROM. But as my principal points out, you can do what you like with the interior so the lack of choice for the exterior isn't such a big deal. What is a big deal is the opportunity to get a major building project done in a comparatively short timeframe with money available that I've not seen at any stage in my teaching career. So principals are canvassing staff and parents, attending roadshow events - our premier Mike Rann called a day event at the Adelaide Convention Centre and invited principals and Governing Council reps to unveil all of this.

I actually get to have my say in two venues - one as a staff member at the school of my employment and as a Governing Council member at my children's school. I fired off my opinion to my kids' principal and fellow GC members. This also represents one of the only chance for schools to get rid of those dreadful portable buildings that seem to plague so many sites in this state - miss the boat on this one and if a school goes to the state government at a future time to talk about replacing these furnace/freezer boxes (depending on the season) that I currently teach in, they'll be saying, "You had your chance with the BER money." I'd love to see a wireless "21st Century style" Resource Centre at both schools that I have close links to - and the long term pipe dreams can actually become a reality within the next three years in the schools can look past the compromises that need to be brokered. Still, unless you are a well financed private school (and they get their cut of the stimulus money but don't get me started on that) then compromising on the ideal is something public educators are already well used to.


Although I didn't make the effort to blog about this last year, going to an all day event with Mark Treadwell (sponsored by ACEL) was an excellent learning opportunity. Mark describes himself as a travelling scholar and his session focussed on explaining much of the research and concepts of his book "Whatever!" retitled to "School v2.0" for the Australian market. My principal, Ann and I went along knowing not much than his book title expecting that it might have been about Web 2.0 tools in education but we were pleasantly wrong. Instead Mark gave us a big picture of what he refers to as the replacement for the 400 year old Book Based Paradigm, the Internet Based Paradigm. He used his experiences in the New Zealand education sector to talk through the challenges faced by schools today and how NZ has sought to meet these challenges. Of course, the government has changed hands since his 2008 visit and now, so the established direction and priorities of the MOE might have changed course somewhat.

Anyway, we were sufficiently impressed by Mark's work and both Ann and I agreed that his message was one that all of our teachers needed to hear. The phrase 21st Century Learning gets bandied around a lot in education circles but Mark Treadwell's overall synthesis in both his presentation and book is the most complete and defined that I've come across. So, Ann asked him at the end of his session when he was next due through our neck of the woods and secured his services for a staff PD day. That happens next Monday in conjunction with three other schools. I've been reading a few of the chapters from his book in preparation and phrased up a number of focus questions for our staff to consider and respond to during the day.

  • What are signs in our work life that the Internet Paradigm is having an effect ?
  • What are some practices in our schools that are decreasing in value because of the internet?
  • What challenges does all of this present to our school?
  • What personal challenges does all of this present to you?

Mark Treadwell has a number of comprehensive websites with a lot of supporting materials for his book. I know he's not the only visionary promoting and pushing for meaningful change to the education system (although he did mention that he despairs at the prospect of change at the university level where practices are even more entrenched than in primary and secondary schools) but if we are looking for relevant possible courses for action here in South Australia, then the New Zealand experience is far closer to us in school culture and values than other national change initiatives. If we are to believe those nation education ranking systems that regularly place Finland in the number one spot, then us Aussies in fifth spot are better to take our lead from the nearest competitor in fourth spot, the near neighbours in NZ rather than take advice from someone like Joel Klein from another country back in about twelfth spot.


At the start of a new school year I like to recall a key phrase my friend and team teaching partner of eight years, Lindsay used to say as we got our middle school programs up and running. "Make haste slowly'', was his reminder that in a system that annually reconfigures and juggles pre-adolescent kids into groups of thirty, taking the time to let them settle as a new group, establish routines and expectations is more important than launching head first into meeting explicit curriculum goals. Of course, an innovative teacher can subtly combine the two elements but it's a big mistake to think that getting a spelling program or unit of mathematics started is a bigger priority than working on the classroom agreement, personal goal setting for the year and generally scoping out the social and learning dynamics of the new classroom.

So, after Parent/Teacher interviews, helping to set up two days on student leadership, type up a class newsletter, initial testing, establishing class meeting procedures, negotiating an Agreement about class rules and formulating a class vision and setting up numerous other little tasks that add up to a chunk of time, I sincerely hope that I don't continue to work at this pace for the remainder of 2009. It's one thing to be working hard and feeling ke you're getting somewhere towards the top of the pile but when every piece of "spare time" goes towards this constant state of re-invention instead of watching the occasional television program (I did get to see the first episode of Underbelly on Friday after recording it on Monday), reading a book (Here Comes Everybody would be better titled Here Comes Nobody as it languishes on the bedside table) or even responding to some of my favourite edubloggers. As I remarked to my tandem teaching partner, Kim and next door co-planning buddy, Maria, "I hope we find some sort of rhythm soon or we're gonna be stuffed by Easter."

Anyway, I'd better get ready for my CEGSA meeting which will be followed by an appearance at my school's Governing Council's AGM. Although after one meeting after school and a quick dash to my youngest son's school to meet his teacher, I'm not sure when this slowdown is going to occur!

P.S. Turns out my CEGSA meeting is not for another week. Shame I didn't work this out earlier - building Speed Racer Lego vehicles with my youngest would have been a more enjoyable option.

Social media has dramatically improved how we report and document devastating events like the weekend's Victorian bushfires. But it still doesn't reduce the tragedy, the destruction or human's ability to control the most devastating element of all. Fires have raged across the Australian continent for eons - Aboriginal people knew that fire was part of the cycle of life and it was actually a cleansing force, sparking renewed growth on the landscape.

So after two years of drought, a fortnight of extreme temperatures and telling wind changes that caught residents and firefighters off guard, we have one of Australia's worst disasters. Not that it is anyone's fault (except in the case of deliberate arson) but the age old threat of bushfire is one that those who live in these heavily forested areas will always have to counter.

The most devastating fires are still burning as I write - a Channel Nine news special is showing the areas still under threat. About the only thing I can do from my comfortable lounge perch here in Adelaide is to post this badge and encourage anyone who feels moved to click and donate. (Thanks KerryJ).


USB drives
USB sticks
USB keys

These handy devices have become an indispensable tool for students at my school and until now the teachers have relied on the willingness of students to bring their own USB drives to and from the classroom to complete much of the digital work set in assignments. I know that it is almost impossible to get all of the tasks I set done within our limited computing room time and laptop access, and motivated students use their USB drives to continue work on slideshows, documents and other digital projects. But as these devices have jumped in capacity and power, and dived in price, other complicating issues have emerged.

With the ability to run executable programs directly from the USB drive, students are using their device to store portable applications, run flash games, store sizeable music collections and maintain personal libraries of images and videos. But what is stored is not always suitable for the school environment - songs with questionable lyrics and even more questionable LimeWire based origins, violent or politically incorrect games and video content and the increased likelihood of viruses and trojans being released onto the school network via some of the "fun" applications.

Anyway, my school has been working on a possible solution that still permits the use of USB drives in our school environment. It is not fair to expect that kids use their personal devices for school purposes so we will be supplying a smaller capacity drive (1GB) for purchase at a low price complete with school logo specifically for use between home and school. I'd personally like to give them away but tight budgets and Government tax requirements make that a difficult proposition. Now I am not naïve enough to believe that this will eliminate all potential for the problems described above but it gives the eLearning Committee here the power to prescribe the use of USB drives in our Technology Users Agreement for our students.

Now what I'm also interested in is how other schools have tackled the issue of student USB drives within the school environment. Has there been any risks or problems identified? How have you resolved these issues? Any advice or any holes in our strategy as outlined above?

Image: 'flash-drive'