Monthly Archives: April 2009


The way I plan for my teaching has changed a lot over the past few years. This really was obvious today as my wife, Joanne, planned for her two days of teaching this week in the manner that I did not so long ago - writing out lesson plans by hand, cross referencing her resource books and creating some resources by jumping on the family desktop and printing it off ready for the photocopier. To be fair, she is just returning to teaching this year after five or so years out of the classroom (and we all know that the world has changed just a tad in that time) and she is teaching five-year-olds while I'm at the other end of the primary school spectrum. So, I thought I'd take ten minutes now and detail how planning digitally grants me flexibility and opportunity that was not possible in the past.

Firstly, I have the luxury of a school laptop. This means I can operate wirelessly wherever I feel comfortable around the house. I construct my program on a private wiki shared with my tandem partner and co-planning buddy - this enables transparency, collaboration, pooled resources and consistency in what we deliver in the classroom. We share documents, URL's and flipcharts via this wiki. I have all of my key documents on my hard drive and backed up on my 8GB thumbdrive. So, if I want to check if I have the laptops booked for my Literacy session on Monday, I can pull that document up in seconds. Likewise, if I want to see if there is a spare slot to take my class to the Resource Centre, I can also have that for checking in an instant.

Our Inquiry Scope and Sequence document is readily available, as are my PDF versions of SACSA, our mandated curriculum. So today, I quickly checked what the next inquiry unit was, briefly read the relevant outcomes from the SACSA Lite PDF and did a quick search on YouTube to see if I could find anything that suited the theme of human effects on the planet which is the broad concept behind the title of "Whose Fault Is It?" The YouTube search found a clip from a CNN documentary titled "Planet In Peril" which gave me a new lead to follow.

I found the website, and the Google Video version, which I know won't cope with our school filter and internet speed at school, so in the spirit of educational purpose, I started Vuze on the main desktop and started to download a torrent of the documentary so I could show excerpts tomorrow on the interactive whiteboard. This doco would be an ideal resource for "frontloading" students with ideas, base knowledge and questions for their own independent research later in the term. I also mentally noted the RSS feeds on the original website and fired off an e-mail to my colleagues about this find and then saved it to my delicious account.

I've been reading Dan Meyer's blog - in particular his refit of a Darren Kuropatwa mathematics lesson - and with this in mind started planning one of my own on the concept of measurement in metres. Another concept that needs to be covered is scale drawing, so I used Google Maps to get a decent screengrab of the school for a introductory lesson based on the BER intiative. I dumped this into a flipchart for the IWB and into a worksheet that could be given out to the students. With this image safely stowed, I posed the problem that will logically require some conceptual measurement skills and then headed over to the DECS website to download plans for new libraries and classroom blocks which I'm hoping someone tomorrow is going to point out as a requirement to successfully meet the assigned challenge.

With all of these plans detailed on the wiki and saved, I decided to write this post. Time now for some tortilla wraps for the family evening meal, then back after tea to insert some links here and then to assess last term's final inquiry assessment tasks which are sitting waiting for me on my students' blogs. If I don't get distracted doing other things, that is.


One of the biggest challenges in implementing this concept of "life long learners" is not just changing the mindset of the teachers in our classrooms but the students as well. Many of them have well established expectations of how school should play out and for many of them, being a "good kid" and following instructions was the recipe for learning success. What progressive educators see as steps to empower the learning process, some students see as a huge threat to their perceived version of the status quo. In our upper primary classrooms at my school, we are trying to keep that shift going with the way we structure our learning program.

The shift is subtle but our students are feeling it.

Generally, they are pretty good. The students enjoy the freedoms in their personal blogs, the tasks that give them opportunity to be creative and make choices to demonstrate their understanding of the concepts and knowledge covered and most are enthused about the opportunity to be the leaders in the student community of the school. Things aren't quite as bad as over at ken's school:

Don't tell me to create. How about you create something? Instead, you're dumping your own lack of preparation on me and every other student in this classroom. I show up, I do my job. That's what it's been about. That's what it's all about. Honestly, I'm not sure what you're trying to accomplish.

But our new High Flyer program has thrown a few of them into a tizzy. This is our Year Seven high achievement recognition program for the kids in their final year of primary school. The actual High Flyer certificates pre-date my involvement at the school but was essentially a teacher-driven award system - the criteria was drawn up by the teachers who then made judgement calls about how the students measured up to them. The teachers were doing the heavy lifting - while the students benefitted by playing the role of "good student" in order to gain recognition. A very traditional approach but one that was definitely in a major need of re-alignment to our school focus of inquiry and collaborative learning. Maria, Kim and I decided to turn things around by grabbing the 18 Qualities of a Lockleys North Graduate and have the students provide evidence of their achievment of these Qualities. Here's a sample of our new approach as lifted directly from our private planning wiki.

The 2009 High Flyer is based on the 18 Qualities of an LNPS Graduate. As students are encouraged and supported to take charge of their own learning, the High Flyer Award is designed for students to take ownership of their own achievements. The students will collate and present evidence of these Qualities. (instigated by students, book time with their teachers, onus on the student to self manage)

The self managing part is the part that some students immediately found difficultly in grappling with. For example, one quality calls for students to "Participate in and support activities as reliable team members, encouraging spectators, and ‘good sports’". We gave the kids four possible options for evidence (they had to choose two or create their own) including this one - Written supportive statement of involvement from PE teacher.

The students with initiative, the ones who we really want to be winning these awards, created their own statement, putting their own performance under the perspective microscope of Mr. G, our PE teacher, typed it up and approached him for a signature if he agreed with their statement. Into the folder of evidence it went.

But others were more literal and fell back into the "teacher needs to do it for me" mode. Maria and I had an interesting but frustrating conversation with a student from her class (whom I had taught in 2007 and 2008, so I may have been part of the problem) where she just couldn't get past the fact that she was responsible for ensuring that the evidence was there for us to assess.

"But I've emailed Mr. G twice and asked him to write me a statement."

"Imagine if he has to do that for all 51 Year Sevens. You need to show some initiative like Pavlo over here who wrote his own statement."

"Oh ... maybe I should write Mr. G a reminder note and put it in his pigeonhole."

"No, you're missing the point! You can write it yourself and Mr. G can sign off on it."

"But how can I do that? How do I know how I've been in PE lessons?"

You get the picture. Hopefully, this will also eliminate the visit from the one irate parent who is upset that their darling child has not gotten the High Flyer certificate because they are a "good kid". Enough with the good kids - we want motivated, self-improving students - otherwise, the life long learning will never happen unless a teacher is holding their hands.


I finally splashed out the other weekend and bought an iPod Touch, even going so far as to buy the 32 GB version. I had some thank you money from my involvement in PLP over the summer, our prime minister is encouraging Australians to spend their way out of the recession and I was curious to get a little taste of what the Mac zealots were always carrying on about. Well, it is a very enjoyable toy but my first impressions after nearly a fortnight of use is that it is really a consumption tool, as opposed to a creativity tool. I mean, I am tapping out this post rather painfully right now while this sort of task was considerably easier on my old Pocket PC using a stylus and hand writing recognition.
There's no doubt that it has liberated a fair bit of music from my old CD collection but now I need to buy a converter to liberate my extensive cassette tape collection and help fill up this little contraption. We'll also see how it goes picking up stray wi-fi next week on our family holiday in Melbourne.
Hmmmm.....maybe there is a Macbook Pro in my future even though I don't see how Mac loving Windows critics can claim any form of moral superiority when two proprietary systems square off against each other.

-- Post From My iPod Touch


I had the chance to attend a MasterClass for leaders presented by Teaching Australia, a group who have produced documents detailing professional standards for teachers and leadership. The session was led by Professor Mike Gaffney, and the MasterClass was a sort of face to face entree for a book "Leading Schools In The Digital Age", co-edited by Mal Lee and himself. What follows in this post are my notes from this MasterClass.

Mike Gaffney (Australian Catholic University) opened with a warning for us to beware of ICT gurus, as most educators fall between these people and those who are referred to as "technological luddites". He then introduced the main speaker for the morning.

Graham Speight is the principal of Rosetta High School in Tasmania, an innovative school embracing the digital age. His school have never had problems getting computers (referred to as "boxes"), has turned everything into a "project". Can't have a five year plan for technology integration because everything moves so fast - it needs to be person-to-person, with interaction and the technology follows behind. Staff have to be comfortable with the concept that everything is constantly moving.

Referred to the concept of space - virtual space, intellectual space and physical space for students. Talked about three stages of implementation - ADAPT > ENHANCING > ACCELERATED LEARNING. Key quote "It's all about thinking." Referenced the use of Renzulli's Triad. Talked about the concept of personalised learning, in their case through the use of StudyWiz (Tasmanian company online learning system), students demonstrating their achievement through exhibition. School also established a partnership with Dataworks. Interestingly, Graham mentioned the use of interactive whiteboards, but that most teachers have moved through and past IWB. Maths and Science teachers were still the biggest users but others have moved onto other ICT possibilities. He also said that this year is the last time his school are doing printed reports - through StudyWiz they are reporting all of the time.

The big focus is Project Based Learning where students participate in one of two programs - "Make It Big", a program that is diverse to capture kids who may normally have dropped out of school and "Make It Real" for the majority with focus on community service, personal challenge and future work related. When new staff come on board, they are very daunted so it is important to have good induction processes. Why projects? Because projects have an END - a timeline, responsibilities and outcomes.

Graham listed issues that need to be dealt with in his school environment (including others!)

  • technology access for kids at home
  • teacher burn out
  • never getting to finish anything
  • unblocking YouTube and MySpace
  • cyberbullying episodes
  • network management
  • keeping it all heading in the right direction

When dealing with cyberbullying, it is important to have a protocol with police. As far as personal student technology or any other emerging issue, if it's a reality - we must deal with it.

Mike Gaffney wrapped up the session with a look at Michael Wesch's "Vision Of Students Today". (Still am surprised at how many leaders in our system have never seen or heard of this or any of the Wesch videos). Final parting point - our schools have pockets of innovation with some teachers for some students - how do we approach the goal of systemic transformation?

This term's Inquiry unit has focussed on the concept of leadership. This was designed by the three teachers involved (myself included) to cover the SACSA Health standards of 3.5 and 4.5

3.5 Assumes different roles when working as part of a cooperative group or team to achieve a shared goal and understands the effects on relationships.
4.5 Develops skills for working effectively in groups and in teams, explores different constructions of group dynamics such as leadership and identifies qualities for good leaders.

We used our school UbD planner, where we identified our key questions and overall inquiry statement, essential skills and knowledge, and formative assessment goals for the unit.

The Inquiry Overview

Every individual has the potential to be a leader. Leaders have a set of social and friendship skills to enable them to help and empower others.

Through this inquiry students will extend their social knowledge and skills to enable them to make and maintain positive relationships and close friendships and work collaboratively in teams.

As seems to be the case more often than not, these units of work are very fluid and in a constant state of revision to better suit the needs of our particular cohort of students. One of the key features of the UbD model is the identification of a final assessment task during the initial planning of the unit of inquiry. Well, that's the goal and while being mindful of that requirement, we haven't really nailed down what that would look like until later in the unit. The weeks seem to be so jampacked with other things, and our own agenda of "things to do" constantly on the overflow that it took until a week or so ago before we met as a co-planning team to design this final task. We had our understandings and our final task had to reflect some format that would enable our students to demonstrate the depth of their understanding of the leadership concept. We had chosen a selection of famous quotes on leadership appropriate to the 11-13 year old age level and thought that these would be a good vehicle to use to evaluate their understanding. But just reading and interpreting their responses was a pretty plain vanilla task that was begging (in my mind) for some ICT enhancement. Ever the web-savvy consumer, I suggested that the final task could be a replication of the Will Lion Digital Bites collection of quotes embedded in metaphoric images on Flickr.

We tried to work out how this could unfold, how many images a student could be expected to create and with each re-definition of the assessment task, we kept getting further and further away from our outcomes and essential skills and knowledge that we wanted to assess. So, Maria pointed out that we needed to take on board our own planning question for designing any learning task with "What's your purpose?"

Getting back to the planner, pulling out the skills and knowledge dot points enabled us to redefine and refocus the task expectations. We could easily revisit guidelines and other scaffolds to ensure that this challenging task was realigned and achievable by the students.

So, that was the task. The student picked a quote that they felt they understood well and could explain in a short paragraph. That quote would be matched with an image - either a digital photograph of their own, a graphic designed in Photoshop or a choice from the masses of freely licensed images available in Flickr or Wikimedia Commons. Of course, we all have had to scaffold this task effectively so that students understood the concept of an image metaphor and some basic Photoshop Elements skills to put it all together. We spent time discussing and choosing the quotes in groups and as a whole class so that they could relate them back to content and concepts covered throughout the unit like Michael Grose's Four Keywords for student leadership.

Of course, as I drafted and composed this post, Dan Meyer has posted a few times about the effective use of images in presentations, and it has made me even more conscious about working with the students to ensure that they don't just grab the first thing that looks good and bung it all together. I'm definitely no expert in graphic design but know just enough to know that it deserves some attention when the students are going to post their ideas to the wider audience on their blogs. Without getting into the finer detail of where Dan believes the standards should be at (that's a whole new blog post with a different emphasis), I still feel that this assessment task has been challenging enough to get the kids justifying their choices of quotes and graphic. The early finishers are only just posting their results now but there are some pleasant indicators that some kids have an innate sense of what goes together to "sell" a message and make a point.

I'll finish with two sample graphics and invite anyone with a passing interest to check out the students' leadership slides. This task is not a pen and paper exercise in my mind.


We have 10,000 netbooks being rolled out in a trial in Victorian state schools. See here for Bill Kerr's analysis.

We have 200,000 laptops of similar ilk being rolled out by the NSW DET. A spirited debate on this news is currently happening on the Oz-Teachers list (start here) - but at times sniping about operating systems, industry standard applications and local vs system distribution masks the bigger trend occurring here.

And what happens here in South Australia?

Yesterday, the SA Secondary Principals Association revealed computers remained in boxes at some schools because there were not enough funds allocated to install cabling, power points or wireless internet connections needed to run them.

Why isn't our State Government helping schools out and building on the DER funded computing resources being allocated to schools? Apparently, it is up to individual schools to find their own way. You can criticise the NSW DET and Victorian Ed. Dept for their choice of technology, their contradictory policies around filtering and approach to social media tools but I am quietly wishing that someone here in Flinders Street was thinking forward to the concept of students with their own digital device as an integral part of their classroom.

I know this doesn't solve the issue of teacher development - how we ensure that laptops/netbooks etc become the new connected exercise book and pencil case for the current generation of students? Tony Searl in a recent comment hints at things to come:

Maybe DET NSW 1:1 could just be the tech tipping point that forces some reluctant hands. If 30 kids show up carrying their weapons of “mass connection” it’ll either end in tears or salutes, the past fence sitting/avoidance will be diminished as an option.

Maybe it won't just force the teachers to act - maybe education systems will be forced into action of some sort as well. If I'm in an upper primary classroom in five years time and they don't all have a laptop of some description - well, then there is some massive governmental denial going on.