Monthly Archives: July 2009


Along with a group of teachers from my school, I am heading off to the National IWB Conference in Sydney in late August. Despite having used one in my classroom since 2005 and being one of the prime movers in getting them installed in our school, my opinion on their effectiveness waxes and wanes constantly. I am presenting at the conference as well - twice in solo presentations on the use of social bookmarking and on effective presentation design, citing expertise from Meyer, Shareski, Elias, Mercer and Woodward along the way. I am also appearing in a support role with my co-planning buddy on "IWB and Inquiry Learning."
In between these commitments I hope to catch a variety of sessions in an effort to gauge what is being touted as best practice, how our school measures up in a national picture and whether there is any real transformation going on. I hope I can keep my cynicism on check as my one day jaunt to the 2008 IWB Conference was .... ahem ... a bit underwhelming.
I use my own IWB daily when in the classroom but I struggle with this whole concept of interactivity. I helped my wife construct her first own flipchart the other day as part of the training package her school got with their IWB purchases from late last year. She had to construct a table on basic shapes (she is teaching five year olds) and hide her selection of objects from the library in a layered box so the kids could "pull" them out of the "magic box" and then place them in the appropriate column on the flipchart. So what does pulling the objects out of the box achieve? Does this really enhance the learning process or is it just a visual gimmick?

So these sort of questions keep bugging me to the point where I am not sure whether the IWB is a lifeline or a barrier to effective classroom learning. Maybe to stretch the mangled metaphor a bit more, maybe IWBs just add digital cement around age old established practice. So, in the spirit of querying my own (constantly changing) perceptions, here is a comic for you to consider.

If we want our students to understand why certain groups of people from around the world chose to leave their home and end up in Adelaide (my students' home town) , then an overall sense of modern world history is needed to gain that understanding. This becomes a classic example of how skills and knowledge are intertwined. Content without skills is mindless but skills without meaningful content is just as hollow.

So here's what I'm trying to find in the fire hydrant that is the web. I'm hoping that someone has created a multimedia piece that covers the important events from a world perspective of the last century (there's plenty with an overly American bias which is not useful for this inquiry). I've hunted through YouTube and the best I can find is this creation below:

I still think that this is too complex and requires far too much prior knowledge for twelve year olds although we have one student who is a history buff who could probably take on the role of narrator for both classes. After all, not every child can excitedly talk about having stood on the exact spot in Sarajevo where the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand sparked the Great War. But unless, I find something better, this might be the best way to give the kids the sense of events that pushed people, sometimes their own families, to seek out a better, safer place to call home.


Just a quick reflection on a tuning in activity I did with the class this afternoon. We're starting a new Inquiry unit titled "Why Is The World Coming To Adelaide?" which has a focus on examining the impact multicultualism has had on this city over time. So, the starting point is to help define "the World" with the students. Yesterday I had the kids pore over a unlabelled world map to see how much geographical knowledge they collectively possessed. We finished up that session with a discussion around reasons why some countries were easier to identify than others.

Then I gave them a simple homework task.

Pick a media source and gather some statistics from a news source (television, newspaper, web) about which countries were mentioned and how often.

The efforts ranged from a quick glance at the local paper to one enterprising student who recorded three different news programs on the family HD recorder and then scanned through them all to gather her stats. We then dropped those results into Wordle to generate this image:

So, I finished the lesson by posing the following questions to the class. "So, what does this tell us? Why do some countries feature so prominently in our news sample? Why are some countries barely mentioned or not noticed at all? What theory do you have?"

Any other classroom teachers elsewhere in the world who'd be willing to try this quick exercise and share the results with me and my class?


It's my birthday today. I'm 43.

You'd think that I could make up my own mind about things by now but I'm as easily influenced as I ever was. Except now my influences seep in through digital connection as much as face to face.

I went down and upgraded my mobile phone today at the Allphones store at our local shopping centre. I went with a new iPhone on my old plan which turned out to be a good deal as it includes a monthly data allowance of 1G which my old plan didn't have. My choice was heavily influenced by the numerous educators that I have read praising the iPhone as a device. I read in detail on this forum too about some of the issues that I might face with my carrier (3) after a warning tweet from Dean Groom. His past experiences led me to a greater understanding of roaming networks and whether my new upgrade would be a decent deal.

Consider my network as a pretty big influence in that decision. It's also the reason I plan to purchase and salary sacrifice a Mac laptop later in the term. I no longer have to rely on the salesman's pitch - I can gather intelligence from users already using the products I am interested in. I even tweeted a request out to ascertain the need for the Apple Protection Plan and got useful advice from Rachel Boyd, Isaak Kwok and Paul Luke.

Then tonight I watched the first episode of a DVD set that was my birthday gift, purchased way back in March. (A$13.99 a Season, good value.) The series is "The Wire" which I've never seen on Australian television but came higly recommended from another node in my network. Thanks, Dan.

Maybe somewhere my own bits of digital content help to influence and shape other people's choices in a positive way. Wisdom of the crowd, indeed.

dy/av : 006 : carver's classroom management from Dan Meyer on Vimeo.

I've been lurking around some excellent blog posts and catching some mind challenging tweets of late. This little beauty from Will Richardson is a typical thoughtful piece of writing but it is the quality of the comments that had me enjoying the to and fro of the topic. The conversation is clear, concise and insightful - and often sums up my own inner turmoil in better words than I could summon up myself in the same venue. Where everything is heading in regards to the future of education, heck, the future of learning is hotly debated by better informed minds than mine but only by reading and eventually engaging in the conversation can I expect to get a better grasp of my own role within that future.

There is always talk about preserving the essentials, the traditional knowledge, skills and concepts that will always be needed. Politicians like to call them the "basics" but I don't think that educators and our powers that be necessarily have the same things in mind. Our parents certainly may another mindset altogether, as Trevor Meister pointed out in Will's comments:

The notion that things will remain status quo until parents Demand changes led to this comment-

“But the only way that parents are going to DEMAND access is if they see that not simply as a way for kids to get a computer but to see connections online as a way to a better future, a way to help their kids become more educated, better learners than by books and paper alone.”

Other comments suggest that this is not likely to happen because either parents are ignorant of technology or are caught between a rock and a hard place worrying about getting their kids into college, which is best served by status quo.

A third reason this might not happen is probably not much of a factor now, but will be. What about the Parent that sees all to well “connections online as a way to a better future, a way to help their kids become more educated, better learners.” For them the use of emerging tech, web2.0/3.0 and what ever comes next is just a part of life. They are also starting to see major cracks in the old -you have to go to college to get a “good job”, what ever that is because “Employers” require you to have a “degree”. Most of the people they interact with on a day to day basis may be freelancers, independent subcontractors, or entrepreneurs running their own show. To them the idea of saying, “Wow that is amazing work and is exactly what we need, …but I’m sorry, you didn’t graduate from college.” would be ridiculous.

This parent is also not likely to DEMAND greater access and use of technology for better learning. For one, because of their connectedness, they have witnessed the back and forth battles over the same issues for years and can guess that their Demands will be in the minority and are likely to fall on deaf ears. (They may also have figured this out at the last parental advisory group meeting when everyone looked at them like they were from another planet after each and every comment or suggestion.) They have already declared the horse dead and as everyone knows, even if you drag a dead horse to water its not going to drink, no matter how hard you beat it. For another, the level of access and the knowledge of tools available may be higher at home. When the child comes home with a “Research Project” that includes the word- presentation along with the words- Power and Point instead of being thrilled, they send a note back to school - “I am sorry, my son/daughter can not complete said “Research Project” as I had previously vowed to strangle the next person I saw doing another lame power point presentation. Don’t worry, we will do the research, but will choose an alternate form of presentation.” This parent doesn’t feel the need to demand much of anything, they might even be the ones least likely to. They and their child have all the access they need, an awareness of what is available “out there” and the ability to tap into it when needed.

I do want to make it clear that I am not saying this parent is any “better”, this is just their reality. For now, their numbers are probably fairly small, but it is hard for me to imagine that this demographic would not continue to grow.

See what I mean about minds better than my own...

Trevor expands further on one possible future as we have more parents joining the ranks of the hyperconnected:

Take that now larger group of hyper-connected parents, mix with group of hyper-connected educators (especially those that found themselves left behind in the middle) armed with even more powerful technologies and networking know how, and stir. If these aren’t a nearly perfect set of conditions for spurring innovative solutions, I don’t know what is. How long would it be before someone said, enough, would it be possible to organize a series of unconferences or tweetups or #barcamp style gatherings? We could call them #schoolcamps or #learnups, and do follow up in between on-line. …. (many other possibilities exist of course, -perhaps the AI instruction/testing model will finally be perfected.

So, in true inquiry style where the question is the starting point for thinking, I posed this over at my new staff Ning (where the tumbleweed is still blowing through):

If School Is Changing To Match Our Students' Future... then what essentials do you think we need to keep regardless of that future?

I hope my staff are keen to engage with this question and help me to figure some of the potential answers. I'm just hoping that they don't mimic what one of the smartest people in my network observed at the recent ALEA Conference in Tasmania:

It is 8:15am and I am watching English teachers crowding wildly around the worksheets stand excitedly buying worksheets to bore kids *sigh*

What are the essentials? What is the difference between them and the 21st Century Skills that are touted as where educators need to be?


(Starts with foreboding music)

"Spoon feed me"  - that's the expectations of the teachers who are on holidays.

The Assessment villians - no one knows how to assess technology, exams and numbers don't tell a kid what they have learnt , grades are good for politicians, kids are good at playing school.

Got to ask the right questions to get the right answers (shows scene from Bueller's Day off) and we haven't moved on in the context of school.

What we need is pedagogical leadership - teaching is about feedback and making connections with students, learn from the wisdom of the crowds.

Need to exploring virtual communities, not just read blogs, your peers may not be in your school, share your stories online.

3 R's - realism, relevance & resonance.

Knowledge on the web is "healed"  - information is always "in flux ".

Conferences and f2f  is about affirmation and connections to people.

School + Home + Mobile + Internet + People = Learning Environment.

We can't measure a person's success by their exam results.

What can I do with (Insert technology here) in my classroom? Teach a teacher one or two new tools and you will expand their repertoire by up to 50%.

Game based learning  - Wii,  DS, PS3 etc.  Consoles that connect to the internet go beyond games. In gaming , reputation is authority. To succeed in World of Warcraft, you have to be able to access and contribute information.

21st Century learning outcomes  - Planet /People /Participation - Syllabus learning outcomes.

Don't use anything you can't assess.


I had great plans to be a switched on, connected learner today at our local CEGSA09 conference. But I'm not sure where my head is at because I struggled to listen to either of the keynotes, ran most of my laptop juice out stuffing around with the wireless at the venue and skipped two sessions that I had originally planned to check out, preferring to chat to Dean, Kerry and Lauren.

I'm not even sure whether conferences really benefit me any more and I don't like being the cynical jerk at the back. But I'm starting to work out where I am in relation to many others who frequent conferences like this. Especially I know what I am not. I'm not an innovator or someone shaping future direction - I wait for the initial rush in a particular direction and try to be somewhere near the front. That's why many of the messages presented in today's keynote weren't new to me and just showcase the many contradictions that plague the meaningful use of technology in education.

Netbooks - some say that they are under powered, under sized pieces of stop gap junk and others see them as the opportunity for affordability and the chance to shake off the bloatware that many users never use fully.

IWB's - useless, putting teacher on a pedestal, digital billboards entrenching instructivist practices or essential, liberating tools that enable digital fluency for teachers and students alike when used in powerful, connecting ways.

21st century learning - meaningless buzzword or handy term to bring others on board.

Tools vs. pedagogy? Constant contradiction here.

My guru is your charlatan.

Hoping to be more switched on tomorrow.


Jeff Utecht via Stephen Downes says:

It was a good discussion that talked about how the conversation is changing. That at a point in time we use to actually take time to read and leave comments on blog posts. Now we read, and retweet blog posts. We talked about how Twitter is the new aggregator and is replacing RSS as a way people are getting their information. On this blog for example, I have more readers that come via Twitter then I do via the RSS feed. Because of Twitters live constant scrolling feed, we also talked about how the “life span” of a blog post is shrinking. I use to get comments on a blog post lasting weeks. Now I post a blog, it gets a comment or maybe two in a the first 10 minutes, gets retweeted for about 20 minutes and then it’s old news.

To me, it sounds a bit like Jeff is seeing the end of blogs as a dominant Web 2.0 technology and I'm sure he speaks for no one but himself in his assessment of where things seem to be going. I don't disagree that connected conversation is changing but I'm not ready to write off blogs as a major platform for communication just yet. So, I'm using this "dated" technology (tongue firmly planted in cheek) to provide a alternative perspective to Jeff's statements here in the sort of slow type-out-loud way that I personally find hard to express in 140 characters or less. a point in time we use to actually take time to read and leave comments on blog posts.

Well, I don't comment as much as I used to but I'm personally still reading as much as I ever have. There are some bloggers in my aggregator who have slowed down but new voices are there, ready to mix into the daily flow of connection. For me, there is still something exciting about opening up the Reader and looking into my Must Reads folder to see if anyone has posted since I last looked. I'd rather read about Dean Groom's experiences in the US in my aggregator than the hit'n'miss tweet possibilities. Twitter doesn't get you inside some one's mind like a blog post can.

We talked about how Twitter is the new aggregator and is replacing RSS as a way people are getting their information. On this blog for example, I have more readers that come via Twitter then I do via the RSS feed.

I'm not a big fan of checking out blog posts as they are tweeted. I'd much rather wait until I browse my reader - the tweet that announces a new blog post is a bit like the mobile phone ring tone when you're engrossed in a task but its urgent tone doesn't mean that it is more important than what you are currently focussed on. Obviously I'm not "people" but it could be just that I find Twitter to be much harder work than blogs for tracking, initiating and participating in conversation.

Because of Twitters live constant scrolling feed, we also talked about how the “life span” of a blog post is shrinking. I use to get comments on a blog post lasting weeks. Now I post a blog, it gets a comment or maybe two in a the first 10 minutes, gets retweeted for about 20 minutes and then it’s old news.

I'm not convinced. I think it tells a story about Jeff's readership in particular but it is a bit of a sweeping generalisation overall. In my case, comments can't be influenced by Twitter because I'm not broadcasting there. So maybe this blog attracts readers who operate in a similar fashion to myself or my content isn't based on breaking "new stuff" so it really can't get old, so to speak.

Some of this gets down to the purpose of the chosen tool. My blog is a personal opinion piece, a repository of my classroom and professional practice, a creative outlet, an idea clearinghouse and whatever takes my fancy. I like the fact it is my piece of cyberturf, a bit like staying home instead of going to hang out with others at the pub. If my blog posts have a shorter life expectancy, so what? The people who I'm interested in communictaing and connecting with will still take the time to leave me a comment or a pingback, especially in a personal network where edtech heads are not the only nodes. If you're too busy tweeting or plurking, and can't see that different technologies serve different purposes, adding to the array of communication choices not replacing them, then I guess I'll leave you to your #hashtags, your DM's and RT's, and your twitpics. And just in case I get mistaken for a Twitter basher, I use Twitter but probably in the same way someone like Jeff will. For me, it is an information stream that I dip into from time to time, and even more occasionally throw a bit into as well. For me, it just a lot of hard work to get to the level of power user, when other avenues are still extremely rewarding for me.

Hmmm... maybe I should tweet this blog post out to see if it does make a difference. Just kidding.

Cartoon from Geek And Poke.