Monthly Archives: August 2009


A week ago, I was still in sunny Sydney with my colleagues waiting to get some taxis out to the airport after the giant prize draw at the end of IWBNet09. My group did OK in that regard - one colleague won a year's subscription to some form of software and another won a class set of ActivExpresssions (she was from DECS Learning Technologies but assures us that our school can borrow them at some stage) - but that is a bit of a worrying trend that I wasn't that fond of. I know the drill about conferences can't survive without vendors and vendors pay the bills and that the vendors need to get value for their time and dollars but my parting memory of this conference is the big prize giveaway of "complete literacy programmes", "essential IWB software" and "student polling devices". Normally rational minded educators had played the game as well, gathering stamps in their vendor hall booklet, hearing every single sales pitch just for a chance to experience the "The New Price Is Right" atmosphere at the end.

I'll have to admit that I only saw part 1 of Martin Levins' keynote as my nerves told me to go and set up for my Saturday morning session. (An unusual concept - a two part keynote over two days which meant that I never really knew what he was leading up to.) He did point to this Saturday Night Live sketch which was good for a laugh - but maybe a more powerful keynote for challenging thinking would be someone like Jason de Nys. (Note to self - reflecting on one's own ICT journey over several decades does not make for enthralling listening.)

So what did I make of the sessions I did attend? Here is a quick summary.

Belinda Anderson - All Things Google.

Shovel an excessive amount of people into one classroom and have someone talk and demo their way through the four Google tools. Listed as a vendor session - would have been better as a workshop where delegates would have a chance to play. Belinda herself was bright and breezy but I had to squeeze out of the room to set up for my session on Effective Design.

Sally-Anne Walton - Catering for Different Learning Styles Using the IWB

I'd just finished off my session on Social Bookmarking in the same room so it was amusing to see people turning up for this one grabbing a copy of my handouts on their way in. This session proved to me that one must read the abstract as well as the title before choosing a session to attend. There was very little link made to learning styles in this session from my perspective - and it seemed to beĀ  massive show and tell grab bag of IWB use. The first five minutes were spent talking about how to choose the right position for an IWB in your classroom and I must admit, I lost interest from there very rapidly. The presenter showed that she had embedded video footage from a digital camera on her IWB - but failed to tell us why - what were the learning goals and how did the video footage help to reach those goals? It finished on a note with the presenter's colleague plugging a vendor's teacher amplification system and proclaiming that the ActivStudio library was the premier place to find digital resources (what about the internet?)

I do feel a bit unsporting to airing a negative review but these are my honest responses and I'd hope that someone would make a similarly honest and challenging assessment of any of my presentations. We don't improve if tips and tricks are portrayed as innovative practice.

Moodle On The SmartBoard - presenter not on my original list.

IWBNet09 had what were titled vendor sessions each day where the vast majority of sessions in that time period were from, well, vendors! As I'd already spoken at length with Bryn Jones about Atomic Learning late on Friday afternoon, I decided to skip his session which I had planned to attend, and went along with two of my colleagues to the above mentioned session at the last minute. I'll have to admit here that my professional conduct here was very poor, as I started talking to Trudy throughout the session in low hushed tones. We were hushed by a gentleman in front who was genuinely interested in seeing how to embed a worksheet screengrab in a Moodle to be displayed on a SmartBoard being operated by a tablet. I should have voted with my feet and followed Dan Meyer's five minute rule.

Enhancing Literacy Through An IWB - Kel Hathaway

Now, Kel is a very nice guy with an entertaining manner, and his session held his audience captive. But I couldn't get past the fact that it was a literacy focussed Tips and Tricks session, one of the most proficient I'd ever seen. There were "Ooohs" and "Aaahs" on almost every turn of his flipchart page where he covered everything from Wordle to spelling with Flickr to downloading magic erasers from Promethean Planet. He'd make a great trainer for Promethean, for sure but I'm sure there is greater depth to his expertise and knowledge than what this session permitted him to cover. My notes showed my mindset as I sat through this session - How could I use this file or idea to help my kids? Can this be used independently of the teacher? How about the kids creating instead of all the various incarnations of flipchartery promising many long nights for teachers as they created these "engaging" digital masterpieces?

I do feel like a pariah for feeling unsatisfied with IWBNet09. A quick look at the tweets from the #IWBNet09 hash show that many people thought it was great - and queried my less than enthused demeanour. I guess I wanted to spend more time talking about the learning and actually "pushing the boundaries".


Session summary:
John's forte was the development of Learning Games, based on Powerpoint and some more sophisticated Flash based content. He took attendees through some of the games including "Battle Of The Sexes" (useful only in co-ed schools), "Millionaire" and several others. He also talked through the use of these games as templates for students to create their own versions, easily tying these platforms to whatever learning was current in their classroom. There are a number of examples on John's website at My Interactive Classroom. He also talked through his pedagogical stages of IWB use - which you can find here in a comment on Lauren O'Grady's blog.

Presentation format:
John let his games do his talking for him by getting audience members involved in the games. He was witty, informative and flicked onto a new example before the audience could get bored, which is an excellent tactic for any classroom.

Summing up:
In my mixed bag experience at this conference, John's session was a standout.


I got back Saturday from the National IWB conference (referred to as IWBNet09 as the event is run by IWBNet) tired and glad to be back in quiet old Adelaide. I went with a group of colleagues from my school along with Dr. Trudy Sweeney and Cate Berden from Learning Technologies in DECS. Our main goal was to get some sort of idea about the national picture, to gauge how we are travelling as a school compared to others and bring back leading edge ideas and experiences to share with our staff to keep our own technology use moving forward. I was quite excited about the two day conference, having volunteered to be a part of several presentations but hoping to catch enough other leading practitioners in action to help inform my own journey as an effective educator.

But now I'm back, I find that as a conference experience, IWBNet09 was not what I was hoping for. For me, there is still too much focus on fancy equipment, software solutions, too much basic click'n'drag demos. I'm sure that people could say the same of my own presentations - I was reasonably happy with the flow of my Effective Design presentation (much better than than the ramble I presented at CEGSA) and I think that choosing to cover Social Bookmarking in a presentation format was not the best idea. Talking at people for fifty minutes about the benefits of online bookmarking isn't ideal - but only having nine people in the session meant that questions were freely asked and I could track around my initial pathway to address these ideas.

I'll pick through my notes and publish my take on some of the sessions I did attend, but I guess what I felt was missing was the conversation about student learning in the classroom and how teachers are using technology to help facilitate that. I kept wishing for more in the sessions I did attend, with the exception of John Short who tied some pedagogical purpose to his Powerpoint Learning Games. I suppose when one attends a conference that purely focuses on one piece of technology, then said piece of technology takes centre stage. I think that I'm more interested in a conference centered around learning and technology's potential role - and not the other way around.



I quite enjoyed the first day of training for the Intel Thinking With Technology course today. A small group of ten educators who are being trained to take this course back to their sites made for an engaging time as we whipped through the first two modules, led by our expert Senior Trainer Steve Nicholson. I plan to reflect in more detail as the next four days unfold but I just wanted to document this realisation before it fades.

We had time this afternoon to start using the planning template the program offers for designing a unit of work. It has a number of similarities to the Understanding by Design influenced unit planner my schools currently uses, so it was very user friendly to work with. Steve had time set aside for us to work on designing of a unit of work for future use in our classrooms, and with the gift of time, I looked at the school's Inquiry Scope & Sequence to determine which of the inquiry units that my colleagues needed planned before the year's end. I started on the last one currently titled "Does Music Make The World Go Round?" , cutting and pasting SACSA outcomes into the template before I had a major attack of the doubts and emailed my colleagues at school (Kim, my tandem teaching partner and Maria, our next door co-planning buddy) for counsel in where I should start, especially as our next actual unit of inquiry centres on Health outcomes in the dreaded "growth and development" area. Kim answered during her lunch break, correctly calling me out for being cowardly and avoiding this unit and so in the afternoon when we had some more time, I started again.

So, as I pored through the outcomes and SACSA examples to get my head around what the unit should be about, I realised that this was not how I plan for learning in the classroom any more. I needed my colleagues' input, the conversation that hones in on the essential understandings, and the shared understanding of where we want the students to go during an inquiry unit. We do all of this together in our co-planning time, in the evenings on the wiki chatroom and through email exchange. Occasionally, we break the planning up into segments for individuals to work on alone but these are always pieces to the bigger puzzle.

It's been called the deprivatisation of practice where teachers open up the closed door to their classrooms and create better learning through conversation and planning. But it is truly how I work best now. It is how this whole online networking thing works best - learning from each other and creating better learning experiences for our students.

We can't do it alone.

1 Comment

I've hanging around a few Nings of late and even kick started one to give some of my staff a first hand experience of social networking walled garden style. One that I've just joined recently is part of an online conference run by my education system and focussing on Learning Spaces. What I find interesting about this is the chance to contrast the thinking and experiences of educators within my system with other points of view out on the open web. For instance, Vicki Davis recently pointed to this video from Bob Sprankle's presentation at the recent BLC conference in North America.

Now, the concepts and ideas that Bob raises are worthwhile, don't get me wrong. Many teachers can articulate what their ideal classroom could look like if someone was actually funded to build it. But there's the rub. Even with the Federal Government getting stuck into the biggest building initiative in decades via the BER initiative, I don't think much of that is going into future proofed classrooms and buildings. Schools are being handed templates of current buildings with minimal opportunity to rethink the way a school or even a classroom could be designed and function.

So when an idea like Qantas Club model classrooms was floated in the second Ning that I've been frequenting, I can feel a collective sigh from all of the teachers who just know that their classroom space is not changing any time soon. They quite pragmatically see that fantasy talk around learning spaces that are tailor made for these 21st Century Skills is not their reality. After all, they still have to shoehorn 30 odd students into their allocated area, connect to less than reliable networks, juggle limited budgets and still meet the rising demand for data driven accountability.

Of course, if we can allow the connection to the web in our schools to be less restricted and of sufficient bandwidth to be useful, then these new online learning spaces for the everyday teacher have much more chance of being achieveable. Even here, we run the risk of stumbling into fantasy territory again. You know the dream, the one of kids using their own devices to connect to the school network so that connection to the rest of the world is right there on the kid's desk. But then we'd need top notch technicians to ensure a robust and flexible network - and I know in this state, there isn't enough funding to keep the sort of talent in this area that we need for that dream to come true.

I have this gut feeling that even primary school education is going to dramatically change - some how, some time - before my time in this system is up. But I'm realistic enough to know that the physical facilities that people describe as pushing towards a more ideal learner centered classroom don't come cheap and it will take a better government (State or Federal) than what we've got right now to make that investment.

Don't get me wrong - we are seeing welcome investment in education that is a long time coming. I have to keep my cynicism in check and my network helps to keep me from assuming negative outcomes.


Darcy1968: Windows 7 is RTM so we may be advantaged by getting our laptops later rather than sooner #DERNSW7:09 PM Jul 27th from twhirl

grahamwegner: @Darcy1968 I'll bet there's a few teachers quaking in their boots re: DER laptops - or planning to ignore so business as usual.7:18 PM Jul 27th from Twitterrific in reply to Darcy1968

Darcy1968:@grahamwegner It is terribly exciting for most though and at our school there's no where to hide but plenty of collegial support and help.7:21 PM Jul 27th from twhirl in reply to grahamwegner

grahamwegner: @Darcy1968 That's good to hear - it would be easy to be cynical (like me).7:34 PM Jul 27th from Twitterrific in reply to Darcy1968

Darcy1968: @grahamwegner we have all just been empowered to make a genuine difference and I buy into the once in a lifetime opportunity notion.7:36 PM Jul 27th from twhirl in reply to grahamwegner

We can make genuine change in classrooms exactly as they are right now. Waiting for the ideal learning space may never happen but as Tom Woodward's great photo illustrates, schools will be eventually forced into change whether they want to or not.