Monthly Archives: November 2009


We had a day trip to sunny (?!%) Melbourne today to attend a PD Workshop on the 1:1 laptop program following a f2f network connection made by my principal, Ann with the Coordinator Simon from St Albans Meadows Primary School at ULearn in October. Now I know there are successful 1:1 laptop programs all over the world but I had never really seen one in an Australian public school before. So after a delayed arrival into Tullamarine Airport and a quick taxi ride, my co-teaching buddies and I got to the school about ten minutes into the start of the presentation. Simon presented in his laid back but informative style, then we got to head into the classrooms to see the students using their laptops. There was a morning tea break and then he took us through the funding model and more importantly, the sort of work the students construct using their laptops. So, here are my notes from the session.

Interestingly, like our school, St Albans Meadows doesn't have a dedicated computing room - abandoned about four years ago. In a move to make most school technicians cringe in fear, Simon described their network as open without logons, passwords. Being transparent makes it easier to achieve learning goals as students are not spending time looking for the loopholes. The important thing is for students to have access to technology. He touched on the concept of 21st Century Learning and was somewhat bemused about this term considering we are just about finished with the first decade of that century. This opinion certainly rings true for me. He said that the school's perspective that it is about students engaging with the technology of this century. Right on cue, it was time to mention "Inquiry Based Learning" and he shared one of the Inquiry units titled "10 Ways To Save The Earth" where the students could show their learning in a number of ways including animations, raps and podcasts. The school also runs a program called Samoogle, based on the Google employees premise of 20% work time dedicated to employee's own learning. Students had been given this amount of time over half a term and had chosen to pursue a number of things - inventing a new sport, publishing a magazine, creating an animation, tutorial, clothing, rap/video clip, new game concept or a video storyboard.

Simon shared anecdotal teacher judgement data on student achievement, showing growth in stimulating learning, classroom behaviour and improved writing quality as judged against the VELS. Because the program has only been running in Year Five and Six, it hasn't been possible to ascertain any growth against the NAPLAN data (which is our Federal Minister's benchmark). The laptops have made an enormous difference to the struggling learners.

We then met another of the teachers, Travis. He talked about the concept of building a Learning Community (another topic dear to my heart) and how the laptop had impacted on their community. There was 100% uptake by parents, after surveying the parent community and flagging this program as the way forward. There has been increased opportunity to show work samples to inform parents and noticeably positive student attitude since the program's inception. The laptops don't go home every day - this is negotiated between the teacher and the student. It sounds obvious because it is true - a program like this starts with really good teachers to start with. The original concept was that the laptops would provide learning 24/7  but that has turned out that less is more. Laptops are not taken home during holidays and weekends as a general rule. This leads to the fantastic phrase:

Anywhere, anytime but not all the time.

Although the school has a number of IWBs installed across the school from a Victorian Education Department trial a few years back, they are not used for much more than projection screens. As Simon said, "Who needs interactivity on an IWB when the students have interactivity at their fingertips?" They use many Web 2.0 tools as well - VoiceThread, Wordle and a new one for me, Etherpad.

Simon talked next about the How? for their school. They worked to develope a culture that valued and recognised the importance of ICTs. There is an emphasis on thinking outside the square - circular desks in the classroom, power cords and power boards hanging from the ceiling. They have found that sharing is the best Professional Development. The average teacher doesn't have to be the keeper of all knowledge - they just have to know when to let the students have access to the right tools. The main message is focus on the curriculum and the pedagogy and let the kids drive the technology. He talked through their budgetary model which I won't outline here.

The teachers have also been provided with release for Inquiry planning of units. Each class has three major units and a smaller "Myself As A Learner" unit to start the year. This was provided via the Intel Teach program. We also saw examples of student ePortfolios using iWeb, which is hosted locally on each student's machine, and students can take their work off via a USB drive when they have to hand their laptop back to the school at the completion of primary school.

For more information on the St Albans Meadows program and 1:1 laptop learning in general, you can check out Simon's 1:1 Learning Ning.


I went out to dinner with a group of "Edutwits" on Wednesday evening - an event organised by the amazing Kerry Johnson. Now, Kerry works for educationau but her influence spreads way beyond her official employment role. This dinner was a great example of that and connected up a dozen or so educators involved in a wide span of areas - project officers, instructional designers, consultants, teachers and general networkers. I enjoyed myself very much. Now the timing of this dinner capitalised on the edayz09 event, a conference focussed on elearning mainly in the VET sector. So, there were a few visitors from interstate and the exciting news was that Nancy White was the featured keynote speaker for the edayz event.

I expressed my disappointment that it would have been great to hear her speak as Nancy is one of those fantastic online communicators and facilitators whose influence spreads far and wide. Her work in online communities is well renown and I've listened to a number of her talks online and been a regular reader of her blog. She's even remixed some of my work as you can see in her 10 Minute Lecture featured on Leigh Blackall's then blog back in 2007. She's an innovative thinker, an important node on my network and so, when Kerry suggested I come in this morning as her "guest" to hear Nancy speak, I jumped at the opportunity.

I also got to see how skillfully Kerry managed the Ustreaming, CoverItLive backchanneling process. The most technical I've ever gotten was to plunk an iRiver recorder at the front of a room at the start of the session so to see someone like Kerry run dual laptops, monitoring the conversation people were feeding in via chat and still keep track of the presentation, even with a five second vocal delay in her headset as she went. There are details about how she managed the process here.

Nancy is a very engaging speaker. And thanks to the marvels of social media, you don't have to put up with my half baked notes (which I started to try and type in on the Notepad on my phone) as I decided to lean forward (you can't really recline during a Nancy White presentation) and just enjoy absorbing the message. The presentation was Ustreamed and I was going to add the link here so you culd start listening in at around the 18 minute mark but Mike Seyfang has already done that piece of legwork and captured the essential audio here. Play while clicking through her slides and you have a pretty good time shifted re-experience.

This means I can spend so time reflecting on what her ideas sparked in my mind then and after I've had a bit of time to think things over. I do like the fact that Nancy talked about presented ponderings and incomplete gut feelings and that her ideas were conversation starters, not final assertions. Her opening poser "Is community 'dead'?" had me thinking as I think about teh work done at my school to foster a Professional Learning Community based on the work of Louise Stoll, and the concept of classroom as learning community (based on the work of Konrad Glogowski) that I have tried to foster with my student blogging program. Actually, can a classroom be a community? After all, the students don't get a lot of choice about how their peers are grouped and they get even less choice about who their leader (teacher) will be. Community is meant to be participants with a common purpose or interest - is learning too broad a brush stroke and a group of typical primary school students range across the spectrum in terms of how they view learning as a positive thing?

She also talked about how mobile technologies allow us to be together in some many other ways and that there are new emerging technologies that fall between or bridge the gap between the analogue and digital world - the Livescribe pen as one example. But it is a challenge to be able to show to others already using these technologies for purposes other than learning that they have huge potential as tools for learning. i think about my students' mindset around ipods in the classroom where they can't see past just listening to music and using it as a sort of concentration cocoon as its possible premier use in the classroom. My students view their mobile phones in much the same way - connections for social and entertainment purposes only. How can I change that?

Nancy talked through the various stages that one can learn - solo, pairs, triads, the flock and the network. I feel that many educators don't go past the solo and will go with the flock if compelled. Nancy is right about one thing - accessing and building a network has to be lived before one can possibly realise the potential and assist others on their way. I kept thinking about a recent conversation on a mailing list where an educator was defending Education Queensland's position that all social media tools used with students needed to be behind the safe walls of their portal The Learning Place - it was a bit like learning surf life saving in a backyard pool. Anyway, I digress.

I had never heard of the concept of triangulation before where the most innovative practice and real learning occurs at the edges, not at the top. It would certainly explain why the upper sections of a bureaucracy like the one I work for seem to be out of touch with what is happening in wider society and certainly with the pace and direction of technological change. Of course, the sweet spot of being able to be innovative and make a difference without running foul of leadership or having that success subverted into someone higher up the food chain's claim of success is one to think further on.

Anyway, I was glad I got to come and see Nancy for myself. I would have liked to have hung around and tried to meet her but I didn't want to overstay my welcome. Thanks again, Kerry!


After reading an extract from a new Nikki Gemmell book about her Australian childhood memories and the contrast with her own children's lives, I  decided to think back to my own life as a kid in the seventies in rural South Australia. Here's what memories come floating back to the surface.

Icy poles after swimming lessons at the Booleroo Centre pool, Sunday roast chicken with mashed potato and boiled vegetables and playing cricket in the farmyard with my sister and brother (we used a real Kookaburra cricket ball; no pads or hats). Firing a slug gun at a friend's tenth birthday party, being the only kid in Grade Five at the local rural school and summer tans that ended at the ankles due to the constant wearing of elastic sided Blundstone workboots on the farm. Minding sheep on the roadside for hours to give them a "free feed", sitting in the car after church waiting for my parents to stop talking to the other parishioners and wading for a kilometre at Port Germein beach to get to waist high water.

Golden North icecream with stewed apricots, stomping down bales of wool at shearing time in July and chopping out thistles in the home paddock. (It was always the neighbour's fault that there were so many thistles because he let them go to seed and blow across the fenceline every year.)

Meat pies from the local bakery where you could take the top "lid" off and let the gravied mince cool for a while, watching the Top Ten on Countdown every Sunday evening. Learning to crack a whip at the cows and getting a whack on my bare calves when I got it wrong. Sitting in the wheat truck with my father on the way to the Port Pirie siloes hoping that the queue would pit us outside the Sportsman's Tavern so my dad would get a lunchtime schooner of beer and I would would get an ice cold lemon squash made the old fashioned way - lemonade with a dash of Bickford's lemon cordial.

I could go on ... but I won't. What about you? What are your essential childhood memories?


D'Arcy Norman poses the question, "How do you connect to people online?" This post is my response to that question.

It's this blog that I value the most as a connection point with others. It's where I started dabbling in this networked way, where I connected to my first edublogger colleagues, people who I hadn't met but whose words and ideas drew me in and got me writing and sharing my own little piece of the world. Through comments left by others and by responding to comments on others' blogs, I widened my circle of connections and the network started branching out in unexpected, intriguing pathways.

New concepts like Leigh Blackall's networked learning, Will Richardson's connective writing and Konrad Glogowski's classroom learning communities were all new perspectives that I would not have encountered in a non-digitally connected world. They taught me about the transferability and reinterpretation of new ideas, as much as someone more recently like Dan Meyer with his "Be Less Helpful" mantra.

It's probably because I enjoy the process of writing that this particular outlet has such appeal. I've migrated and used other tools to connect - ning, Twitter, delicious, and even more recently Second Life but invariably, my network has been built on the back of edubloggers or secondary connections from those edubloggers. There are those people who started their connection in a similar fashion at a similar point in time - people like Jo McLeay, Darren Kuropatwa and James Matthew Nelson. Initially, I felt an obligation to add anyone who read my blog (identified via comments) to my blog reader and thanks to a feature in Bloglines that I used at the time, anyone who I could identify from the subscriptions list. But interestingly for a bloke who hasn't all that much new to add to the conversation, the readership has grown beyond that need for reciprocal subscribing. I realised that I can't read and converse with everyone who reads this blog, and that are many bloggers who I read who don't know that I exist!

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This realisation certainly helped me to manage my usage of a tool like Twitter where I can have a massive disproportion between followed and following. I must confess that I feel more comfortable in the asychronous world of the blog post where I can write something, set it free, see whether it strikes any chords out there than the weirdly hybrid synchronicity of the 140 character "Is anyone reading this? Whoops, now I'm having a conversation." I share better from my ramblings here than by pumping out URL shortened tidbit links - that's just not my skill set and there are plenty of others who do that much, much better.

The connection to others is very hard to explain. There are others out there scattered across the globe to whom I have felt a collegial connection; a new type of friendship that starts with a shared interest in web based and enable learning but manifest itself in a desire to find out a little more about the person behind the blog and have a much more personal conversation. It's interesting - sometimes people connect to what I write and sometimes they connect just to me as the person they have gotten to know via this blog, twitter exchanges, invitations to participate in projects and Skype conversations (although these happen much less often than they used to). Alex, Doug, Chris, Ken and Darren are all more than just names in an aggregator or a contact list - I think of them as friends who would help me if I needed it.

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I don't venture that far from home either - a combination of family commitments and a job that doesn't require much travel - but via these connections, the long term comment exchanges, the occasional Skype chats and the @messages on Twitter, I've managed to meet quite a few other educators both far and near. I can still recall having a meal with Michael Coghlan and Alan Levine with only half his voice left during his speaking tour down under and hosting Tom Barrett and his family for dinner at our place was simply a delight. None of this possible without online connection. I get hints from others like Clay, Dean and Chris that should I ever venture into their neighbourhood, the welcome mat is already waiting.

How do I do the connecting? The work day is invariably very busy and I have this two hour window from 8.30 - 10.30 pm each evening after the boys are in bed where I can open up the laptop and do a task switching blend of planning, reading, chatting and exploring. My iPhone has become the most constant connection now, as it is easy to just turn on and connect whenever a spare opportunity arises. I use a Pageflakes startpage to jump off into various places, I use GMail and Google Reader, Tweetdeck on the laptop, Twitterific on the iPhone and I keep a watchful eye on some of the Nings I have joined, my delicious network feed and the occasional Skype chat. I'm still getting past that "ghost town" feeling whenever I venture into Second Life and find it interesting that some of my real world insecurities in social situations have followed me in there. Writing like this in text form seems to be comparatively liberating.

The longer I have played in this digital world, the wider and more diverse my network has become. It probably has an overwhelmingly "education flavour" to it all but that's OK with me because the spread of educational situations is so varied. I'm not quite the free ranger - in fact, I am still bemused that anyone finds what I have to say to be of importance - as if something works, I tend to stick with it.

So, D'Arcy, there you have it. My response to your prompt. Your blog was amongst the first added to my aggregator. Yours was one of the first where I saw fit to criticise a blog post. Your education world is vastly different me here in suburban Adelaide but there you have it, we're connected. In the loose, multi-directional, serendipitous cluster of nodes that make up my Personal Learning Network, this is how I connect to people online.


In English, I've been trying to weave the skills of debating into my classroom. It has been something that the majority have found quite difficult, with many mistaking the ability to argue in a contrary fashion for insightful and clever debate. Their confidence in combining oratory skills and a considered point of view has led me to go back several steps and try and nut out a better way to scaffold their way towards a successful in-class debate. I tried to use engaging topics to draw out their enthusiasm (Sport is more important than Science) but a lot found it hard to get beyond their own pre-conceived ideas. I then tried a simple approach where the need to be "right" was less important (Cats are better than dogs) but their keenness was not there.

Early on, I realised that using official debate structures were too large an initial leap, especially when the skills I really wanted to focus on were using powerful language to express a specific perspective, being aware of opposing viewpoints and being able to counter these in a persuasive way. The students needed to be able to get their ideas down in print first, to hold their ideas up to the light, re-word them and listen to how "powerful language" is used in the art of persuasion.

So, in the spirit of sharing, I developed a paper based written debate format that I'm hoping will scaffold the kids towards considering both sides of any issue. I used the free CMap Tools mind mapping program for this as I really like the font and the way it lays out a flow chart like style. It also exports to PDF so I can create something here on my MacBook and share it here or print from my school Windows laptop without any tricky formatting issues.

Here's my PDF original on the topic "Mobile Phones Cannot Be Owned By Primary School Students."

If you have CMap installed, here is the file you can open and edit for your own purposes. I'm not sure which is the best format for exporting that would facilitate others editing for their own classroom so any suggestions would be welcome.