Monthly Archives: January 2010

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The My School website is big news down under right now.

I would love to be writing something insightful about this big issue right now  but am finding it hard to really pull together my impressions and thoughts in order to convey to readers beyond the boundaries of Terra Australis. Its launch was right at the start of the school year and even though every principal made it their first order of business to get access as soon as the site went live, most rank and file teachers were too busy, well, teaching to get much of a look, let alone a solid impression. My own boss was very interested in the system used to create Statistically Similar Schools which gives each school a ranking number which is a very different comparison tool. In order to compare local schools, one would need to be prepared to do some laborious data scraping.

I had my first real look last night where after checking out my kids' school, I thought that I'd take a tour through my teaching career and see what this site would tell me about the schools where I have taught. That was interesting. Apparently, the school I taught it in my five year stint in Port Augusta is more disadvantaged than many of the schools in the socially disadvantaged Northern suburbs of Adelaide, and the rural Area School where I taught through a variety of year levels in a variety of roles over nearly two years had a higher rating than my current suburban Adelaide setting. One school would not even come up in the search field so I assume that is one of the glitches still to be ironed out. Apart from that, glancing at NAPLAN shades of green or red seemed to confirm this particular world view.

For a decent comprehensive analysis of the My School website launch, I suggest you read Darcy Moore's blog post. If you're inclined to be more cynical about government accountability initiatives (as I am) then Dean Groom's take is worth a look as well.

I also did what every other tech-loving educator does when pressed for time - check the #myschool hashtag on Twitter. Over the time I checked there were tweets from journalists bemused at any negativity from the education quarter, punters squaring off against each other to find the "worst" school in Australia, parents who couldn't find their kids' school, would be league table creators bemoaning the data access, website designers pointing out the design flaws on the site and others prepared to take on the knockers.

My favourite tweet comes from Burnt Sugar:

#myschool it really doesn't tell the whole story - but we knew that

I thought I'd take the time to highlight a few things that Australian (and in particular South Australian) teachers, schools and students will be grappling with over the next twelve months or so.

The National Curriculum.
The word in the staffroom is that schools will get their first look at the new National Curriculum sometime mid-year. We assume that our schools will continue to be guided by SACSA until we are told otherwise, but part of the new Science initiative, Primary Connections, aligns itself with the coming curriculum and does not translate easily into SACSA outcomes. With Federal dollars behind the big Science and Maths push, all upper primary teachers have been promised three days of PD over the next two years with the Maths release to follow. It does not take much of an Einstein to realise why the 11- 13 year students have been targetted first, rather than training Early Years staff first, as the Governement wants more students entering high school in the next two to three years to be eyeing off and seeking out Maths and Science options in their future education pathways.

The Controversial My School Website
This site has been stirring the pot for a while though even though its main function is yet to be unleashed. The site describes itself as:

The My School website ( provides profiles of almost 10,000 Australian schools that can be searched by the school’s location, sector or name. The website provides statistical and contextual information, as well as NAPLAN ( results that can be compared with results from statistically similar schools across Australia.

The nation's Education Minister is adamant that this information is what parents want to make informed decisions about their child's education as outlined in the Australian today:

Gillard's determination to push ahead with the publication of comparative school performance data - available to parents on a website called My School - has been met with furious opposition from the national education union.

Teachers have threatened to boycott national literacy and numeracy tests unless the federal government bans the publication of league tables. While Gillard does not support league tables, newspapers will be able to create them using the My Schools data.

As Gillard stares down the threats from teachers and in the process entering into a public brawl with the Labor union heartland, she is adamant she has the support of the majority of parents, who welcome greater transparency in school reporting.

Gillard has drawn inspiration for her "revolution in transparency" from New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein, whse reforms linked student progress and performance in literacy and numeracy to teacher evaluation. Under Klein's system, schools are graded from A to D, or F for fail. Schools that score D and F face the possibility of restructure or closure unless they lift student performance.

During a visit to Australia in late 2008 at the invitation of Gillard, Klein said information gave parents the ability and tools to demand higher standards from schools, placing the impetus for reform in the hands of parents "so that parents can raise hell".

Interestingly, school principals have only been given 24 hours prior to the official release to peruse their own school data and "like" schools that they will be compared to before potentially being queried by parents seeking clarification or drawing their own conclusions from the data on show. This will be a hot issue for quite a while yet, depending on differing parties' definition of accountability.

Local News Item Of Interest
This article caught my eye on Monday but really, anyone who finds the findings that children in low socioeconomic areas had the "lowest education outcomes and poorest achievement" to be surprising has not been listening to teachers who work in those disadvantaged areas. Maybe it is nice to see that there is some research out there that confirms what we've suspected all along. That might be small comfort to educators in other parts of the world where they are regularly told otherwise.

I've posted this to my Group in my role for a PLP cohort, but want to post the bulk of it here as a way of documenting part of how we start the school year. I don't pretend to be an expert on Inquiry but offer this over-the-shoulder look for anyone who is interested:

I went back to work today, as here in Australia we have just concluded our summer holidays break. We have three preparation days, then the Australia Day public holiday before welcoming our new students for the 2010 school year. I thought that I'd share with you all how Inquiry sits in our preparation for the coming year and how we approach both our units of Inquiry and the development of an inquiry driven classroom.

First, a bit of context. This year I am a tandem teacher of a class of thirty Year Sevens (12 year olds) - I teach the class three days a week and my partner Kim takes the other two. As well as that, our school has a model of co-planning teams where the Inquiry Units are planned and implemented in a consistent way. So, Kim and I have a co-planning buddy - Maria, who is the teacher "next door" who has a class of thirty-one Year Seven students. We met today to start to map out our Inquiry units for the coming year.

Our school has developed a Scope And Sequence for Inquiry that incorporates outcomes from our local curriculum in the subject areas of Studies Of Society & Environment (known as SOSE), Science, Health and The Arts. Literacy and Numeracy outcomes are woven in where relevant but each co-planning team has a series of six Inquiry Units designed to "cover" the defined curricular outcomes. It is similar in many ways to an International Baccalaureate program of inquiry, and there are key questions developed to represent each unit and help in starting the design of that unit. We have a great deal of freedom within each unit in terms of activities, guiding themes, focus but two things are constant in our approach to Inquiry design.

Firstly, we use a document planner template (Word format although we may move it to a wiki eventually) that is designed with the principles of Understanding By Design (UbD) in mind. The thing that many teachers are guilty of when planning any units of learning is leaping to designing the activities that they believe the students will enjoy or taking a theme and going extremely wide in covering as many aspects and tangents behind the inquiry question as possible. So, the key thing this planner does for us is keep us going back to the designated outcomes and "Essential Understandings". What is it that we want the students to understand? What skills and knowledge will help them to get there?

Only when we are clear on this can we move to the next aspect which is thinking about assessment. How will we determine that students have moved in their understanding of the unit? Then we move to selecting and designing learning activities that only serve those purposes and we use an Inquiry Process developed by an Australian educator from Melbourne named Kath Murdoch to lead the students through the inquiry process. Here's a link to a webpage that includes some resources related to her work. The page also has a link to a great PDF that outlines her approach, the approach that we use throughout our school.

Well, we are not ready to plan anything yet for this year as we like to re-design units of work to avoid the issue of any students saying "We did that last year." Today, we started to put together an Inquiry Timeline, placing the required units from the Scope & Sequence in a suitable order and determining the approximate time in weeks to spend on each unit. We looked to tie one of our Inquiry units in with our planned double class camp down to Aldinga Beach, with an Indigenous Studies focus. Once we have established the sequence for 2010, we will pull out a new digital planning document and start the design process.


We have these old Leader laptops at my school that were part of our original batch of teacher laptops and they have not really been used since those teachers upgraded to more powerful machines in 2006. We put them out in classrooms for a while as bonus computers but they've struggled with our network image. So they've been sitting in the technician's office (aka the server room) for over a year and I had this idea about using them as a side project for tech savvy kids in my classroom. One day when I was contemplating on Twitter what to do with our old Pentium 4 desktop that was being strangled by viruses, Chris Harvey recommended Ubuntu as an excellent operating system that would breathe new life into older machines. I know a few other members of my network are Linux advocates so I figured that it would very appealing for these tech savvy students to tinker and set up these machines in my classroom. So, I downloaded the latest version of Ubuntu and burnt it to DVD and grabbed one of the old laptops for the summer holidays.

So, you're thinking - big deal. I know that many of my network are avid Linux users (of which Ubuntu is but one option) and that installing and playing with open source products is just part of what they do. But I am no computer whiz. I have never installed any operating system on any computer before and never really used a Linux based operating system. I'm not really that technical minded as I discovered when I went looking for details on how to get rid of the original XP operating system. I got lost for several hours, looking through forums, downloading a couple of utilities only to discover that I needed to know how to get into BIOS, or how to partition a disk or any number of things that kept telling me I'm out of my depth. So, if anyone knows of an idiot proof way for me to ditch Windows and keep the Ubuntu install (or failing that how to wipe the laptop completely and re-install Ubuntu only) I would be most appreciative. These old babies only have 40G hard drives and I don't need any MS memory hogging stuff eating into that precious space. The batteries are nearly shot and they have makeshift power adaptors, but they do offer a chance to boost what we can do in our 2010 classroom.

My vision is that these laptops become an extra resource for students to complete work on, access the web, edit photos, create graphics and so on. The tech savvy kids will be able to install and uninstall open source programs (although Ubuntu comes with an excellent array of software as part of the package) and teach themselves and others a bit more in an environment that is geared towards education and help them to move beyond the Windows only world view of computing.

Here's where I'm open to suggestions. Your ideas on how I could use these five laptops would be greatly appreciated. Maybe I should get the kids to run a different flavour of Linux on each one. They could become the publishing and graphic design workhorses leaving the faster laptops we have for working on the wireless network. What technical challenges could I set my small band of junior geeks? I am sure that they will quickly master the particular pathways of the Ubuntu environment and show me a thing or two. What would you do?

ubuntuPosted from an old 2005 Leader Celeron laptop running Ubuntu 9.10. A bit less pretentious than posting from my iPhone.


So, I did something unusual for me the other day when I re-posted one of Dean Groom's 2010 predictions in a style that one would more likely find on Tom Hoffmann's or Dan Meyer's blog. It was just one of those things where Dean's words hit a chord and I thought that I'd want my own easy reference point. So, I blogged it. No big deal. I didn't think anyone would even notice except to maybe follow the link and give Dean more feedback on his post.

But I can never tell when something will strike a chord with a reader (and I'm still constantly surprised by who is actually reading!) and I received a number of really great comments that deserve more airing than just an @commenter reply. Because you've all made me think and that is a good thing in this self indulgent, slack off summer holiday time that I'm currently enjoying. So, I going to reference these comments and see where they take me while I listen to some Laughing Clowns in the background.

One of the interesting things about being an edublogger is that there is always a danger of taking yourself too seriously and over-estimating your potential impact on any form of meaningful change. The other danger, of course, is that you don't take your own place in the network seriously enough and consequently fail to capitalise on opportunities that could make a difference. There are many wrong turns to be taken so being a bit flippant and pessimistic can act as a buffer and reason to sit comfortably in the critic's chair.

Firstly, Dean's predictions were interesting and I see that he has expanded on his first prediction and the concept of Bubblegum Edupunk. He covered a lot of ground including his view that consultants widen the digital divide instead of bridging, the impact (or lack thereof) of DER laptops on learning outcomes, Conroy's filter, tech issues around portable technology and virtual worlds and there finished on the paragraph that I featured.

Simon was the first commenter and his words seem to indicate that private schools are not necessarily all progressive in the technological sense and that Dean's ‘virtual glass ceiling’ might not be applicable in his experience. I get where Dean is coming from in that the bigger the education system the more things are "locked down" system wise in terms of filters, software and hardware agreements etc and therefore there are predictable limits on what can be achieved even with the most enthused switched on, innovative teacher. I think that many teachers and leaders over-estimate their own place in the implementation of technology within their own places of learning. I know of several schools where the principal is pleased with his/her whole school roll out of interactive whiteboards, feeling that must place his/her teachers somewhere near the cutting edge. And as Dean's prediction states, that is a potential recipe for 2010 stagnation.

So, right when I was feeling smug about my "I'll be saying I told you so come year's end", Christopher drops in to whack me around the ears with some well chosen words.

Rather than bemoan the current state of affairs, use social media to lead others. Get your community involved. Hold rallies. Organize parents, civic leaders, students.

Leaders lead, mate. Be creative. Put all of your great theories about change into action. Get off your duffs. Remember, governments are reactionary; they respond to the conditions on the ground. Lead your legislatures. Start at the edge, work your way in. Lead by example. Stop whining.

And I know what he's saying. Sitting around whinging doesn't actually do anything. But here is where the right take on my own place in the world is necessary. Because who you are and how much influence you actually wield is a big determining factor is whether you can swing at the iceberg of education change with a sledgehammer or a toothpick. I like what Tim Holt is doing at the moment where he is leveraging the power of edublogs with elected officials. I can see how one could take his US based idea and use a similar tactic in Australia, even if our method of electing representatives is quite different and responsive to different pressures.

A modest proposal:

I propose that all US edubloggers (that are not specifically writing  for a school, a district, or a job that would prohibit such activity) use their blogs this year ask people that are running for office in their congressional districts/senate districts, gubernatorial races or any public elected office questions about education. They then publish the UNEDITED responses without comment. That way, the blogger is neither being pro nor con, merely reporting back on what was asked.

So, I was a bit taken aback by Christopher's challenge and even now, still not sure what my actual response should be. Ideally, I'd be planning my own fantastic contribution to the education change but for me, it is really a case of how to best use the time that I've got. I don't usually sit on my hands - I like to think that I contribute in a number of small ways - but like most connected educators, I know I could always be doing more. I still have to balance that against my own family's needs, the responsibilities of the job that pays the bills and even leave a bit of time to ensure that my own batteries aren't completely drained. But I have presented at conferences, contributed to Ning communities, visited interested schools in my own time, facilitated a blogging community with my own students, plus a few other things that don't readily come to mind right now.

Darcy Moore pointed me over to his blog post where he writes:

I believe ‘teaching’ will have a renaissance this century, as we co-operate and collaborate and the citizens of the planet have the need to solve the growing challenges we will have to overcome. This renaissance has already commenced but will become truly evident during this new decade. Skilled teachers are already at a premium but those with vision, relentless enthusiasm and who love to learn, challenge and be challenged, will insist on thriving!

I note with a smile that Darcy talks about change over the next decade, not just the next year. There is no doubt that the education system will have to change significantly over the next few years but like Dean, I'm not sure that my own system senses the urgency yet. The DER laptops have forced the issue to a big degree for many high schools and Darcy's school have obviously embraced the initiative and run with it. Dean points this out in one of the comments on Darcy's blog:

Yours is one of the exceptions to the stagnant norm. We see individual brilliance and even school brevity — but what we must ask for is evidence that these machines are improving outcomes on the same scale they are being rolled out at. It will be interesting to see how this is evaluated and measured this year if at all.

Then a veritable giant in the elearning world, Leigh Blackall, offers an actual plan of action. This is a person who does in fact do all of the things that Christopher identifies as "leading by example".  He has contributed original thought and content, challenges the status quo and creates his own working alternative models for others to use. His Facilitating online communities course is a testament to his get things done approach. Leigh has a confidence in his own ability to prioritise things to get ambitious things off the ground so his suggestions are right in line with that approach. He suggests growing a community which in my world might take more than 2010 to grow legs, but with a National Curriculum fast approaching would have plenty of traction to draw passionate educators in to interpret that new document for the betterment of student learning using the online tools of communication, collaboration and hopefully cooperation.

So, I'm still not sure what I will do. I think I know what I should do, but think and will are two different beasts. I have my own work at my own school which via the DECS Learning Technologies Grant has its own chance to influence system and other schools' direction. I will continue to work with my own colleagues, raising their awareness so that they have their own eyes opened to the potential of technology facilitated learning and with my students, giving them the chance to take charge of their own learning. I will pitch in for my professional association, CEGSA, providing sessions at the annual conference and hopefully, offer similar to other professional opportunities throughout the year. I will gently push some ideas at my own sons' school's Governing Council so that their educational opportunities are not compromised. I will endeavour to blog regularly, the good, the awry, the ambitious, the half baked and I will comment more frequently on others' blogs. I will look to do something meaningful that furthers the cause of educational change that helps to match the rhetoric of "learning spaces, personalisation of learning" to actual practice. What that will be, I don't know. But these comments have helped me to start contemplating that next move.

And hey, if you think I'm full of it, you can let me have it in the comments...


Dean Groom:

The number of teachers using technology in new and resonant ways in school will stagnate — and more will leave public to work in private because of the ‘virtual glass ceiling’. Many schools will find it frustratingly hard to integrate technology — due to policy — that keeps outsiders – outside. Large systems will not re-assess their HR policy and continue to hire people who are unable to lead them anywhere other than in circles — believing qualification and time-served are more important than ePortfolios, digital-authority and reputation.

This hits uncomfortably close to home. I especially want to be proud of where the public school system goes here in my home state but fear that this prediction is a totally sure bet.