Monthly Archives: March 2011


I've just spent the last two days at a fantastic event hosted by ACEL (Australian Council of Educational Leadership) and led by the amazing Simon Breakspear. It was held for "Emerging Leaders" and it is nice to think of myself as fitting into the category somewhat, although I would definitely say that it has taken a fair while in terms of years for me to start to emerge. (A little more along that train of thought in another post.)

Anyway, one of Simon's recurring terms for teachers who are innovative, striving to improve and renowned for outstanding practice is "rock star teachers." He had this fantastic image up on screen of a guy drinking directly from the coffee jug as a visual metaphor for where these teachers are at this time of term as their energy levels start to flag from running at a furious pace from the start of the year. He painted this picture of teachers who push so hard in their job that they often forget to have lunch but who maintain the respect of their students the whole time, and who never stop trying to present the best possible learning scenarios for them.

The phrase has stuck with me, because as he spoke I started thinking about the "rock star teachers" I'm lucky enough to work with every day in my learning team. They fit his description perfectly. I've never worked with a bunch of colleagues who work as hard, who hold themselves to such high standards, who email each other and post stuff to share on our wiki with each other at insanely late hours, who take improvement so seriously as the team I work with right now. They are deserving of this title. They should be adulated and cheered by students as they stroll through the school. I know they are appreciated even though they are more of a "supergroup". Think of a teacher version of the "Traveling Wilburys" and they are a privilege to work with.

This morning, Simon had his PollEverywhere SMS system working and asked us to send in any message about the previous day that had stuck. I took the opportunity and sent this in:

That if we're talking about rock star teachers, then we do need to beware the burnt out rock star teacher!

I know that the metaphor is handy in a lot of ways to describe those high achieving teachers who lead out from the classroom. True rock stars progress in their musical talents and generally become better and more mature as their career advances, although it can only take a short amount of time to be propelled to stardom. But take on too much and you run the risk of being the burnt out rock star. The rock star teacher needs careful management to preserve their precious talent, because like many real life rock stars, their vocation can be detrimental to their own well being and health.


One to one laptop programs have been around here in Australia for quite a while now. Gary Stager spoke extensively about that last year when he was in Australia, pointing out the work of David Loader who pioneered the first school notebook program at Melbourne's Methodist Ladies College back in 1990. I've visited a couple of schools who have ventured down that track - St Albans Meadows in Melbourne and Holy Family here in Adelaide - and the model seems to be the same whenever one talks about 1:1 in today's schools. Firstly, head over to the Anytime Anywhere Learning Foundation (AALF) website, plan your school's path forward using their excellent 21 Steps To 21st Century Learning and decide on a suitable affordable model of laptop to roll out.

I really enjoyed the sessions with Travis Smith late last year and took his advice of "don't rush your school community into things" advice to my site as we grapple with our own proposals for a 1 to 1 program. We are close to running a 1:1 classroom trial for the year in a key classroom to answer a number of the questions posed by our parent community. But what if the tried and true model of 1:1 laptops has already had its day?

Quite a few high schools around Adelaide have already jumped into the breech, rolling out parent funded laptops to their Year Eights. Through my contacts, I've seen some of the laptop choices (ranging from a 10 inch netbook to a Apple Macbook) and heard some of the stories. Paraphrased quotes and stories following below:

"My son was proud when his class received their laptops in the first week and he knew how to log on and get using it straightaway while some of his classmates struggled. Unfortunately, it hasn't been called upon in classes since."

"My sister had her laptop in her backpack when she went down to the beach after school with her friends and it got stolen."

So, the popular move is to use a one size fits all model. Working for a large system, I understand the thinking behind this - control, control and more control. It's seen in the way we set up wireless and networks in schools where digital certificates and complex logons manage and restrict the connected environment. This way, the school owns the laptops, can manage the software licensing, keep technical issues down to a minimum (which is lucky because most schools operate on a shoestring budget when it comes to technicians) and keep track of laptop movement via library barcodes. We can feed our filtered "safe" internet through these networks onto identical, predictable machines that equalise the connected experience.

But is this the only scenario?

I lurk on a mailing-list called Oz-teachers where the regular contributors debate topics in such an in-depth and authorative way that I feel more comfortable dipping into their conversations via my Gmail. Brett Clarke is an Oz-teachers frequenter whose observations really challenge my fairly conservative (conservative as in limited in scope, not as in right wing political leanings) world view. On a number of occasions, he has posited that 1 to 1 as a managed roll out is a concept that passed its start by date. Recently, he stated the following:

If you're at a school that didn't already catch that wave several years ago, then just skip it and move on. The kids will thank you  for it and the staff won't have to learn the whole laptop thing and then learn what it means to go mobile 12 months later...

Another gem that has me wondering about what we should be doing in the primary when investing for the future:

I'll say it again - now is NOT the time to be starting a laptop/netbook programme in your school!

This is not to say schools shouldn't have some laptops - but not high ratios - just for the few situations where the tablet may not be the most convenient/appropriate alternative...

I'm also intrigued by David Truss's BYO Laptop program as a concept. I know from conversations with my students that a sizeable number of them already have a laptop of their own. I then wonder what their parents' reaction would be when the school announces a laptop program that dictates a particular model and cost. I can hear it already.

"Why can't my child just bring their laptop to school?"

There would need to be several major shifts in thinking to be able to say yes.

Firstly, our wireless network would have to change its security settings so that non-networked laptops could gain access. There would be the issue of software licensing and a well thought approach so that office software like OpenOffice or possibly GoogleDocs become ways to avoid breaching proprietary software licenses. The biggest shift would have to come from teachers who are comfortable with familiar programs, network paths and occasional use of computing technology.

There are times when I think that the students are more ready for these shifts than we are.

This is purely a vanity posting and possibly demonstrates how traditional media (newspapers, magazines etc.) still have a pretty strong hold on my consciousness. Many of my virtual colleagues are featured with regularity in magazines, quoted in articles, featured in television segments but it is a real rarity for me and perhaps befits my station in life. My opinion was sought a little while back for a piece in Adelaide's The Independent Weekly and then late last year, I was contacted by an editor at Australian Teacher Magazine to contribute to a small column feature called Q & A for their monthly ICT In Education section. I almost forgot about it until an email arrived from the same magazine plugging something else and triggered my memory and sent me looking online to see if I'd made "the big time".

It's in the February edition and below is a screen grab of the column. I've then copied the article into a easier to read image if you actually want to read it or you can check out the whole virtual version of the magazine here.ozteachermag



My principal and I have had a few conversations of late about the role of typing in a computer rich environment. Basically, we are both pondering about what level of typing skills are needed by primary school students and what sort of support for these skills should come from the classroom. Despite the inroads of laptops and desktops within our school environment, the majority of students spend a large part of their day using the cheap and common tools of pencils, paper and pens and handwriting skills are part of the curriculum taught to enable students to be successful using those mediums.

So, I raised the issue the other night with our eLearning Committee to see what our teachers thought about the role that typing skills played within our classrooms. I heard that in reality, students have limited opportunities to use laptops and that within the scope of those limits, spending a chunk of time focussing on the formal skills of typing was not a high priority. We use a program on our network called Typing Tournament  which the students really enjoy. It is low fuss, each student has their own profile that saves their progress and the game interface holds their attention. I then referred to a really useful blog post from Mike Dunlop where he airs quite a lot of very worthwhile thoughts. This is a short sample from that post:

Keyboarding is now a low stakes activity. Errors can be easily corrected with the click of a mouse. Whole paragraphs can be changed, moved and formatted during the proof-reading phase. The concept of a typing pool has all but disappeared – most adult professionals are capable of keyboarding to a level sufficient to perform their computer-related jobs independently – whether or not they took high-school typing courses.

Whenever I've looked around the web for research on either for or against keyboarding instruction in primary classrooms, I have come up essentially empty handed. Tonight, I had another browse around and found some interesting links worthy of further exploration and consideration.

Keyboarding Research & Resources (most posts seem to be very pro-keyboarding but there are pointers to research that support their chosen position).

Keyboarding we need to teach them? a post by Jacqui Sharp with some teacher resources to support some of the concepts she covers.

When Or Do We Teach Typing? by Jeff Utecht. This is more a post where Jeff explores his own perspective rather than actual describing classroom practice or citing research but there is a wealth of opinion in the comments.

Keys to the (Online) Kingdom: The Importance of Basic Computer Skills - from Edutopia.

How do YOU Teach Touch Typing? is a back and forth conversation between Linda George and her respondents on the value of a typing program schedule used by her school.

But I am interested in what other schools do and what informs your thinking behind the programs you run (or don't run) within your schools or classrooms. Any feedback is very much appreciated in the comments, with thanks in advance.