Monthly Archives: February 2012


In reply to Kelly Christopherson's recent post:

My youngest son has nearly finished his first season of under 10 basketball in a team much like your first few seasons – they have only managed one win against a team in a similar spot to them. They are mainly beginners and even at this age group have come up against very accomplished teams who have had it over them in terms of skill. But we’ve seen two types of coaching – the first from a few teams who smashed our team by scores like 70 – 0. Their coaches had their team playing intimidation basketball, pressuring them at all opportunities and went all out to amass the hugest score – at the expense of any confidence my son’s team may have had. Our coach is very patient and said that he didn’t expect anything in terms of results from the boys for at least half the season as he would be teaching a lot of foundation skills and concepts. But those big losses took a lot of joy out of the team. I’m not too sure what the coaches in charge got out of those wins either.

The last two games we’ve played have been against other teams near the top of the ladder. But their coaches were very different. After every score, they had their team retreat back to their defensive half so that our team had the chance to bring the ball back down the court. They weren’t playing the intimidation game – they could see from the first few minutes that they had our measure – so they concentrated on specific plays, specific formations in defence. And for a change, my son’s team felt like they could breathe, that they could work some things out for themselves without a gun player from the opposition swooping in and making them pay.

When they scored for the first time in the first of these two games, the opposition parents even cheered and applauded! Even they lost easily, they walked off the court feeling a lot better about themselves, felt like they had showed improvement and felt that the opposition hadn’t smashed them, and had shown them some respect even though they are a team of learners. The winners still got their win, got to improve by working on specific plays and left everyone feeling like the game was fun.

I really like our coach and he is great with the boys. But if we were looking to join one of the other teams in the competition, I know where I’d be taking my son. Thanks for sharing your story, Kelly.


I pose the above question because I am seeing a rise in popularity for teachers using sites like Mathletics, StudyLadder, MangaHigh and others as part of their learning program for their students. Now I have no axe to grind with these sites as many students do find them engaging and a way to improve their mathematical facts recall but I am concerned that in some cases, these sites are being used as "the maths programme" for the class and/or being used to address the use of technology in the classroom.

I'd love the opinion of a progressive maths educator as to the relative value of a site like Mathletics. My own personal experience with my eldest son is that the activities are easily gamed. My son is lousy at maths but has an excellent memory. He can do a multiple choice activity by trial and error, remembering the correct answer after multiple tries and just keeps restarting the activity until he gets a clear run and a memorised sequence of answers in his head. Now that might be a feat in itself but it does nothing for his understanding - and just cements all the problems that students get when trying to operate in digital abstraction when their needs are still in the physical concrete. But from his teacher's point of view, he is getting 20/20 in the set activities and looks like he has achieved mastery. I have a feeling that many of these sites have the same problem. They present mathematical learning as a correct answer scenario and can only use that data to measure progress. So, a teacher blindly substituting Mathletics (and I keep picking on this site because it is the one I am most familiar with and the one most South Australian schools are prepared to fork over precious dollars to but every education sector in the world would have its equivalents) cannot possibly know if the student is truly demonstrating mathematical learning.

The first part of my question is also part of my issue. Unless you are part of a 1 to 1 laptop school (and that is a privileged minority in the primary school sector) then you have to share fleets of laptops or computing suites with other classes within the school. Technology access is an issue that all schools have to wrestle with - using timetables, rotations and pods to make sure that the available technology is frequently and flexibly used. As we are living in a era where technology gives our students the opportunity to create, construct and reflect, then it makes sense that the majority of the technology access for our students should be devoted to that goal. These sites, in my opinion, don't fit the bill.

Am I the only one who has a problem with these sites? Is part of my problem my inability to communicate to others what the alternative - a research based comparison of city temperatures utilising web data and Excel created by my tandem partner last year with my class springs to mind - might look like?

Ever tried to keep on top of a school Network without a technician to call on. I am at the moment and every minute I spend creating Active Directory profiles or fixing an uncooperative wireless keyboard, I am appreciating their worth more and more. Even knowing the process for logging a warranty issue on a faulty laptop or restarting the server after a power outage is something that I normally can rely on to be technician's business so that I can focus on the bigger picture of improving learning outcomes for the students.

I was lucky to work with two really talented technicians over the course of 2011. The first is still back at my old site (as well as my own kid's primary school where he has helped agitate for some of the changes I've pushed for as a parent) but of course, I left there for a new opportunity at Woodville Gardens. There I was lucky enough to work with the second who did the leaving this time for an enticing position at another school (in an ironic twist). Between the two of them, I have seen the best traits of this crucial role in Australian schools.

A good technician is someone who says, "Tell me what you want to do, and I'll do my best to make it happen. I'll explain your best options but always allow your knowledge of learning priorities right of way."

A good technician knows how to translate technical jargon and processes into something that most educators can understand. A good technician is flexible and strives to minimise downtime in the classroom. A good techie knows how to self prioritise, to give suggestions and inside knowledge to the coordinator or AP, savvily stretch the finite budget and find the balance between troubleshooting and setting up stuff for the near and longer term future.

Unfortunately, we don't pay school based technicians much and many move on to more lucrative opportunities in private enterprise. In primary school, we ask them to be generalists and know a bit of everything but in contrast to much of the private sector, school technicians enjoy greater autonomy and less pressure from more understanding clients (the teachers!). Although as I juggle my AP responsibilities and the very basics of technical troubleshooting and early year network maintenance, I feel quite pressured!

So, if you're a technician in the Adelaide metro area looking for a challenge at a great school, let me know. I can't hold down this role forever. And you know you will be valued.


This not about Mac vs. PC.

This is about the Network (uttered in tones of reverence) - not the network (which we all use via our phones, our laptops, our gaming systems etc).

In schools, we love the concept of the Network. Not in the wide world connected definition, but the connect your device and store stuff in one secure environment type of concept. Every school I know about here in South Australia has a Network. It is usually set up for the staff and students to use exclusively when within the school environment. If it's not on "the Network" then it is isn't allowed in the school. It involves passwords and user profiles and printer permissions and wireless certificates (should your school be lucky enough to have some form of wireless environment). There are Windows Networks (the vast majority here in SA) and there are Mac Networks, and a few adventurous sites title themselves as cross-platform when they have a combination of both. I don't know too much about Linux although Grant High School (under the vision of Peter Ruwoldt, now in the APY Lands in the Far North of SA) were using Ubuntu in an extremely innovative way to build skills and engage with the wider community.

For teachers, the Network is a necessary evil. It keeps things "safe", is a place for the organisation and sharing of digital resources, and gives each staff member and student a safe digital storage space. Of course, many teachers still struggle with things like passwords, how to navigate to a folder to find something they had created earlier and sometimes need to write all of this process down on a piece of paper. Many believe that it is the Network that gives them access to the internet (the lower case n network) in much the same way that they believe the interactive whiteboard is a magical device, forgetting that it is just a dormant piece of plastic connected to the real magical device, the computer. So, it follows that many (not all and just in my experience) teachers like the idea of a single platform Network, preferably on a platform that they are familiar and comfortable with. Cross platform can evoke responses of fear and panic, and strategies of survival that unfortunately manifest themselves in restricted opportunities for students. Technicians within schools also command a fair bit of sway when it comes to determining a school's platform/Network direction. Those with Windows Server knowledge will talk down Mac software, complain about the hassle of dual platforms and highlight every single networking issue (real or imagined) that they can think of. And it works back the other way with gripes about messy updates, the constant vigilance against viruses and so on. And as for Linux, even though even a non-technical person like myself knows that its existence has borne much of the computing world as we know it, well, some technicians will complain about the lack of paid support and posit that if it is free, then it can't possibly be any good.

I like to believe that I am platform agnostic. I am happy to find my way around any OS, although my Ubuntu experience is limited to the Netbook Remix version sitting on my oldest son's netbook. Windows has a certain logic to it that seems to make sense in a school Network - and kids can easily save work to their folder and retrieve the contents from any connected computer on the system. I love my MacBook Pro and will probably buy Mac again for my own personal use - and it has become a bit of a cliche at my school with teachers who have become fervent Mac users to quote,"Once you try Mac, you'll never go back."

So, at my school, we are cross platform. This is as much about a conscious decision to do so as it was that when the three closing schools pooled their collective technology stock that there was a split of Macs and PCs that needed to be used. However, there are many advantages to have a foot in each major camp, so to speak. We don't want kids who are like some of the teachers - scared of a particular platform because they will need to "learn something new". In a world that is web based, whether your browser sits in a Windows OS or a Mac one is entirely irrelevant until instinct has you lunging for either the right or left side to close the window. As long as kids can make sense of menus and taskbars and file paths, then there is no good reason why Office should be preferred over other word processing tools, no reason why iMovie should be the only way to edit video. And with tablet devices bringing in more alternative operating systems (Android, iOS etc.) restricting today's learners to only one company's worldview of technology aided learning just doesn't make sense. I know the big companies probably don't support this point of view - things like Microsoft Innovative Teaching awards and Apple Distinguished Educator programs just emphasise that one way is the way to go.  But learning isn't device dependent - but it is increasingly becoming network enabled. And I mean the one without the capital letter.