Category Archives: Teaching

Stories and musing about teaching


Happy Pills

This morning, I summarised the gist of Ira Socol‘s excellent (as always) post titled “Social change and American school” with the following tweet: “We naively charge schools to ‘change the world’ but fail to change basic idea about schools. Right?” Ira agreed.

Here is a my response in little more than 140 characters…

For many years, we have continued to bamboozle students, ourselves, parents and the rest of the society with edu-trivia (class sizes, scheduling, constant assessment and curriculum changes …). We have increasingly separated education from the society it operates within by way of growing specialisation, technicality and digression into what are seen as strictly ‘educational’ issues. I am continuously amazed by the sheer amount and voracity of intellectual effort and energy (translate – opportunity cost) spent on it. It is truly baffling.

Because we don’t really know what schooling stands for, we tend to charge schools with awesome and often conflicting responsibilities. We are asked to babysit and discipline, encourage independence while constantly telling students what to do, develop deep thinkers but get them to change classes and focus on something else when the bell sounds, rote learn ‘tradition’ but develop critical thinking, develop a sense of community but at all times know where they rank and more. All of this of course comes on top of adding, cooking, sewing, dancing, using computers responsibly, painting, woodworking, working out relationships etc…

Welcome to edu-panacea, the magic cure-all. “This should be a part of school curriculum” I often hear various interest groups sprouting on the radio. Sounds familiar?

Then, as Ira points out, “when this absurd plan inevitably fails, we blame our teachers, our administrators, our parents, our students, and often, we begin to argue that only privatization can solve this.”

If education is considered a ‘powerful shaper of our society’ (throw in everything from solving poverty to solving digital divide as Ira points out) why don’t we ask more often: “What sort of society do we want? How does schooling fit into this?”

A society where only a few can truly be educated and the rest socialized and distracted to keep in peace? Yes/No? Checked your school/classroom behaviour management strategies lately? I don’t want to presume too much here but if you are feeling ‘bad’ right now – don’t, you probably had a lot to ‘get through’ that day… I know I do that, often.

Or do you want a society where everyone is capable of being educated and living a free and responsible life, where they are free to take risks and decide their life chances not just tinker with trivial life choices set out for them as ‘destiny’. Are you teaching for such a society? Can’t but would like to? Fancy dreams? I know that too …

Which of these two oppositional views are you closer to. What are doing about enacting them? Why (not)?

Education has the enormous power of achieving amazing success and at the same time induce fear. Did you know it was once illegal to teach slaves how to read and write? Ever wonder why? What is illegal today? Not to teach to the exam?

I dare you bring this up at the next staff meeting. Even if you do, I think the intended dialogue would quickly digress into discussion of technical problems and bureaucratic accountability.

I fear that we as educators have been reduced to technical experts armed with strategies to ‘deliver education’ dictated to us by the ebb and flow of cultural, political and economic forces.

Let’s pull back a little from negotiating edu-trivia and negotiate something that will really matter 30 years after the senior school ball.

Oh, and please read Ira’s post, he tells things better than me. Gotta go to class, the bell has just rung … (*salivating, salivating*)

Best teacher

Elise is a dear colleague. She has been teaching (only) for two years (English and ESL courses) and is one of those teachers that make me want to push for some kind of merit system of pay and/or recognition. I could go on about Elise here but suffice to say – she is an absolutely brilliant teacher in many, many ways. Most of all, she respects and believes in kids she teaches.

During a conversation this afternoon, she told me a story how a student (often labelled by others as a ‘troublemaker’, ‘tough to teach’ … you know those, right?) challenged a poorly prepared and rude practicum teacher she had recently supervised. Here is the scene and the lines (abbreviated but the gist is there):

Continue reading Best teacher

You Yankee bastard


A few days ago, Phyllis Zimbler Miller, LA-based author of the novel Mrs Lieutenant about the lives of wives of officers in Vietnam War contacted me (via Twitter via Daniel Needlestone from UK!) and expressed interest in the We Remember Vietnam War project I am running with my Year 10 class. She asked me to write a guest post on her blog for her mostly US audience to raise awareness not only about our project but about the involvement of Australians in Vietnam. Here is what I wrote…I hope I got the start right?

You Yankee bastard

Continue reading You Yankee bastard

Just do it

octopus arm
This Thursday I had the privilege of hearing one of my dearest and friendliest, uber-connected locals Sue Waters giving a keynote on PLN at the EDNA workshop. Great stuff – she managed to bamboozle the audience and have them eating out of her hands at the same time! After her gig we shared a quiet half an hour and the word got onto people who just talk and ponder about change instead of getting their hands dirty. Right on!

Here is my “getting hands dirty” bit, the reason you hear about it is because I am asking for your help and your digital-to-flesh tentacles.

This term, my Year 10 Society & Environment class is looking at Vietnam War as a broad topic. After quite a bit of discussion, brainstorming and even arguments with and among the 22-strong, very ‘mixed ability’ (love a nasty euphemism, don’t you?) class, we thought it would be a good idea to do something that would actually matter beyond “a grade, a tick, and a move on”. So we got ourselves into the national ANZAC School Awards competition. Of course, it wouldn’t be Mr Lasic who planted the idea that we may want to gun for the ‘best use of technology’ category would it 🙂

The class lapped up the challenge. I have NEVER seen them this motivated, keen and engaged. As I write this, I have kids, some of whom who don’t have computers at home (that’s right, call them digital native hey?) going to public library or staying at home to fool around and research the background info CD I had provided. Curious about what we are doing? Here is the link, all explained there –

So what is it that we need help with? Put simply, we are creating a digital mash-up map in Google Earth with personal stories about the time of Vietnam War – a mix of primary and secondary source historical data.

If you remember the period and/or if you know someone who lived in that period (particularly in Australia or Vietnam) or know a ‘connector’ who knows others – we would love it if you could tell us one positive and one negative experience related about the (time of and after) Vietnam War.


Go straight to the simple form (full link, you can copy if you like)

OR email the class at

OR leave a comment below

Now here comes the tentacles part…!

Please pass the message/link to project on in a true Web 2.0 manner (but avoid spam of course) – blog, Twitter, wiki, email. Let’s not forget the old phone and face-to-face either here…

We have already had a few people responding – Roger Pryor (he has already blogged it!), “cpaterso” (a reciprocal Twitter follower and a generous teacher from Sydney whose full name I don’t even know yet (!) and he has already provided some hugely useful personal contacts and suggestions), to name just a couple… within the first ‘public’ day.

This isn’t the first time I am asking for such a thing I know (thank you Charlie Roy, you are a superstar!). Hopefully, I have or (will have) clocked up enough good karma to see the human web in action and show what people can do with technology these days so it matters. So…just do it!

A big please and an even bigger thank you all from me and my bunch of 14-year olds.

What is a Zoodle? Moodle at the zoo


Cool morning, sunny +26 C day and the fantastic Perth Zoo were our playground yesterday for a bunch of our Year 9 classes. The excursion is a centrepiece of the term looking at endangered species of SE Asia and particularly Indonesia.

Sadly, not all students came along for various reasons. We wanted to make the occasion memorable beyond a paper worksheet, give students a chance to show what they got out of the day and, importantly, share the day and its (in)sights with students who stayed back at school. Luckily, Mr Lasic was on hand with his laptop, Bluetooth and Moodle – what a nerd!

We encouraged students to take pictures and clips with their mobile phones and cameras throughout the day (considering of course other zoo visitors and rules on using imaging equipment). At the end of the day, we asked the kids to pair up and take a 30 – 60 sec ‘interview’ of their buddy answering the question: “What have I learnt at the zoo today?”

On the bus driving back to school, students sent me their videos and images from mobile phone via Bluetooth. Within 5 minutes about 15 clips and 30 images effortlessly landed in my inbox. But wait – there’s more… For kids who had taken shots with their digital camera, I have opened a picture gallery (a handy preset in Database activity) for them to upload their shots from home. They have started trickling in since.

A video database will have the kids’ video clips plus a recording of an excellent presentation given to us by the zoo’s education staff – all on Moodle of course.

All of these will be made so students can download them, edit and/or mash them up (the more advanced users will), comment on entries and rate them. I think a blog post on “Why and how should I care about endangered species” for each student should be a pretty sound assessment piece with kids constructing it using their own or their peers’ materials rather than a copy/paste job off zoo’s website.

One student asked me: “If we put zoo stuff on Moodle does that make it a Zoodle?”


This morning I looked at the draft school policy on mobile phones, Mp3, cameras and other ‘gadgets’ as lots of people like to bundle’em up. It makes me want to look for another job straight away – I’ll spare you the rant.

Using Moodle Glossary to stop spoonfeeding students

red spoon

I am getting a little tired of ‘spoon-feeding’ and doing the heavy lifting for my students.

So, in a fine constructivist tradition, here is a little activity I have just pulled off in my Philosophy and Ethics class using Moodle’s Glossary activity to get them thinking.

I got students into groups of three, one is the official scribe. In groups they discuss and come up with a definition/ explanation of their allocated concept. They must use examples to demonstrate their understanding of the concept (eg. ‘reason’, ‘valid argument’, ‘inference’…). The scribe enters the definition into the course glossary I had set up. Apart from text, students can add pictures, graphics, even embed videos to support their explanation using the Glossary’s HTML editor.

Students can edit entries at any time (maybe tonight from home, I remain hopeful 😀. They can comment on entries (“I think your starting premise is probably wrong so your final argument falls apart…” kinda thing). Students can also rate each other’s entries.

The idea is that the students throughout the year add and keep improving definitions of key concepts we use in class in a way that makes sense to them.

The rule is “if you can’t explain it to a friend sitting next to you it does not get published” (no copy/paste from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy here)

Thank you Moodle. Love teaching!

Help a sinner!

AhAs a coordinator of a senior school course called Career & Enterprise at our school I have decided to take a different tack on the often over-worked career exploration, life and work balance, resume writing, job finding and similar themes of the course in the past. This year the focus is on ICT and the way it has been changing our social and professional lives. The course aims to be innovative (eg. major projects are set in the community, students running ed-tech workshops for interested staff) and looks to sometimes challenge a few ‘sacred cows’ of mainstream schooling (eg. teachers and students will often switch roles). For brevity and those interested, here is the link to the syllabus.

‘That sounds interesting’ you may say but that ‘interesting’ bit could be like the (oft misused) Chinese proverb. Why? I am taking a big gamble here – and I need your help.

Continue reading Help a sinner!

Rita’s story

//, nothing to do with the book with the same name but there are, if unintended, similarities.

My teaching story has been inexorably linked with one colleague – Rita. Ever since she supervised me on my first teaching practicum many years ago our paths have managed to cross in different locations. Over the last three and a half years, we have shared a desk, made each other coffee, covered each other’s classes, team-taught on several occasions, laughed and cared about each other. With her grace, wisdom and impeccable respectfulness, Rita has helped me better understand and deal with students we teach. In return, I have helped her with a gentle lead into the crazy, hyper world of instructional technology.

Rita has been teaching mostly History and Society & Environment (old Social Studies) for 25 years across many public schools, first in Germany then in Australia. When I rang her tonight to ask for her permission to write about our conversation this afternoon she asked me not to disclose her age, but laughingly agreed to my ‘diplomatic’ description of her as “closer to retirement than to her first day in class”.

Continue reading Rita’s story

My f*#!%ing goosebump story

// reading this post a word of warning. If you are easily offended by expletives or graphic descriptions please avert your eyes. If not – welcome to my world.

Our school carries a wonderfully bureaucratic euphemism – it is a “difficult to staff” school. We operate in one of the poorest areas of town. Many parents who send kids to our school have not been rewarded by the system of education and they hardly instil the values of importance of education in their offspring.

Last week, one of our students got assaulted by a former student of ours at a bus stop waiting to go to an excursion at a neighbouring university. I stopped the assault only to be assaulted myself. This afternoon, on the way to the bus stop I was called, loudly and in my face, a “fucking cunt” by a Year 10 student after calmly disposing of a piece of plastic hurled at me few moments earlier. He had sat in my class just a few hours before. This school term alone, I have lost track of the times I was told either directly or indirectly (but clearly) to either ‘fuck off’ or ‘piss off’, or was simply and completely ignored as a person, let alone some sort of person invested with authority and responsibility to care for and (forbid!) teach, role-model or ‘inspire’ as the quote garden would have it. About half of my Year 11 Economics class openly say that they are ‘dumb and don’t care about the grades anyway’. My colleagues could recount dozens of stories just like this or worse as part of their ‘regular day’. Yes, we have a reputation of a ‘bad’ school and, depending what measure you look at, we have numbers to prove it (hello bean counters and ‘performance managers’ out there!)

YET… Continue reading My f*#!%ing goosebump story

How can Moodle change a school

Before starting to work as a part-time technology integrator at our school this year, the principal asked me to come up with one ‘thing’, one key strategy for staff and students to ICT to improve their teaching and learning. After seeing the flexibility, robustness and ‘organic’ nature of Moodle the choice was pretty simple to make.

The video, shown here in two separate clips, is not so much about the technical features of Moodle but about people using it. I am forever indebted to our wonderful network administrator Russell Clarke, my colleagues from Moodle champions to Moodle beginners, and the students, who have taken to it so well (well, a healthy majority of them at least). Without them, none of the things shown in the clip would happen.

The focus of the first clip (9:58 min) is on the ways different, mostly standard features of Moodle have been used by various teachers and students at our school. If you can’t see this video (Part 1) please click here.

The second clip (5:43 min) shows the positive and in some cases very significant changes the establishment of Moodle has brought to our school in terms of using ICT to improve our core business – teaching and learning while modelling, establishing and maintaining healthy human relationships. If you can’t see the clip (Part 2) please click here.

I end this post with an anecdote from a teacher at our school. Over the last couple of weeks of holidays, my colleague Kim Bebbington built a fantastic course on Australian History, now shared by four other Year 8 classes. The course includes an assignment, due in week 3 of the upcoming term.

Deliberately or not, Kim left the course open to students to enrol and look at as he was building it. Imagine his (pleasant) surprise when he received a fully completed assignment (due in week 3) by one of the students in his class two days before the start of term.

But as wonderful and useful as Moodle has been, it is the people who are making the difference. It is not the technology itself – it is what we do with it.

If you are a ‘moodling’ teacher yourself, looking into it, or a person responsible for getting (particularly) teachers up to speed with Moodle and ICT in general I would love to hear from you – there is much to share and learn from each other.