Tag Archives: Technology and teaching

Ed-tech snake oil

snake oil

A re-read of an old gem (Postman’s speech ‘Informing Ourselves to Death) and a brief conversation with @pcoutas at our local Sunday morning markets prompted me to note a few questions that just scream to be asked every time people talk about ed-tech tools and their use.

  • What problem will use of [insert a tool] solve? (or asked differently ‘if [insert a tool] is the answer, what is/are the question(s)’?
  • Why is that (not) a problem to [you/others]? (or rather ‘who cares’, at this point refrain from ‘why should they care’, important to listen, not talk!)
  • How important is this problem to [you/others] ? (and how do/will you find out…)
  • What will be gained and what will be lost as a result of using [insert a tool] ? (technology giveth, technology taketh away…)

Be honest. If you don’t have or generate locally and contextually (no universals please!) sound answers and generate a bunch of questions as you go along – you are either selling or being sold snake oil.

Through Web 2.0

Today, we kicked off a Web 2.0 Expo at our school with two main aims. The first one is to make staff and students see and reflect on the changes in online world that are rapidly transforming and building communities on and offline…and all with a slightly pointy educational bend (see clip below). The second aim is to go hands on and start to dabble in or improve on ‘Web 2.0’ with a helping hand nearby – a modified “23 things” of a kind.

While the expo is the brainchild and organisational baby of ‘three amigos’ (Simon Carabetta, Jaeik Jeong & yours truly), it is the students as volunteer helpers that are the real drivers and superstars.

During the first day, we had a bunch of kids creating blogs, wikis, even a newly born Ning dedicated to the expo. We had a wonderful but usually very withdrawn student, who doesn’t have Internet access at home, absolutely flourishing after setting up his Gmail account (first ever) and within 45 minutes TEACHING (!!!) five other kids how to set up RSS through iGoogle (very “hole-in-the-wall”-ish). We had teachers saying things like “wow, this Skype is really neat!”, or “do you think we could set up a Ning with our pen pals in Hawaii?” (OK, we had our share of stuff-ups too :-P)

When asked about Ning, I simply pointed my colleague who asked the question to a self-appointed ‘Ning specialist’ among our student helper crew and 30 minutes later I saw them in deep conversation about “settings and updates”.

I said it before and I repeat – magic happens when students help teachers. I have not seen a teacher who refused help with tech when a kid says “did you know Miss there’s a really good way to do … Do you want me to show you?”

If I said it, it would not stick nearly as much (if at all).

For the occasion, I made an ‘introduction’ clip about Web 2.0, based on a fantastically funky YouTube clip by Kutiman (Thru-You-01 Mother of All Funk Chords) . The wording is appropriate because it is through the changing web (shhh, don’t mention Web 3.0 yet) and through the people that I for one hope to see the changes happen. Real ones.

I hope you enjoy the re-mix, feel free to share (see CC licence). I knew we were onto a good thing with it when a Year 10 student clapped when he saw it first. Students – the yardstick that matters by far the most in things ‘educational’. (if YouTube blocked, version here)

PS. We are hoping to bumble through our next few days just as well 😛 A message to people who were happy to ‘drop in’ – look out (& pass onward if you like) for tweet(s) with a drop-in link. Sorry, but it’s a little “crazy good as we go”. Any line, sound, tweet, comment from ‘the outside world’ will be read and appreciated, thank you.

(If you see an ad on top of the post… not my idea(l) 🙁 Sorry)

Moodle Monopolife


Source: ‘Lucky Roll’ http://www.flickr.com/photos/chaehbom/2246451899/

It’s been a while since I wrote anything ‘moodling’ but after this morning’s class I can’t help but quickly share this little gem.

In my Year 9 and 10 classes (both deemed ‘lower end’, damned labels…), I am trying to teach research skills, critical thinking skills and a bit of critical pedagogy to boot this term. It’s my last term at this school so I thought I’d go out with a bang 🙂

Last night, I created a monopoly board in a Moodle wiki. Nothing fancy, just a simple table in wiki’s HTML editor (no HTML knowledge required, just a bit of tinkering with 13 x 13 table in the enlarged editor). I entered the correct colour fields, nominal values of fields, utilities and stations. I then created a wiki page for each student by enclosing their names with hard brackets on the main wiki page (eg. [Matthew] ) and  copied the table with instructions into each personal page. This way, students simply click their name of the main wiki page, click ‘Edit’ and go for it. If you are not so handy with Moodle wikis, here is a “2 Minute Moodle” on it.

At the most basic level of the task, students have to find median house prices in Perth suburbs and enter them accordingly on the board, as well as find names of train stations and utilities. Basic internet search demonstrated – easily, but not for all.

They have to create 10 of their own Chance and Community Chest cards that need to reflect the realities of life in our city – more digging around and seeing what kids know, value (and not).

If they choose to do so (commensurate with higher achievement too), kids can come up with their own monopoly topic/theme – eg. Swan River (main river in Perth) and write their own ‘values’, cards and rules. But they need to ‘keep it real’ and back what they write with info they find.

Because this whole thing is in a wiki, kids can share and help each other out at any time. All boards are easily printable, exportable and of course – ultimately playable.

We had our first run this morning and I sent out a tweet: I wish I could bottle this engagement & open it on a bad day.

While the kids are beavering on their own game, I’m creating my own version – but with a twist. The idea came from a passing comment by a student, while brainstorming for open ended questions about Monopoly a few days ago:

“What if Monopoly was like real life. You sort of get your chance card when you are born, don’t you?” (who says kids aren’t great philosophers)

We have done a little bit of work of chances and choices in life and the difference between them. In light of that, my Chance card will have a theme “chances” in life, Community Chest will be “choices” in life. The cards will have statements with NO assigned further action (eg. none of the ‘Get $100). A Community Chest card may be “You fail to graduate from high school”. I will design a few sample cards, the rest will be decided by class before we settle and design our ‘Monopolife’.

The statements will (I hope!) lead to an open ended discussion and negotiation between players how far should the player go forward, backward, penalties, advances etc. And it is this discussion I am most interested in, to see how kids reason, argue, feel, value on their own terms.

I am hoping for a discussion with questions like: What can we do with choices in life? What about chances? Should we simply give up? Why are choices and chances (not) the same? What if you were really rich/poor and had different chances? etc.

Those are in no textbook I have seen but they are life. A life where chances of those with the most are often presented as universal choices, breeding resentment, stress and, so often misery. And vice versa. And all in between in all its messiness, through lack (and oversupply) of understanding and care.

We may not ‘succeed’ in everything planned with this game, but if we enjoy next week or two in class, develop some valuable life skills, and see each other as fellow, struggling, hoping human beings – our work will be done.

Pass’n’Go ! 🙂

Ask the kids

My Listening Ears

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/niclindh/1389750548/

I have grown a pretty thick skin over the past few years dealing with questions like “What difference can digital technology REALLY make in schools?” For the record, I loathe ‘electronic worksheets’ and my mantra has long been “if you can do it better, simpler, faster in pen and paper then…use pen and paper.” But try to come close to this without digital technology:

Earlier this term our school Moodle site got a nice new design. But things did not just look nicer. The aim was to make Moodle more ‘owned’ and used by students. To my delight, the biggest change has proved to be participation in the student ‘Have Your Say’ forum, now made prominent by a big clickable picture right on the top of front page.

From the very first day, students have jumped on it. Within two months, our forum is sporting over 60 conversations (another dozen already deleted as they lost currency or were clearly spam). They range from the inane, “lolz-full” to very serious, thoughtful stuff in many of the forum’s conversation threads, some with 40 posts or more.

A number of staff have actively joined in some of the conversations questioning, explaining, supporting or sometimes challenging the kids as equals. I have heard a number of comments along the lines “I love checking the kids forum when I get a spare minute, it’s addictive.”

Through the forum, the school community has had a chance to safely bring out in the open and many times incredibly thoughtfully discuss the issues that were considered ‘off the table’. Our forum is in an environment that is open (in mind and method) and very egalitarian. Yes, there are some ranty posts, immature responses and all, but to actually see the kids write and speak out in public, then be prepared to have their views scrutinised, confirmed or challenged is something that is not cultivated in many (formal) classes or so often gets the ‘educational’ label that suffocates the real and raw. This is huge for a school that is (still) suffering from the mentality of fear of standing out, amplified of course by teenagehood itself.

There is no other physical or virtual space like it at our school to bring together students of all ages and year cohorts to speak to each other. There is no other space like this where kids have time, space and (to many) a very familiar method to respond. There is no other space to bring students and staff together to share their ideas safely, and with the reasonable choice of (non)participation that breeds real maturity and responsibility. There is no hiding behind fake names – everyone stands behind their words, for good or bad. There is no shouting, interjecting, excluding, bullying … we are equal.

Technically, the forum is just your stock-standard garden variety of a Moodle Standard Forum, set up in a couple of minutes. The forum rules consist of one line: Keep spam and swearing to yourself. Now, let me remind you that we (our school) are not exactly stereotyped as ‘well behaved’ but rather the other way around. So one would think there’d be lots of trouble?

I moderate the forum with the help of four students (two junior, two senior) and so far, we have only had to intervene twice (spamming) as moderators. At all other times, it has been the students themselves who reminded each other about what the forum is for and what is (not)appropriate. Guess what sticks more – being told by a teacher or told by a bunch of your peers?

The forum has given our administration, teachers, Student Council and all the students indeed enough material to think about for months! And more …

One could ask “What has all that got to do with education?” My response: “Everything!”

It is touching what we, teachers are there for and we should be listening to every day – student voice. It is a crazy, young, hormonal, loyal, moody, clever, honest voice of people we are trusted to spend so much time and achieve so much with. Slowly, things like this are changing the kids from mere cooperators to true collaborators (Cooperate= work together to achieve the requested/ordered. Collaborate= work together to achieve shared goals & agreed methods of achieving them). It moves them from compliance to consideration, from being told to telling, from sharing what they think to shared thinking.

I know that some of my colleagues would knee-jerk at this point: “So you want the kids to be always right and run the show?” If/when it ever comes to that I’d just post the statement in the Have Your Say student forum for the kids themselves to answer probably with far greater maturity, passion and eloquence than expected.

And if by any chance think I am making this up, here’s one of the posts from the forum:

“Keep your opinion to yourself” is a phrase I see constantly repeated in this forum. Have your say is here for the purpose of having one’s say in matters.

Yes, one may say something others may find offensive but I’m sure a lot of which is just poorly worded. It happens, especially when so many people abbreviate and don’t proofread their writings. Anyway, telling someone to keep their opinions to themselves defeats the purpose of this very liberating setup, I could go so far as to say it undermines our democratic state and rights of “free speech” – it’s somewhat over exaggerating, but it’s the truth in a sense.

With people keeping their opinions to themselves mankind would not have gotten anywhere, if Charles Darwin had not observed animal variation and voiced his opinions we would not know of evolution now. If Karl Benz didn’t share his idea of getting from point A to B faster and more efficiently we would not have the ever-popular automobile. If Mr. Lasic had not been so in-touch with our generation and modern learning we would not have moodle and intern this forum to voice our opinions.

Some opinions are somewhat ridiculous (look at mein kampf!), but I am sure we are all mature enough to dismiss such frivolous propositions without the need of jumping on the “keep your opinions to yourself” bandwagon.

Feel free to elaborate on this.

Thank you.

And they did! 20 posts later, the thread is still going. I have used it in my Philosophy & Ethics class too (excuse the gratuitous flattery of my name there 😛 )

What has that got do with education? Can digital technology REALLY make a difference in schools?

Just ask the kids. And listen. Carefully.

Maslow before Bloom

I have experienced it many times yet I am still amazed by the willingness of students to share information online they would not divulge in person. Through a private chatroom, messaging or a similar (private) medium, I have found out things I simply would not be privy to otherwise.

The main reason for it is pretty obvious: students feel safe and comfortable there. The power relationship is leveled, there are no raised or hushed voices, everything is recordable (no “teacher’s word against student’s”), trust is open, implicit and mutual, students are comfortable with the medium, they have time to consider, change, delete what they say… in short a differently powerful way of communicating that can be very effective and empowering for students and teachers alike. Oh yes, we ‘dislike’ or ‘ban’ that sort of stuff at schools around the country…

During a brief private chat with one of my students today, an old idea sprang forth. The idea isn’t exactly about technology but the priorities we (learn to) assign and value.

Since the 1950’s Bloom’s taxonomy has been widely quoted in edu-circles. The pyramidical, cognitive domain (do you know the other two Bloom wrote about?) has been a particularly prominent marker in deciding what goes on in classrooms. Lately, the original cognitive canon of “remember, understand, apply, analyse, evaluate, create” has even been revised to its ‘21 century’ digital incarnation and increasingly used by a range of people from parents, teachers, administrators to computer sellers.

But here is another one of those pyramids that came out about a decade before Bloom. Created by Abraham Maslow, the pyramid shows the hierarchy of human needs . Basic needs like food, shelter, water etc on the bottom, creativity, problem-solving and other, ‘higher order’ needs much touted by the digital peddlers like me at the top. If you haven’t come across it here is the classic diagram.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs

Now, this isn’t rocket science. If a kid is hungry, feels threatened, unsafe, not well, insecure or lacking to satisfy any of those needs towards the bottom, he or she might but is not very likely going to scale the heights of Bloom, no matter what you do or what shining resources you throw at them.

But unless we ask and/or observe carefully we might actually miss those signs. We push ‘Bloom’ and so often forget or take ‘Maslow’ for granted. Maslow ain’t digital either but digital tools can help, a lot.

I sent out a tweet last night with a link and a question about this. One reply (thanks Colin, @cytochromec ) was particularly poignant:

I had a prof who discusses pyramid on the first day. Only teacher who openly inquired if we were safe/healthy/fed/housed

“Only teacher”! Will you be that teacher or will you just go ahead and try to educate their head (often in vain)?

Yes sure, Maslow had his fair share of critics too but (just like Bloom) his ideas are still useful as a rough guide. It is not a gospel but can be a good daily reminder about what comes first.

Have a good day at school tomorrow.

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 – http://weremember.wikispaces.com/

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 weremember09@gmail.com

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.

A bride stole my show

BrideSurvived the two days of ‘teacher development’ before the students fill the classroom on Monday!

The standard PowerPoint overkill on compliance, procedures, initiatives, scores etc breached just about every rule of good communication, so I decided to cut my presentation from 30-45 minute mix of ‘tech stuff’ and animation (see the intended icebreaker monkeys below, text here) to a very brief 10 minute stand-up address. Even though a bride-to-be upstaged my presentation (no kidding, she walked in about 2 minutes into it and had everyone admiring her dress…she did look stunning, best wishes!), I think I managed to sow a few seeds without those glazed looks on people’s faces.

I flagged the running and the format of regular workshops on the use of technology in class but I didn’t tell staff what the workshops will be on. Moodle is probably a gimmie, but the rest….?
Continue reading A bride stole my show

Sunrise 09

Rottnest sunrise

Before going back to school tomorrow, here are a few of my professional aims for the year.

  • Continue to try, question, reflect on how digital technology (DT) can enhance and/or threaten the purpose of education (not schooling!) as it see it: to extend the understanding of the world beyond our immediate experiences while respecting those experiences, and through that learn how to function as individuals together in ever-changing societies.
  • Continue my “deliberate practice” and get as many colleagues, students, friends as possible to enjoy DT for the humanity it can enable and enhance.
  • Write a book on Moodle (yep, working on it!) and continue to teach and learn (with) this phenomenal resource.
  • Work on EVICTS becoming a useful point for collaboration between teachers.
  • Run a Philosophy & Ethics course for which I have worked hard to get into our school.
  • Attend and/or present at a MoodleMoot somewhere.
  • (Continue to) love serendipity afforded by social media but say ‘no’ when sleep and rest are needed.

May another Antipodean school year begin!

Attitude and gratitude

‘Human’ on a lighter and shorter note today 😀

Over the last 24 hours, I connected a person from Ireland and a company in Pittsburgh to help each other out. This morning, I shared a pile of resources with a person in Bendigo like we were sitting a foot apart. This afternoon, my son showed his new fire engine to his excited, doting grandmother in Slovenia over a webcam. Tonight, I had chat with a person from Birmingham (with our regular third person from Sydney missing but whose excuse I could see on Flickr – happy birth day little Caitlyn). As I write this I am getting teased from Adelaide over Twitter. And that’s definitely a list of all the (inter)national connections I have been directly a part of today and just about every day recently.

WOW :-O !!!

As the pace and width of tools and gadgetry grows, we often don’t have time to stop and ponder the fact that all these things are now possible (and quite cheaply and easily too). We are too busy chasing the next flashy ‘must have’ and getting all worked up about the now ‘old and cranky’ present we loved so much around last Christmas. But let’s not get negative here 🙂

Here is a short and funny take by the comedian CK Lewis on attitude and gratitude for all our tech stuff. Enjoy the 4 minutes and remember the clip next time you complain about (lack of) some technical gear.