Students teaching the teachers – the best tech PD comes from kids #ipadkl

One of my jobs in the last few weeks has been to share professional learning back to the other teachers in the school. Way back in September last year I attended the iPad summit ISKL. It’s been almost 6 months since the conference, which may seem a long time to go between attendance and feeding back to the teachers at my school.

However there was an unexpected benefit to the timing.

Since the conference, I had really bedded in some of the lessons from summit into my classroom practice. Over the course of the year iPads went from being something the kids never use, to something they use every day. So rather than me get up and say ‘here’s what they talked about this conference I attended last month,’ I figured I’d follow ISKL’s lead and have the kids in my class lead the session.

This may seem the easy way out but it actually turned out to be a lot more work.

  • I needed to write letters and gain permission from parents as it was after school.
  • I had co-construct with the kids which Apps they should be showcasing.
  • I helped set the kids up for success by having them think about what they wanted to say and actually practice saying it.

However the pay off in learning especially for the children was huge.

  • The children were able to show leadership through helping others.
  • A student who often makes unwise decisions was able to share learning and help. Other teachers got to see another side to this child.
  • Students who are normally shy in class were able to speak with confidence to adults in the room.
  • The kids got to see the hidden world of teachers PD. Are kids even aware of the learning that goes on behind closed doors?

The best part?

I didn’t hand pick students for this event, I just used the kids in my class who had time to help out. With swim team photos and soccer practice on after school today, the most proficient users of ICT in my class weren’t available.

Yet the more I think about, that’s the way it should be.

Anyone should be able to come into a class I teach and ask any kid what they are doing with the technology and why they using this particular piece of technology to support their learning.

It’s easy for teachers to get up and talk, showing off the latest flashy tool or new app. The true test of their teaching is that the children can show an understanding to help others.

I think the kids did that today.


Demonstrating using words their way on iPads

So your #ade2015 application was rejected…

Image by author

Image by author

Over the week there’s been a flurry of tweets and Facebook updates from those educators who have been selected to attend this year’s Apple Distinguished Educator institutes. With all the back slapping and congratulatory updates, those who didn’t get in may be feeling their application was the only one not accepted.

There were plenty who didn’t get in, but people who don’t often use social media to talk about setbacks.

But is it really a failure?

@robnewberry summed up my thoughts on the matter in a 140 characters:

I can think of plenty of educators out there doing fantastic things in the classroom who don’t care whether Apple thinks they are distinguished or not. I’ve met some amazing educators doing incredible things who didn’t get in. And I’ve met a few teachers who have got the nod from Apple  and wondered ‘how did that happen?’ after I met them.

Yes the ADE institutes are incredible and anyone rejected would be wise to stay well away from social media during the events.

Yes you should definitely pull @jayatwood and re-apply if you don’t get in if you feel the award is worth your time and effort.

But as an educator you do need to be critical of what is driving your desires.

Is it really a desire to share or more to be recognised? Education is field where you’ll find plenty of people telling you what you are doing is wrong. As a result, having someone give you a gold star for your teaching feels pretty bloody awesome.

Apple has been brilliant at cultivating the idea that PCs are for lowly, poor and unimaginative people with boring jobs while Apple products are for clever, creative types.

That’s part of the reason so many of us will shell out more money for Apple products. Middle class teachers can’t out-consume each other because we can’t afford to. But we can and do compete with each other about making the ‘right’ consumer choices.

So to get the nod from Apple must mean your teaching is clever and creative rather than dull and tired.

But really should we get this excited about a company giving their seal of approval to teachers?

Shouldn’t teachers be the ones giving the nod to good products?

To those educators who were selected congratulations. To those teachers who got rejected commiserations.

Both groups need to remember kids you teach everyday don’t really care about the awards you win. They just want you to do your job effectively.

Cross Post: Final #coetail Course 2 reflection – We don’t just enjoy, we participate #coetail


Not as close as we think…

A few years ago, I was looking for images to highlight how technology had changed our society. As I researching I wondered how the people of the past imagined how my life was today and I stumbled upon the image of the ‘Push button school of the future’ from a comic series called ‘Closer than we think.’

Image via Paleofthefuture

The school was a reaction to two trends, to address a labour shortage as the baby boomers made their way into the school system and the technological optimism of the 1950s. But all this technological change was still being used with a healthy dose of 1950s classroom management, there are cameras in the terminals for the purposes of surveillance.

“The Rise of the Computerized School,” illustrated by Shigeru Komatsuzaki conceptualises that robots will prowl the classrooms where students sits at individual terminals, striking students when they get something wrong or are off task.

Image via the pinktentacle

What I find interesting about the images are that the creators was on the money as far as technology goes. You’ve got the teacher up on the big screen disseminating knowledge. That’s not far from today’s reality of flipped learning.

The Komatsuzaki cartoon shoes how a student  can revise answers by writing on their screens based on teacher feedback.That’s differentiated instruction and Explain Everything.  Some schools have taken this trend to its –  logical conclusion replacing teachers with computers for traditional skill and drill activities.

What is really amazing in these images is that they imagine these amazing technological changes without stopping to think about the changes that technology brings to learning culture. And if you think we have moved on from the 1950s and 60s, then look closely at the advertisement I snapped last year at ISTE.


Photo by author


Supervision and control, differentiated instruction.

Maybe we aren’t as close we think.

A change in culture…

What is really amazing in these images is that they imagine these amazing technological changes without stopping to think about the changes that technology brings to culture in our classrooms. Our teachers are still all powerful and all knowing. Our students are still passive recipients of knowledge. The main use of technology is learning subjects out of context and without relevance to the students interests. Schools have a culture of surveillance and low trust. They punish those who step out of line.

Technology won’t fix problems of poor pedagogy and classroom management.

If the biggest selling points of the tech tools teachers are using in the classroom are compliance, surveillance and quizzes, then technology won’t solve the problem of learner engagement. Technology can’t and won’t fix problems of poor pedagogy and classroom management by teachers.  But it can replace teachers who haven’t grasped that the internet has changed who we are and how we function in this culture.

Which it actually brings up a terrifying proposition for teachers – we might be displaced.

It’s scary right?

machine.001When we talk about wanting our students to be more engaged and learn more that in fact it might be teachers sometimes are in the ones standing in the way.

Because that might mean we need to change, how we learn, how we engage how we get along in this digital culture.

We have seen the enemy and it is us.

School lunches will never be the same…

In 2012 a Scottish primary student called Martha set up a blog last year called Never Seconds that reviewed the school dinners. There was a photo of the dish, how many mouthfuls each dinner had and a quick review of the taste of the meal.

The blog hit the media and then the local authority in charge of this particular school did the worst thing you can possibly do to a 10 year-old blogging about school lunches.

They asked her to shut it down.

Martha was marched into the heads office and where they asked her to stop taking pictures of her school lunch the blog quickly went viral. This a screen shot I grabbed of references to Martha in Google news about a week after the story went viral.

Screen shot


All of a sudden a 10 year old was trending on Twitter. People were quite rightly outraged at the thought of censorship. Eventually the school relented. Martha has published a book and has used her new-found fame to raise funds for a charity supplying lunches in Malawai.

Popular culture isn’t just this one way street anymore people. Kids can publish, photograph and video their worlds to the world.

Are we going to like what they say?

Does it even matter?

Aren’t 60% of the pictures on Facebook just of people’s cats?

Well yes…

Kevin Allocca’s TED talk Why YouTube videos argues that unlike the one way participation of 20th century audience participation is an integral part of popular culture in the 21st century either by spreading it or doing something new with it.

image by author


Shirley style?

You would have had to be living in a cave or possibly in North Korea to not have been part of Gangnam style. The video has been viewed so many times it broke YouTube.  And millions of us participated in this trend through sharing and remixing.

This video was put up by a group of Shirley Boys High School protesting their school’s proposed merger with Christchurch Boys High. The students were using remix culture as vehicle for social expression gaining nearly 40,000 views and the merger was dead within a few months.

Our kids are now participating, not just in memes but using the internet as a way to influence their society we live in their own image. We need to move our educational paradigm from the analogue to the digital.

Educational paradigmA couple of years ago, my school-wide topic was citizenship and I asked my class if they would be interested in making a submission to a parliamentary select inquiry into e-learning.

There were questions. What’s a submission? What’s a select committee? Can kids do this? Will we get arrested?

But eventually the kids pulled together a submission. Each group wrote and then filmed a section of the report that they filmed on iPod touches. However it was important that the kids had a broad audience

as possible. So the video got uploaded to YouTube.

The question then was, well how do we make sure the committee members see the movie so the kids used the class twitter account and got in touch with Members of Parliament via twitter. The response was amazing, 2 hours later the chairwoman of the committee had responded to the kids on the class blog.

And a few months later this happened.

The kids were amazing but they had a lot of help along the way.

They Skyped a class in Auckland to talk about their 1:1 programme, they visited a new school to look at modern learning environments. I also put out a call for help on twitter and managed to get Wellingtons most prominent political lobbyists to sit with the kids for a session to help them prepare to speak in front of decision makers, media and their families.

For the kids to be a success, they needed to learn from people.

What is like in 1:1 classroom? What is a modern learning environment? What is like spending time in front of select committee?

I couldn’t tell them answer to those questions but I could put them in front of people who did know.

I also had a lot of trust in the kids to do the right thing.

As a teacher it was equally exhilarating and terrifying as a teacher to have your 12 year old students sitting in front of members of parliament, the media and packed select committee room telling their stories.

Because at any point in this journey things could have gone wrong and I’d be writing a very different story.

And my leaders also had to have trust in me, to make sure I was preparing the kids.

The more I think about it, the more I realise that even now many principals would have baulked at the idea of kids using social media to contact decision makers to influence change let alone doing it as part of a unit of learning. Or the submission, both verbal and virtual, could have been edited to the point where the kids lost all ownership over the project. The kids still needed to be them.

@carolynstuart my principal at the time, recognised that strong contexts and making connections beyond the classroom was valuable tool for learning. She did so because she recognised that difference between stress and empowerment was knowledge.

What makes the web so powerful?

The power of the internet isn’t that we can bring content into our classrooms or make connections just for the sake of making connections. The power of the internet in the classroom is that it makes the gap between real world and school a whole lot smaller.

Our kids don’t need to study dumbed down problems and get lectures on cybersafety. They can use the web as a powerful tool to make change whether it be lobbying MPs for modern learning or getting better lunches into schools.

What problems are there in your community that your students can help solve?

What issues can they speak up on?

The internet gives our students not just the ability to listen to others but also to speak up.

Image by Author

from Teaching the Teacher

Links you should be reading a bunch of part 3

The time has come to redefine old age – I define old age as some who has seen the unaltered version of star wars.

Morning Lois of Sharon, Lois and Bram – One of the few parts of Canadian culture I picked up, Skinnamarinky, dinky do.

Instagram’s TMZ – gossip magazines are adapting to new medium

Digital Natives, Yet Strangers to the Web “. Kids not only need to be proficient in how to use digital technology, becoming savvy coders and prolific ebook readers, he explains—they also need to deeply, holistically, and realistically understand how the digital world works behind the scenes.”

Washed Up: Alejandro Duran’s Site-Specific Found Plastic and Trash Installations brilliant take on using environment to take a look on the new

This Woman’s Innovative ‘Resumé’ Thoroughly Impressed Airbnb’s CEO – Resumes are becoming more personalised to who you are applying to not what you do

Starwars plane to be released by All Nippon Airways – clearly I need to return to Japan hence and forthwith

Provocation – Setting the scene for Inquiry

Provocation is a powerful item in the inquiry learning tool box. It sparks confusion, a strong reaction and above all curiosity. 

One of the strongest take aways from spending time at the International School Ho Chi Minh City (ISHCMC) was how a strong provocation not only gets kids interested in the concepts but seeing themselves as practitioners in the academic discipline to construct their understandings. The kids at ISHCMC weren’t learning about science, they were scientists solving a mystery. 

Since my visit to ISHCMC back in October, I’ve been dabbling with developing learner identity as we’ve moved through Units of Inquiry at my school.  Kath Murdoch’s piece on creating a strong habitat for inquiry provoked me to think about how I was going to use the classroom environment to provoke the children’s curiosity in our last Unit of Inquiry for the year into How the World Works.

This inquiry is looking at how physical forces are shaping our planet. A potentially dry and dull topic, yet one in which the classroom environment could play a vital role in provoking my learners interest. Though not through pretty wall displays or watching dry videos but through experiencing those forces.

As I thought back to my own terrifying experiences of being jolted awake by rumblings from below or seeing my kitchen cupboards dance off the shelves during the sequence of earthquakes in Wellington in 2013, I realised that most of my learners had not experienced an earthquake. How could help them feel this?

Classroom teachers can’t just dial up earthquakes but with a bit of creative thinking we can help our children experience them.

Classroom items on the floor

Classroom items on the floor


I spent morning tea quickly turning my classroom furniture upside down, dumping supplies on the floor and placing photos of earthquake damage,  fault lines and liquefaction over the floor and walls. I also curated a playlist of raw footage of earthquakes on youtube and projected them up on our whiteboard blaring into the classroom.


Watching the ground open up…

Setting the scene.

Before the kids entered the pod, I let them know a disaster had struck our pod and the classrooms were now dangerous to enter. As the kids were let into our central pod area, the sounds of sirens were blaring through our speakers. We talked about how we would need to be scientists to solve but then a strange loud rumbling again hit the pod, forcing the kids to duck and cover.

Taking cover as the 'earthquake' hits

Taking cover as the ‘earthquake’ hits


Dressing up helps give the children construct that identity. As scientists the children decided they need to look slowly and deeply, taking details, recording them, asking questions. The attitudes the children bring to this experience is just as important as the content and concepts they are exploring.


Labcoats add to developing identity as scientists


iPads were an integral part of the experience. The kids used them to document their observations of our environment. The beauty of the device is along with being lightweight and easy to carry around, they serve multiple purposes. The kids used the iPads to document observations, add thoughts through annotation on apps such as skitch, participate in a back channel through QR codes and also for the kids to start researching what they had seen. Without prompting the children were starting to google terms such as ‘fault line’ ‘magnitude’  ‘earth cracked’ in order to gain a deeper knowledge of their environment.

IMG_8059Good old fashioned science experiments

Some of the clips projected on the board were of liquefaction, how did that happen? Is that a flood. So I had some wet sand on hand to shake up and the kids watched the water bubble up to the surface.


Days like these are emotionally draining.

Today I managed two back to back to provocations, one before lunch with my Year 4 class and then managed one with two other teachers for the entire of Year 3.

Getting kids into the mood involves a huge emotional investment on you as a teacher. You yourself need to become so many roles. Scientist, guide, journalist, communicator, civil defence leader. set dresser, foley artist. By the end of the day I was emotionally and creatively spent.

I’ll take tomorrow to reflect with the class then look at the data and think about where to go from here over the weekend.

Despite feeling exhausted, the appeal of these provocations is simple.

You can’t be what you can’t feel. 

That’s what turns a simple photo on the floor into something amazing.

The best app to use in the classroom? The camera

DSC_0181When other teachers find out I’m Apple Distinguished Educator, I’m often asked if I’ve got a killer reading, spelling, writing, maths app recommendations.

There’s almost a sense of a let down when I say the app that my students and I use most in my classroom is the camera.

Yet when in the course of the day that’s the one we go to first.

Kids will be using video to ‘show what they know’

  • talking through a maths strategy
  • recording themselves read to check for fluency
  • creating stop motions of spelling words
  • videos in response to book.

The photography function enables the children to capture what they see, progress, observations  as well as adding photos to the class flickr account which they often share with their parents back home The photos can be used and remixed for other purposes.

As a teacher I’m forever using my camera snapping pictures of the kids. As I teach in an international school, parents are arriving from very different context. At the moment I have a child new to the class who has come from a phonics-dominated reading programme. I could have written a long email and talked through what was happening but things were best when I grabbed my camera during a reading lesson and filmed part of the lesson.

From there the parents could see how the children were interacting with the text in the class and what we were trying to achieve. Showing what was happening was so much valuable than any explanation I could have given.

Cross Post: Crowdsourcing conference paperwork #learning2 #coetail


I was unable to attend Learning2 last year as I was attending a PYP workshop. Despite sitting in beautiful Phuket, I had a major case of conference envy seeing all the tweets and pictures from Learning2 lighting up my social media feed. Even though I watched some of the talks via youtube, it wasn’t enough.

Being there is everything.

In that spirit, I’m going to crowd source my professional learning paperwork in the hope it might help others. When I tweeted the idea to @mscofino she pointed out  there will probably be others in the same boat. I’ve created a google doc for people to share their experiences.

Feel free to add photos, movies, links and your words to this doc or remix it for your own purposes.

from Teaching the Teacher