Links you should be reading…

Things that have been capturing my attention from the interwebs this week.

Income inequality, as seen from space Take to time to study the pictures comparing affluent neighbourhoods to non-affluent neighbourhoods before reading the blurb.The pictures would be a great visual provocation for sharing the planet.

In a world where the representation of girls is so often associated with saccharine sweetness – a refreshing photographic story – Strong is the new pretty.

You’ll need some tissues for this one – Teenagers Face Early Death, on Their Terms

Gamification is a hot topic in education right now. In Make a Game Out of Learning takes a closer look at the trend arguing that “Games that “make math fun” typically don’t require players to use math in any real sense”

Singapore’s transmogrification is highlighted in this article the Singapore slider – which compares various locations around the city with modern photos.

I love Amy Poehler. A great story on How Amy Poehler became a mentor to the teen Internet.

Believe it or not “learning styles” do not exist. – key quote ‘most of what you learn in school is not kinaesthetic, auditory or visual. It’s meaning based.’

Secondary school assessment. @claireamosnz, one of my favourite people on the interwebs (and in real life) ponders lower level secondary assessment Why are you still doing NCEA level 1? while in Canada final exams are also losing favour.

Their moment @stumpteacher really grasps what school is about.

On imperfect memory “Remembrance of Things Lost” What makes memories precious, even certain “bad” ones, is forgetting, of course.

Finally Are we training our students to be robots? via @sonjanz has my mind ticking over around the purposeful use of technology in the classroom.

Consistency – I don’t think that word means what you think it means

Consistency – Does it mean what you think it means?

Language is a powerful tool in education.

It can be used to open new ideas and concepts but it can also be used to shut people out of conversations.

One of the words that I often find myself hearing in conversation is consistency.

We want the children in our schools to exercise consistent behaviour and receive consistent standard of education.

“Students need to have the same experience otherwise parents will compare.”

I often have trouble reconciling the frequent usage of this term in schools while at the same time striving to ensure all the children have powerful and meaningful learning experiences in class.

From my perspective consistency means a lack of change and of deviation. Creating a personalised learning environment for my students requires a great deal of responsiveness and flexibility.

After setting the last Unit of Inquiry’s central idea ‘Cultures express themselves through the arts’ and key concepts, my team went off in entirely different directions using different disciplines to explore the same concept. Instead of each class doing the same thing, each teacher played to their strength.

We will finish up our unit with a festival arts where the children have an opportunity to learn how different classes have approached the same idea.

It’s an inconsistent approach yet one full of powerful and meaningful learning for the children in my year group.


Perhaps that word does not mean what you think it means.


Social media messages – Compare and Contrast @bnighrogain

A few weeks ago I had a big rant about teachers taking to social media to teach kids ‘a lesson.’


Today I was on twitter and spotted a similar photo and had a completely different reaction.

What I like about this photo

  • The students are posing a question rather than a teacher.
  • It’s a  message of possibility of new technology for learning rather than fear and shaming one.
  • There are chances for interaction with the users of this through hashtags as I am doing now with this blog post
  • The students will no doubt learn discuss the implications of the reach of the photo which will enable them to construct their own understanding.

I’m still not a huge fan of the ‘please share this photo’ meme. I firm believer that good content will be shared. However it is refreshing to see social media being something to be used responsibly not to lecture children about.

Why are there so few women in ed tech? #28daysofwriting

I am elementary school teacher. One the things you quickly notice as you wander around an elementary school is that the vast majority of the teaching staff are women.

I am also an edu tech geek. One of the things you quickly notice when you go to educational technology events is that the majority of speakers and a huge chunk of the attendees are men.

The same goes for twitter and blogs.  The vast majority of the teaching workforce is women. Yet when it comes to being connected, there is a disconnect between the gender of the gender of the practitioners and the online network that supports it.

But it’s not just an online problem.

So many of the books about education are authored by men that we need lists like this to remind us of the women leaders in our field. My experience of the Apple Distinguished Educator and Google Certified Teacher communities is that they tend to have large numbers of men in comparison to the teaching workforce. And I am sure I am not the only ed tech person who can go to tech conference after tech conference and not see a single woman keynote.

For many people this is no big deal.

After all, the men  hired are highly competent. They speak up at conferences, share their ideas online and put themselves out there for opportunities. It’s logical that this situation spills over into our schools where so often the digital/tech positions are often held by men.

Then I read this update.

It’s sad that when it comes to technology, the schools of today are sending our kids signals about the nature of work. And when it comes to technology I’m not sure it is a message we actually want to be sending out.

You can’t be what you can’t see.

Am I wrong here? To be sure I know many awesome women in ed tech including the wonderful @msemilymaclean. But I know so many more men. Where are all the women tech teachers? Why is ed tech so male dominated?

I wish I had the answers.

But instead I get my teaspoon out.

I share when there’s an opportunity to do so. I quietly encourage awesome women educators I know to put themselves forward for opportunities like Apple Distinguished Educator and give what help I can during the process.

Perhaps if everyone – conference organisers, teachers, principals, ed tech directors – got out their teaspoon, things might just go zoop in the other direction.

Sometimes the hassle of tech just isn’t worth it…

IMG_0182There are moments in teaching where everything around you has turned to custard.

Resources arrive late, there’s a big event happening and the technology isn’t playing ball.

Yep you read right.

Even us technology enthusiasts have days where we wonder out loud after having plans and back up plans fall through.

The classroom is in disarray and we seethe.

Technology was supposed to make teaching easier but it is throwing up more problems than solutions.

Is it really worth all this hassle?

And there’s that kid.

The kid who you spent a lot of time on restorative conversations, the kid who is often in ‘trouble,’ the kid who puts in the bare minimum on a good day.

Yep that one.

At 8pm that kid emails through a video created not because it was on the homework sheet or because you said so.

But for the joy of it.

This kid is doing things you haven’t taught and using resources you hadn’t gotten around to showing the class.

You realise that one teaspoon at a time there’s a shift in this kid’s perception of learning.  The tech is helping that kid in ways you don’t know because you were too busy being stressed by what wasn’t working today to notice what was going well in the classroom.

After that you know you’ll go another 10 rounds of classroom madness just to get that something awesome out of that kid…

“How can we do research if we don’t have a computer?”

Image by author

Image by author

Every so often a child says something that reminds again that their lived reality is so different from my own.

I had set up the children in my class with a small provocation to ponder during the week, that transportation needs engines to move. The kids and I tottered off to the library with the burning question.

As the children went about replenishing our classroom library with old favourites like Geronimo Stilton, one of the kids came up to me looking confused.

“Ms Stephanie how can we do research in the library? We don’t have our computers.”

It was then that reality whacked me in the face.

The kids in front of me have never known an era where their parents haven’t possessed a device that can give them answers to questions. To look for information in books was so out of this nine year old’s experience that the student wasn’t able to connect library equals books equals information.

I’m sure that many teachers would see this as a further evidence that technology is destroying the fabric of education as a whole, that a child would not think of the books in the school library as a place to find facts.

Yet what is this child’s experience?

Like many adults these days if I’m stumped about something, I will often whip out my phone for the answer.

This is what she knows.

Yes we still read books but when I think of my own choices for reading these days, most of them are a result of recommendations on twitter rather than browsing the library or bookstore. No longer do I need to head down to the encyclopaedia aisle to find the knowledge I’m looking for and fun facts along the way.

My book choices find me.

This is our student’s reality.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t use a teachable moment to give nine year olds in 2014 the experience of a nine year old of curling up in the encyclopaedia section in 1989 to learn more about the world.

Several kids in my class had managed to locate books on cars. Others were looking on the library’s date base. Most were milling around. So I we went down to the non-fiction section. I explained that the children who had found cars were on the right track, but if they had looked in the previous section there were a whole lot of books on forces and motion.

Are these the sort of books that might help us?

The covers were enticing and were giving the children messages that they were on the right rack.

Within seconds the kids were busy pulling out books and sharing with others. They glanced and pictures first and then started finding words. I quickly did a series of mini lessons explaining table of contents and that you didn’t need to read reference books cover to cover to find information. Look for chapters that you think might help you first is part of the beauty of these types of books.

The kids were quickly ensconced in new found facts, both intended and unintended.

“Hey Miss Stephanie this book has websites we can go visit.”

Awesome make sure you bring it back to class with you.

It’s time to stop viewing technology in opposition to the strengths of books and paper. All have their place in learning and by bringing the strengths of the digital world with the world of books oh what places our children will go.

And those teachable moments?

They exist to remind the adults in education the importance of humour and humility in helping educate children.

How do you learn if you aren’t a connected educator?

I started teaching in 2003.

In a fit of youthful exuberance I decided to embark on an adventure to teach English as a Foreign Language.  I knew nothing about Korea outside of watching MASH re-runs and my teaching experience at the point consisted of some in school observations as part of my education degree. Yet this didn’t seem to bother my employers. Thus  I winged my way over to the Land of the Morning Calm thinking that teaching a bunch of Korean 5 year olds their ABCs would be a piece of cake.


By lunchtime I had a melt down into a misery. I had no idea what I was doing and there was nobody around to help. So I did what any normal 20 something in need of advice and support in the early 2000s did.  I searched google. From that search I found a message board filled with teachers who were in the exact position as me only with a few months more experience.

Through message board I learned some teaching strategies,  a few useful phrases in Korean, found out where to buy western goods, made life-long friends and at the end of my 12 month contract found a job. On the board I argued about current events and posted stupid videos. We  organised parties and study groups. I know of at least one married couple that met through a party organised by members of the message board.

Again this was 2003 long before Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or the phrase social networking had even been uttered.

We had no idea that this sort of learning would still be considered innovative 10 years later. All we wanted was to know where to buy western goodies in a land of unfamiliar groceries and connect with people who quite literally spoke our language.

I bring up this story not to pat myself on the back for being an early adopter but because I have no idea how to be a teacher without having a posse of online friends to help me out.

I wonder where teachers who don’t connect online source ideas and inspirations for their teaching.

I wonder who they turn to for advice in tough times.

I wonder how they decide what books to read and what conferences to attend.

In short I wonder how non-connected educators learn.

Unlike traditional and pre-planned in professional development, being connected to a global network of educators enables me to learn 24 hours a day. This was true even before the popular social networks were invented let alone considered important enough to have a month dedicated to being a connected educator.

After using social networking for over a decade to learn, I can safely say that no  workshop or conference I can attend now is more valuable or offers a greater level of interaction than the network of educators I interact with on Facebook, Twitter or through reading blogs.

This is not to say I don’t find value in face to face interactions, far from it. The instant conversation and connection afforded to me by the avatars I interact with opens the way to a deeper level of conversation when we do meet in person.

However I’ve quickly realised that I may not be the best person to convert others to the world of online professional learning. Connected educators are often too passionate about our learning that we scare off the uninitiated with talk of hashtags, tweetdecks and RSS feeds.

Moreover the culture of how we learn and what we learn is so different. It requires a change in mindset and skill to go from working in the isolation of your classroom or school and having someone else guide your learning to using a device to control your own learning both personally and professionally.

It’s amazing how fast connected educators forget what is like to send out that first tweet or trying to follow a fast flowing chat where everyone else knows what’s going on. We don’t remember a time when our blog posts weren’t read by anyone else. In short we forget about the time and effort required to master this ecosystem and focus merely on the pay off.

For some the pay off isn’t worth the effort.

I think it is safe to safe to say that most teachers are connected to device that enables them to connect to the internet.   If we consider all the different ways teachers have to connect online – facebook, twitter, nings, pinterest, flickr, google+, instagram, active education accounts are a small proportion of active teachers.

What we need is to get more teachers connected to one another.

To be clear I’m not saying that you need to be connected to be a good teacher nor that the unconnected are in anyway bad teachers. However if you are doing something awesome in your classroom couldn’t other people learn from it? Could other people tweak the idea and make it better?

We can’t have the same conversations with the same people on connectedness every October without some expectation for change.

Will next year be more of the same or a different landscape all together?