Have online safety measures gone too far?

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Tonie Pop
A few things have come across my path in the last few weeks that have made me raise an eyebrow. During one aspect of my final COETAIL project I was asking the students to upload a blog post (nothing unusual about that) I then made it very clear to them that I was going to send links to their blogs to as many people as I could connect with via twitter and other COETAIL cohorts.

GASP!! “You mean a total stranger is going to read what I say?” hopefully.” They are going to leave comments on my blog?” again, hopefully. This brought a very strange reaction from a group of students who were regular netizens of the facebook, tumblr variety. They were not keen at all!! This astounded me as the ones that were on Facebook had well over 400 friends a lot of whom they had never actually met. So I am wondering


cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by Janneke Hikspoors: http://flickr.com/photos/barlowgirls/2211431161/


“What’s the difference?”

A few things I think.

1. There is still a perception (a small one) that a freaky person is going to find out everything about you from one blog post and do all sorts of horror movie stalker moves. This perception is still there and sites like Take this Lollipop and The museum of me illustrate very well what can be found out about you online.

On the plus side of this observation is students are VERY aware of their privacy settings and who can see what. I attempted to have my students setup their own twitter account and start tweeting with particular hashtags (#nistsci10e if your interested) and many of them had their privacy settings maxed out. This made their tweets unsearchable and I was left wondering if they were following instructions.

2. Teenagers go through similar quality control measures when it comes to adding people to their social network. Do they have similar friends as me? Do we have common locations/ interests/ Who are they friends with? etc etc this level of knowledge helps take the edge off when it comes to interacting with their network.

3. Students are concerned about people leaving negative comments on their blogs. Especially from strangers. They are of course teenagers and are particularly aware of peoples perception of them. They don’t want to be judged for their writing, their choice of pictures, their layout etc etc.

My theory on this is that they are exposed to so many negative conversations and general banter in their Facebook lives that they assume this will carry over to complete strangers. This makes them nervous.

Of course we all feel like that when putting something out on a blog. That is part of the reason why blogging is such a powerful learning tool as it FORCES you to think about every word you put out there. Even if there are three people in the world who read it, they are going to make judgement’s on your opinions. For a teenager this feeling of judgement is magnified.

It’s great that these students ARE being careful. BUT

Have they gone too far?

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Change is Hard

cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by deeplifequotes

This post was inspired by a recent blogging conversation I was following from a recent tech conference hosted by Yokahama International School.

Beyond Laptops was a collection of education technology leaders from around the South Eastern region. It was coordinated by one of the regional gurus Kim Cofino. I did not attend this conference but know a few colleagues who attended.

The blogging conversation that I am referring to occurred on another serial South East Asian bloggers site, Jabiz Raisdana. His post conference blog was an honest and reflective piece on the Beyond Laptops conference and his thoughts on moving the educational technology conversations forward. His post brought up a number of comments from readers that pointed out issues and conflicts that they had with the post. The people that were posting comments tended to be people who are (from the outside looking in) close digital friends who regularly share witty banter, deep educational philosophies and examples of  what is happening in their schools.

Without making any comments on the opinions that were given, one thing struck me.


This was a group of people who are mostly connected digitally and are mostly part of a similar PLN. The discussion was not one where everyone agreed with everyone else.

This discussion involved what may be viewed as conflict.


It was a good conversation. There were some aspects of the conversation that I agreed and disagreed with but all in all, despite the perceived conflict, it was a good conversation. It is very difficult in any workplace environment, particularly teaching, to find areas where people always agree. I think in eduspeak we might call this a disruptive teaching moment. It challenged people to think deeply about what is best for our students.

This disruption needs to happen in order for change to happen. These are the types of discussions that administrators have with teachers/ parents on a daily basis. I am not saying that having a differing of opinions is the ONLY way to instigate change but it is very difficult to avoid.

So to those people who were at Beyond Laptops and are part of the conversation, keep the conversation going. It is people like you who continue to push the boundaries and are prepared to stand up for your philosophies that give an end result that has been well researched, discussed and debated. I know that these discussions happen in the digital world. I am sure that they are being had in the physical world, our schools.

Just because something is hard doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen.

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F.O.M.O the final project

I have it. To a certain extent I want my students to have it.

Fear. Of. Missing. Out.

I don’t want anyone to miss out. On anything. Whilst that can be used in a multitude of different aspects of school the more I read and hear in educational circles, opportunity and exposure to different experiences is vital for development of the whole child.

Following on from the connectivism theory I am going to attempt to keep my students “connected” with the outside world. The current trend in education seems to be revolving around concept based learning particularly within the IB and the new MYP guide. Whilst in theory I agree with a lot of the idealogy behind it I do have some concerns. One big one is that if we focus on a particular concept within a subject based framework it could reduce the amount of topics that may be covered. Something is going to miss out

I will go out on a limb here and say that I want my students to KNOW a lot. Call it content call it trivial, call it fun facts for dinnertime conversation. I want them to develop an interest and remain curious about the goings on in the world.

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by broterham

This is all well and good in a Humanities type subject area but I aim to focus on the world of Science.

I want them to know what is happening in the world of Science. To find pieces of interest to them that they can have access to, understand, be aware of AND develop their own understanding.

The simple outline of this project is this:

1. Set up my Year 10 Science students with a RSS reader.

I chose my Year 10 class as they seem to be the least digitally aware of all the students that I teach. Blogging is very new to them. There digital lives is limited to facebook, formspring and tumblr.

2. Expand their reading.

By giving them a tool with which they can gather snippets of information I am hoping to give them a broad range of topics within the Scientific umbrella.

3. Give them time to access their reader and reflect appropriately.

I am aware that initially I am going to have to allow 15 minutes (probably more) outside of the normal curriculum time to access their readers.

4. Incorporate twitter into their wider reading.

By setting up a twitter account and following some of the science based accounts gives them another angle to access a wider amount of information. In combination with that, the equivalent of a Paper.li could be produced at the end of the week.

5. Regular blog posts

Admittedly my year 7 students are better at blogging then my year 10’s. They have been doing it for a lot longer though so I don’t feel so bad. I have already introduced some of the nuts and bolts of the wordpress blog they are a little behind the eight ball in this respect but hopefully by giving them a short amount of time in class to just read and to update the appearance of their blog this will maintain enthusiasm.

As to if this is a new thing new ways it is questionable. In the past I have taken time in class to go through back copies of Science Journals and asked students to find an article that they may be interested in so in a way this project is not new. Will this project fall down without technology? Absolutely. So by Jeff’s definition it is HEAVILY technology based.

I want my students to maintain, develop or stretch their interest in Science based topics. CONNECTING with others who may share their interest. OR developing an interest in something that they may not have come across in a regular content driven curriculum. Who am I to decide the content.

cc licensed ( BY ND ) flickr photo shared by abishek1618

I just want to make sure that no one misses out.

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Managing the Magnet….

This post is more an observation seeking help rather than a statement of what good classroom management entails. My observations stem from my recent experience of working with a student who has an identified individual needs syndrome. I came to wonder just how difficult we are making life students with individual needs by using laptop technology?

Here was the scenario:

Photo: Flickr2001 by Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/77309394@N00/368714821

I had set the class a reasonably straight forward research activity that I anticipated would take them around 10-15 minutes to complete. Having done a quick lap around the classroom to check that they were on the right track I settled down next to this particular student to assist them with the learning task. From here on in EVERYTHING that appeared on the screen turned into either a verbal question or a side tracked google search by the student. Even with one on one teacher support there was still too much stimulation on the screen for the student to settle down to the task at hand. Instead map searches, random word definitions, clarification of advertising slogans was the order of the day. As a teacher/observer I found it a fascinating and important insight into how the student’s mind works.  I also felt disappointed in myself that I had exposed the student to such an overload on images to begin with and did not differentiate the task beforehand. A valuable lesson learnt.

I myself am a hopeless example of being addicted to the screen. The “eye magnet” is most certainly a difficult piece of ingenious marketing to avoid. I whole heartedly agree with my colleagues who prefer the screen to be completely closed when a group discussion or direct instruction has to happen. Most students are able to cope with a small amount of distraction, but in the case of some of these specific individual needs students technology may be a difficult tool to handle.

I have these questions.

How can we minimise these distractions particularly for people/students with individual needs?

What are learning experiences that can be set/differentiated that would lead to a higher success rate for these students?

As said at the start, I am seeking help.


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You spin me right round……..

Considering I have left my thoughts on the flipped classroom previously (I can’t believe that I have just linked to myself) I can now justify starting another post with a similar line…….. Old things in new ways.

As I have stated previously I love the concept of the flipped classroom. When organised well I firmly believe that it can have positive influences on student learning. Please read my colleagues blog on how he has flipped his senior physics class. He has completed an astounding amount of work to develop a very well structured unit.

Here’s where my punchline comes in. Isn’t it just homework? Couldn’t it be called inquiry based learning? Isn’t the process of going home, doing the reading and getting prepared to discuss what you have read in class in fact, just homework? A classic case of education travelling in a cyclic motion? Isn’t this a new spin on old ways?

Photo by Paul Joseph @ sashafatcat on Flickr

Is the key to this way of thinking relevance? Curiosity? Of course students are going to be more willing to research a topic they are interested in. Isn’t our role to provide that interest? With that interest the need to learn at their own pace will be vitally important as students are genuinely DESPERATE to find out. A respected colleague posted a blog about the act of teaching being a lot like chumming when fishing. We throw a lot of information at the students and hope that some of them bite. We have to make sure its the right chum to ensure curiosity is developed. What is VITALLY important to a classroom, if a classroom is to be flipped, is that the activities that the students are engaged in during class time are challenging AND inspire curiosity…the desire to find out more

In this course and in my current state of revisiting my educational philosophy, the conversation of content v’s concept has been cropping up. There is so much value in concept based teaching that I have had to learn new educational content to keep up…… (that hurts my head).

The flipped classroom has its grounding in knowing a lot of stuff.

Upper high school students NEED to know a lot of stuff in order to do well at school. Having lectures or brief online tutorials to learn difficult calculations, concepts, content is a very valuable tool indeed. One of the rock stars of the flipped world Brian Bennett makes this statement:

“Looking at the class time we’re opening up by time-shifting content delivery, good teachers will fill it with learning experiences, labs, discussions, problem-solving, assimilation work, and creative work that expands upon and enhances the content”

Opening up class time by shifting the content to ANOTHER time. THEN ensuring that activities within the class expand and enhance. Important step but we need to be cautious about reversal of day and night.

Old thing new way.

I do like this new way.

But it is an old thing.

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Our Model

Thanks Jeff for the link to Marc Prensky’s article. These 4 lines are killing me:

    • Dabbling.
    • Doing old things in old ways.
    • Doing old things in new ways.
    • Doing new things in new ways.

Prior to doing this course I would have thought that 3 out 4 is pretty good. NEW THINGS IN NEW WAYS?? Impossible. Every good idea I have ever had has been totally stolen/borrowed from someone else. Ok… maybe with a little bit of the “everything is a remix” mentality as there may some subtle tweaks but essentially it’s not new.


So what might be a model that a school could use to get to the final stage of new things new ways? Below I have listed some of the attributes that I find helpful in my own environment.  As always, the purpose is most definitely not to blow our own trumpet but the aim is to put it out there and gather feedback so the cycle can continue.

1. RESOURCES: We have them. Not just the hardware but also the people power that goes with maintaining a successful 1:1 program

2.FREE AND OPEN ACCESS: The number of blogs that I read with complaints about not being able to use various tools available because they are blocked is frightening. We of course have a web filter that pops up when inappropriate material is detected but the general consensus is if it’s on the web you can use it.

cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by Stuck in Customs

3. PEOPLE: We are lucky enough to have the services of rockstar digital technology teachers. They are very talented and work very hard. They have no classes to speak of but are literally a learning support teacher for EVERYONE (staff and students). There are some very important aspects to their job that makes the model of integration we have successful. THEY DON’T FIX COMPUTERS. Whilst they probably could, the function of these coaches is to help staff integrate technology throughout the school. They come to planning meetings and listen and suggest ideas to incorporate into a unit or lesson. They actively train staff in the latest web 2.0 tools and offer to support the implementation in classes. The model of coaches I believe stems from the primary school model where having these coaches attend year level meetings and Unit of Inquiry planning sessions meant that it was ALMOST team teaching.

Help on tap

This has a number of benefits. It takes the focus OFF the technology. The core of every session is related to learning experiences and providing quality educational experiences for students. It is not about what fancy piece of flash software can we use to make everyone sit around a marvel at amazing sites. If the technology doesn’t fit don’t use it. No point in using technology for technology sake.

Whilst having these coaches has meant that across the board general technolgy skills have been lifted so has the CULTURE of the use of digital technology. Hence we have so many people interested in the COETAIL course.

Of course this is luxurious for most schools but I have to say that I am happy with this model of integration. In the process of checking that digital standards were being met I believe that these coaches, given the position that they are in, would be able to ensure that across every year level those standards were being met in classrooms, not computer labs.

Back to the new things new ways? I want to set this up in a school. Cool prezi but the idea of creativity at the core of innovation for this design school is one that I think should be happening in schools very soon (and probably is).

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Make the conversations easy

A discussion on who should teach what is always a prickly one in any school. We regularly have conversations in regards to teaching students various different skills. Digital skills are just part of the conversation. Lumped in with those are pastoral, organisation, research, communication, and presentation skills amongst others. Whose responsibility is it?

Teachers are aware that there are basic standards of digital literacy that should be met and a conversation is usually had about how/ who is able or capable to teach these skills. This is a problem that is easily fixed……………………..in our utopian, fantasy island international school existence!

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Express Monorail

We can have those conversations and no one would blink an eye as to who should cover “collaborative electronic authoring tools to explore common curriculum content from multicultural perspectives with other learners.”

It struck me when reading Jillians blog that we DO already cover/ integrate technology. Addressing digital standards is a relatively easy process. Why? It is purely because our schools cover the “Essential Conditions” for technology to be seamlessly integrated into the classroom. We have extraordinary access to resources that people in the real world can only dream about.

cc licensed ( BY ND ) flickr photo shared by h.koppdelaney

Without these essential conditions it is very difficult to ensure that digital standards are even a part of the conversation.

There have been several posts that have implied that if staff are not a part of the digital revolution then they are going to be left behind. BUT spare a thought for a teacher (any age, subject, technical ability) who does not have ALL the resources suggested in the ISTE report. You might be willing to change if you can see benefits and sound pedagogical reasoning. I think we would be more willing to change IF THINGS WORKED WHEN THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO. As teachers, despite all our best character traits, we tend to have a very short fuse when it comes to anything new, especially when it doesn’t do what is supposed to do the first time. My relationship with voicethread has been scarred as a direct result.

If your school has the essential items required then things are more likely to work. When they work people become impressed and want to use them more AND try to implement new strategies. The development of a digital culture in a school doesn’t happen by announcing that you are a 1:1 school. There is a LOT of support behind the scenes ensuring things work. this means that technology coaches, IT facilitators etc are able to do their job of bringing tech into the classroom smoothly and NOT spend time with printer, projector, hard drive, internet issues that plague schools laptop programs. It makes a HUGE difference.

I am lucky that I work in a school that has  an incredible amount of resources. They have had them for a long time. As a result, there has developed a culture of technology use where conversations about digital standards are not difficult “ctrl-alt-delete fixes everything” conversations. We have expert technology coaches (yes we can call them that) that are at the staff’s beck and call to assist in whatever way they can to incorporate technology into a regular run of the mill lesson. As a result of having all these resources things work, staff are interested and things like COETAIL courses are well represented by our staff. People are willing to pay, give up their own personal time to further their understanding of the connectivist age. This is a school culture. The staff contribute to that as best they can. If we were a school that did not have those resources and things didn’t work I can understand teachers lack of enthusiasm when it comes to having those digital standards conversations.

Make the conversations easy….

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Visual Overload

Lovely shot!

Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/charlietphoto/

It really is amazing what happens when the class task is “make a movie”.

I have to admit that I have attempted to do the same with slightly more guidance but make a movie nonetheless. I based my task on this clip that was filmed on a Mac by a person who had no formal training in computer education but had literally figured it out. Being in quarantine with a very rare disease he had a lot of time and put together this viral masterpiece (pun intended).

So how can I relate to this? Believing my students had some idea of how to put together a movie I set them a creative arts challenge to make a movie ONLY using the webcam on their laptops. I used the video above as the prompt and wanted them to engage in some “just in time” learning. I personally had very little technical knowledge but assumed that there would be enough students in each group that could contribute to the activity, much like the task we were to complete during our COETAIL course.

THIS task brought out a few home truths about good use of some technology in the classroom:

1. Windows Moviemaker is unreliable. Issues that students had were very similar to my own. Movie Maker crashed multiple times and if I had not been saving regularly then I too would have been a victim of lost work.
2. There were several people who were working with Macs. To be honest, with what LOOKED like a minimal amount of fuss, the Mac users were able to put together a very polished (given the time) piece of work. iMovie has a number of templates that had PC users greenscreen with envy.
3. Learning something “just in time” actually takes a lot of time. I spent a great deal of time finding out how to use the program, searching for the best way to edit pieces.

Whilst it was frustrating for the PC users, we did find a neat little program that can help with doing a green screen edit. The instructions were very clear (even I could follow them) and most importantly it worked, with a lot of trial and error. There are a number of tutorials out there but this is the one that we used.

Above all else the biggest learning stage for me during this whole Course Three was that “whipping up” a visually stimulating piece of work takes a tremendous amount of time. Whether it is searching for the perfect image to go with a presentation or putting together a video using whatever tools are available requires a lot of time. Time to play, time to get lost, time to go down the wrong path, time to get things wrong and go back to start again. I am indeed lucky that in an international setting this time CAN be provided for students. With less emphasis on content and more emphasis on deeper thought setting projects that can give students time to do all these things is a very special position to be in.


Photo by Jack Amick

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An Update on Organisation

Oh, of course. Now I see.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by dvs: http://flickr.com/photos/dvs/11951382/











Well 6 months in and I thought that a little reflection on the structure of digital technology in my class and my school is in order.

What we have done in Year 7:

We are a 1:1 PC laptop school. A huge amount of conversations have been had in terms of the best ways of getting students organised and ensuring that there is consistency in the way that they receive and store (organise) information. I would like to say from the outset that this is NOT meant to be a negative blog post yet more a ‘critical friend’ view of the journey so far.

BLOGS: As it stands today students in Year 7 are exposed to two blogs regularly.

1. A year level blog where teachers can post work, links and request comments on particular articles.

2. A personal blog that is based on their own reflections, uploads, images, pieces of work.

This particular year level are reasonably competent in accessing and posting of information on their blogs as they have done so in Elementary school. I am a BIG fan of blogs and blogging in general, in my opinion it is the aspect of education that needs to be nurtured to encourage deep thought.

Where there's water, there's life

cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo by Garry - www.visionandimagination.com: http://flickr.com/photos/garry61/3874372532/

GOOD: personal student blogs are a valuable location for students to post their thoughts and reflections on the learning engagements and experiences they are involved in. They can personalise it and are able to keep all their ideas and links in one place. A great place for deep thought that writing a blog post is about. If students spend HALF the time thinking about their posts that I do then it an incredibly powerful learning tool. Whilst it shouldn’t be the major motivation I DO believe that students having access to their statistics is also valuable tool.

NOT SO GOOD: The year level blog in my opinion is too BUSY. With up to 7 subjects trying to post information it is VERY easy for a recent post to be pushed down the screen. I do believe that adding clicks to get information is more of an oppurtunity to be distracted. In combination with the year level blog, each subject has a portal page where teachers keep all of the curriculum/ content/learning tasks on.

Just Put It On Top

cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo by Focx Photography: http://flickr.com/photos/focx/4128090740/

I believe at present we have too many tools for the students to access the information that they require. This is information related to classes, content, assessments etc. It is spread over many different platforms and I don’t believe is an effective manner to keep them informed and, most of all, organised.

I understand that the students, being digital natives, are familiar with having multiple tasks going. However when it comes to the dispersal of information from a school’s perspective, I still believe ‘keep it simple’ is a more effective focus.

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Testing the global waters

cc licensed flickr photo by NASA Goddard Photo and Video: http://flickr.com/photos/gsfc/5710028991/

Following on from my powerful images lesson our resident presentation expert Jago Gazendam suggested that I put together a Flickr group to start sharing and collaborating on images that can help present difficult definitions in a clear way.

So at his request I have set up a Flickr group “Powerful Scientific Images”.

I realise that there are THOUSANDS of “Scientific” Images out there, in this case I am looking for images that help explain particular concepts. The images themselves do not need to be stereotypically scientific.

Right now students are using key words from our diseases unit to find images that help to describe or define those terms. I love this translational task as it genuinely requires students to have a clear understanding of what the term is to assist with their search. We used two great search engines both of which are attached to flickr. Compfight and Flickr-storm during this process the emphasis is on finding Creative Commons images that they can add the term to using powerpoint.

The students are currently working on this task and I will upload these photos to the group. The next stage for me is to encourage participation OUTSIDE of my school environment. I know that many schools have done similar tasks but used different terms. I am hoping to build up a collection of images that are specifically related to Science.

This is my first attempt at trying a networked task and since seeing the success of Tony Erni’s Human Traits Project I am giving this a go. Legends of the region Clint Hamada and Jabiz Raisdana have also completed this activity in their own subjects. I am hoping that it translates well into Science. I am truly intrigued as to how this may pan out.

Add your Science Images Here

As a side project I wonder how this might affect my twitter graph?

BEFORE Image created at http://www.aharef.info/static/htmlgraph/

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