Google Apps and Collaboration – a TeachMeet Melbourne Perspective

As I said in my last post, I presented at the October addition of TeachMeet Melbourne. With a Google Summit happening in Melbourne this week, the focus of the meet was Google Apps and Collaboration and lots of first time TeachMeeters attended as a result of being in town for the summit.

Apart from my presentation on Google Maps in Education and related websites that incorporate Maps, there were sessions on Google+ Hangouts, Google Drive and Sites for portfolios, YouTube Video Editor and Collaborative Video recording, Google Calendar appointment slots and a nice intro from Chris Harte about Teachmeet history with a focus on sharing ideas, not apples ( with a hint of a dig aimed at apple with a capital A, I think:P). Finishing the night off beautifully was a heartfelt reflection on the need for looking after ourselves and each other, in itself a form of collaboration (minus Google!)

Below is a collection of tweets from the meet that may inspire you with new insights or encourage you to explore our new learnings further. My twitter tag is noticeably absent from the list – I was too busy as the official timer on the night and possibly got too comfortable on the very oversized beanbag I reclined in for the duration ( the free beer didn’t help either!) Enjoy!

Google Maps in Education

I’m attending my local Melbourne TeachMeet tomorrow with a focus on Google Apps in Education. I have put together a quick Keynote presentation regarding Google Maps in Education that I am going to share. Below is the presentation for you to view in PDF format.

Google Maps in Education

CUE13 – Keynote: Kevin Honeycutt – Trends, Tools and Tactics for 21st Century Learning

Everyone has their favourite inspirational speaker. Every teacher out there has probably seen Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talks and every school leadership team has a playlist of YouTube videos of their latest guru. This morning I just happened to discover this guy through a Scoop-it page I follow – Kevin Honeycutt. I didn’t know much about him but I do now that I’ve watched this video.

His comedic style will keep you listening through this presentation but don’t be fooled by his boyish behaviour. He has a serious message to get out there. He draws you in with his personal story which is an inspiration to every child who has struggled and every teacher who has struggled to deal with them. Then he hits you with cutting observations about the state of education and how we can better it. And don’t think it’s all about tech – the teachers that saved him didn’t use tech; they cared. Of course in amongst all the anecdotes is some sage advice on how we can use tech to improve the learning along with changing the environment and, above all, the relationships.

Take the time to watch this – it deserves more than the 654 views it has at time of writing. (Video and sound quality isn’t perfect but bear with it). If you want a quicker introduction to Honeycutt than this 45 minute video, try the one below. Similar message in less time but not as inspirational.

Documenting Learning in Mathematics (or any other subject) using Padlet

In my role as Maths Leader in Grades 5/6, I have many opportunities to work with groups of children in both Grade levels. Sometimes I find it hard to report back to the classroom teachers what learning took place during my lessons with their students. This year I have increasingly turned to Padlet, a collaborative, interactive Online Board, to record the teaching and learning experiences I facilitate. Here I share my lesson documentation through an embedded link to my Volume Padlet (note: Padlet needs the latest version of IE, Chrome, Firefox or Safari to view and use)

My basic use of Padlet follows this structure:

  • I post the outline of Tasks to be attempted during the lesson.
  • I add the initial image resources and models/examples that are needed for the task.
  • Students scan the Padlet-created QR Code to quickly open up the Padlet on their iPads.
  • The students start working on the task as outlined by the instructions on the Padlet and begin recording their responses. With the online Padlet wall visible to everyone on the iWB, students can start responding to what others are recording and as a teacher I can monitor from anywhere in the room or on my iPad and identify students to support or extend.
  • I pause during and after each task and invite students to share their responses. As they are already recorded on the shared Padlet, no time is wasted waiting for them to rewrite their work. As a class we can utilise all the time on collaborating, sharing, discussing and questioning.
  • If tasks involve using physical or digital resources, the students can quickly post screenshots, photos or images straight onto the Padlet wall on their iPads or laptops. Using a range of familiar iPad apps, children can record and/or annotate their working out and post it straight to the wall.
  • At ant time during the lesson, with constant access to all of the work being done by the students through the visible workspace on the iWB, I can reconnect with the students and offer feedback, teaching support or ask questions to call on children to explain their learning.
  • When the students leave me, I can immediately post the Padlet wall with all of the students’ learning documented onto their class blogs for their teachers and parents to view.

This particular lesson, embedded below, began with students viewing four rectangular prisms of varying dimensions. The students were asked to order the objects from largest to smallest and justify their decisions. In a traditional classroom setting, a teacher may call on 3-4 students to share their opinions and move on without having a true indication of the other students’ understanding. In using Padlet, I have an easily accessible, permanent record of all of the students’ understanding of volume concepts.



The next task was to verify their conjectures by calculating the volumes of each prism. This particular group of students were high achievers and needed little assistance in calculating the volumes ( the LxWxH formula was not the focus of the lesson, anyway but with a second group of students, I needed to do some revision and monitor progress). They were asked to record their working out directly to Padlet, with the option of recording the detailed calculations on Explain Everything and posting screenshots of the work. This group were able to simply write their calculations directly into Padlet. This provided a record of their work for their teachers to see later and was also a way for me to view their capabilities on screen in case I needed to assist. This was not needed with this group, but with the second group I was able to identify students with gaps in their learning simply by viewing their work on the Padlet wall.( At no stage did any student notice what others were doing – they were engaged in their own work.) What was also good to see was the variety of ways students calculated the volumes in terms of selecting which numbers to multiply first. This initiated a discussion about factors and the commutative/associative laws for multiplication. With all possible combinations visible rather than the 3-4 examples that would have been shared in a traditional setting, we were able to enhance the understanding of the range of dimensions that can result in the same volume. This also allowed them to refer back to their initial misconceptions of volume ( taller is bigger, etc) and led to a quicker transition into the final task.



Now that they had come to the realisation that there are many ways to construct a box of the same volume, we moved onto the final task which was constructing prisms of varying dimensions that would make a volume of 72 cubic units. At this point, they were introduced to an already completed example of the final product I was expecting of them ( which was already embedded on the Padlet wall, but out of view until needed) and the iPad apps available for the task – Think 3D and Skitch. They were also given the option of using physical blocks if they preferred a more tactile method. The simplicity of the apps required little instruction and the students were quick to start experimenting, further developing their understanding of the Volume formula by constructing rather than just calculating. The idea of factors were utlilised as they constructed layers based on the factors of 72. Again, with the use of the Padlet wall, students were able to post their annotated ( using Skitch)  constructions directly on to the wall, providing a record of their work that can be accessed in the future. Seeing other students’ constructions on the wall enabled students to consider other possibilities and further built on their understanding of different dimensions, same volume, which they were then able to reflect on later when the wall was embedded on their class blog. Having the lesson documented on line means that students also have the opportunity to add to the wall later on at home and explain their work to their parents.



I see many benefits in this process of documenting the learning and not just in Mathematics.

  • In this new era of collaborative teaching, it’s a great way of recording a lesson for other members of the team to view.
  • As a Maths leader/mentor, it’s a useful way of modelling a lesson for teams to discuss.
  • For students, it gives them access to previous learning that they can revisit at different times of the year to review/revise and support their learning
  • For assessment purposes, it can provide a record of the different stages of learning that took place during a lesson or series of lessons.
  • the use of Padlet itself opens up personalised access for students to work at their own pace ( not evident in this lesson as it was more of a guided lesson rather than an independent task)

This week, I was involved in a school based ICT Conference at my own school, during which several teachers led workshops on various ICT tools and practices. I presented this lesson structure and use of Padlet to the staff and they saw great possibilities. I am going to continue to develop a range of learning experiences using this documenting method. I see it having great benefits in enhancing the learning at our school.

Below is the whole Padlet wall as developed during this lesson. (If it is not displaying, it is likely you are running an old version of IE, as mentioned above)

Using Padlet (f.k.a. WallWisher) across the curriculum

Over the last few years, I’ve been looking for ways to make interactive whiteboards actually interactive. Despite the hype around them, iWBs still promote stand at the front content delivery and the interactivity is limited to the two students/teachers holding the pens. Everyone else is still pretty much a passive observer with regular doses of disengagement. With the recent creation of iPad mirroring software like AirServer and Reflector, the whiteboard has become more interactive with the ability to project multiple iPad screens onto the board. This is still a limited solution as only so many iPads can fir on one screen. In recent times, though there has been a proliferation of Web 2.0 collaborative tools that have the potential for full class interaction. My favourite at the moment is Padlet.

Formerly known as WallWisher, Padlet started out as an online pinboard where unlimited users could post notes on topics being discussed en masse. It allowed for everyone to have a voice in a discussion and provided teachers opportunities to save and store brainstorming and discussion sessions online for later review. As WallWisher, though, that’s where its functionality ended. It was pretty much an unlimited post-it note space ( correct me if I’m wrong – it may have allowed for some media posting. I can’t remember). Now, with a major upgrade and name change, Padlet has morphed into a full blown online interactive whiteboard, collaboration, presentation, lesson management system with massive possibilities for teaching and learning. Before demonstrating how I have used Padlet in the classroom in ways I couldn’t have in the past, I’ll give you a quick(ish) tutorial in how it works.


One of the benefits of Padlet is that it doesn’t require registration if you just want to create a board for quick use. You simply go to the website, click on the Build a Wall icon and create a wall for immediate use. I would recommend teachers create an account, though so you can store all of your created walls for repeated use. Students never need to create an account so the Under 13s can happily use this tool without any fear of breaking any user policies (as long as you ensure they don’t reveal any personal info!)

Padlet has a wide array of sharing tools to make your wall accessible. Check out the screenshot (left) for more detail. You can embed it into a blog, where it is fully active within, email a link or subscribe to it, post it to a number of popular social network sites and my favourite – create a QR code for instant access with a QR Code Reader app. In all my lessons using it this year, I have saved a lot of login time having the QR code in the room for students to scan and go straight to the wall on the school iPads. They are now around their classrooms so they can return any time.

It is best used on a computer for full access to all features but, other than attaching files, works very well on iPads and, I assume, other tablets.

Creating a Padlet Wall.

In creating a wall, you have options to add a background, a title and title image, modify privacy setting. choose between two layout options, create a custom website address and choose notification options. This can all be done within minutes before sharing the wall for others to interact with.

Modify address Add background  Privacy
 Layout  Notification  Title

Adding content

Padlet is extremely easy to use. Just simply double tap the screen and the multimedia note appears. The screenshot below shows how it works.

That’s pretty much it. The true value is in what we do with the app. Below are two walls I have created in the last fortnight. The first is a Maths lesson involving surface area, volume and algebraic thinking with my Extension group.

I created the  3D ‘sculptures’ using the Think 3D Free iPad app, took screenshots and imported the shapes straight into the wall. Titles and information was added easily. I then added the problem to solve and added a screenshot of a table to support the problem solving phase of the lesson.

To begin the lesson, the students scanned the QR Code with iPads to go straight to the page. Having direct access to the problem through Padlet rather than looking at a screen from a distance had the students engaged from the start. They were able to get straight down to working at their own pace in tackling the problem. The benefit of Padlet was soon apparent as each pair of students were given one sculpture to find the volume and surface area of. As soon as they had the answer, they were able to add their results to the Padlet wall for the rest of the students to access. This is in contrast to having to wait for everyone to finish and add to the board in a traditional sense. Let me note here that the measurement aspect was not the main focus of the lesson so quick calculation and sharing was important.

Once all the measurements were shared on the Padlet wall, the students were ready to create their tables to start looking for patterns in the pricing. The rest of the lesson wasn’t dependent on Padlet from this point but its next benefit was in collecting the students’ work to feed back to their classroom teachers. Having all of their working out, answers, collaborations, tables ( not all on there at the moment – still a work in progress) collated in Padlet means the teachers have access to what they did with me. On top of that, the students were able to embed their work on to their personal blogs for their parents to see what they were doing.

The second example below was used for an Inquiry workshop focusing on Asian Immigration to Australia. Over five sessions, all of the Grade 6 students worked with me using this wall. I wanted them to have access to a range of data that I hoped would generate questions and discussions. As I was not going to have a consistent role in the rest of their Immigration investigations, I wanted to use a tool that could collect all of their wonderings that their classroom teachers could access during the ensuing weeks to develop further. Padlet supported this greatly.

I was able to take screenshots of graphs I made in Excel and add them to the wall. A great feature of Padlet is that you can resize your content to fit in a small area for an overall view but by simply tapping the image, it enlarges to full size for easy view. This allowed the students to see the graphs in detail in their own time if they wanted to go back to make their own observations. This is in contrast to having a single view on a whiteboard that can become inaccessible to children working at their own pace.

As you can see from the wall, the students were able to add all of their observations and questions directly on the wall. Note that as the wall filled, dragging a comment to the edge of the wall created more space for as many comments as they could add. This is a stark improvement on the limited access they get when they have to share real post it notes or a limited sized sheet of paper or take turns to add their thoughts. Using Padlet allows the students to be fully involved in the thinking process at all times. The follow up to this is that common questions can be grouped together on the Padlet wall adding to the collaborative process.

What I have also achieved in building this wall is pooling together a large number of resources in one easily accessible online space. The graphs, the videos, the PDF documents are all stored in a common place and can be viewed at full size at any time. The QR codes are sitting on the classroom walls, allowing the students to access this information at any time.

In using Padlet in both of these lessons, I loved that the students had personal access to info at all times, were able to contribute to the wall at their own pace and could view what others were contributing in real time. At the teacher level, I loved being able to collate all of the resources in one space, resources that can be enlarged for useful viewing when needed. I love that in a collaborative teaching environment, I can collect student group work to share with their classroom teachers. I love that I can now have a truly interactive whiteboard that keeps all students involved in the learning process.

These are two examples but Padlet offers many opportunities for engaging teaching and learning across all curriculum areas. If you have used Padlet, I would love to hear about what you have used it for. If you haven’t tried it before, give it a try. Easy to use, many possibilities.

iPurpose before iPad

The two above images are good examples of purposeful thinking about iPad usage in schools.

One, a screenshot of an oft-used tool known as iPad As.. by, focuses on what the iPad can be used for and provides links to various apps that can be utilised for those functions. It goes without saying that it is a very useful website for schools thinking about iPads. It provides nutshell explanations of a number of apps that relate to each iPad as… category as well as pricing. It’s a good introduction into the functionality of the iPad that counteracts the misconception of iPad as consumption NOt creation tool.

The other, The Padagogy Wheel, is one of many variations on applying Bloom’s Taxonomy of skills to iPad apps. It develops from the general learning action verbs/skills we want our students to acquire to technology based activities that relate to these skills and finally to a selection of apps that can support this development.

Both tools have supported my reflection on iPad use in school and are worth checking out in detail. Having said that, though, I feel they both fall short in what is needed as a resource for implementing iPads in education. iPad as… does a good job at presenting uses for iPads in school – what they can be used for – but doesn’t really provide depth about the skill development that can arise from their use. It’s still action/activity emphasis rather than pedagogical/learning emphasis. It’s great to know that you can create videos, and it describes what the app can do,  but how will this improve learning and what learning will it improve is also a priority iPad schools need to address. I think it also pigeon-holes apps as one trick ponies – I’d like to emphasise the apps that can be used to develop many skills.

The Padagogy Wheel provides many links between skills and tech activities but doesn’t really address what iPad apps address which skills and activities specifically other than lumping them into a particular category. It too, tends to classify the apps as one trick pony options rather than seeing them as multiple category options.

Don’t get me wrong, I think both are great tools but there is room for improvement in creating a tool for supporting time poor iPads in Schools implementers in planning, selecting, justifying and integrating iPad apps in education.

Which leads me to attempt a herculean task… I’m going to try to blend the best of both of these resources and address the short falls I have mentioned by creating my own resource. But it’s going to be a work in progress for a while and I hope to get support from Mr G Online followers, subscribers, users and casual visitors.

I’ve started creating a table of important skills, some derived from the Padagogy Wheel, and actions, some derived from iPad As… What I am planning to highlight is that there are many apps that can be use for many purposes and for developing many skills. For example, I have already added “Explain Everything” to 9 categories as I see it as a multifunctional app and one worth its price because of the educational benefits it provides. Over the coming months I plan to add text descriptions to each category to explain how the apps listed address the skill or action they have been linked to and may also link them to other online sources that show them in action. I’ll also provide direct links to the App Store, as I always do on this blog when I mention apps so you can check them out yourself if you want.

Now this sounds like a big task and it is. So I do need some help. What do I want from you? Anything you can give. Just add them to the comments of this post.

  • Examples of apps that help to develop specific skills
  • Additional skills I haven’t listed here
  • Examples of apps that are multifunctional.
  • Explanations of good pedagogical practice with apps. Don’t worry, all credit will go to you when I include your suggestions.
  • Links to blog posts, websites, Youtube tutorials, open wikis, nings etc that promote good practice that I can link to from here.
  • Examples on add ons like bookmarklets for curation sites, websites that work well with iPads ( Flash-free) that can still be categorised under these headings for iPad use.
  • Spread the word regularly through Twitter, Facebook, Curation sites like Pinterest and Scoop-It to keep educators coming back.
This post will look messy for a while as new ideas get added. A blog may not be the best storage place for it in the long run. If I actually get the support – and it’s likely I won’t – and it grows I will probably move it to a separate website for better functionality. It may well be better as a wiki but  I didn’t want to move away from Mr G Online unless I needed. For easy access in the meantime, I will add this post to my main menu at the top of the blog so you can come back to check revisions. I will be planning weekly updates at least, more if I get regular contributions I can just copy and paste in from the comments.
I really hope I can get this off the ground. From reading so many blog articles, I can see there is a huge need for clarity in using tech like iPads. If you have been a regular reader of Mr G Online, you would know I am a big proponent of Pedagogy before Technology. That’s why I want iPurpose before iPad. Hope to hear from some of you soon.



iMovie Pinnacle Studio VideoScribe HD iStopMotion GarageBand  TagPad  Evernote  Notability

Explain Everything Art Maker Animation Desk iMotion HD AudioBoo
 Whether creating live action videos with iMovie and Pinnacle Studio, animated stories with iStopMotion, Animation Desk and iMotion HD or how to tutorials with Explain Everything, the iPad is a great tool for video creation. Creating videos with these apps develops organisation and planning skills, supports story telling skills in non writers and enhances creativity and problem solving in many ways.
Book Creator Creative Book Builder StoryWheel    Sonic Pics Explain Everything Toontastic Storify
Video Scribe HD
Providing opportunities for authentic writing with a real audience outside the classroom, publishing real books using the iPad can improve motivation and actual writing skills. With sufficient access, tech based writing can employ the editing capabilities to encourage children to write without worrying about rewriting from scratch. With the real possibility of publishing books online or in the iBookstore for others to read, children will be encouraged to put more effort into editing and improving their written work. The possibilities for multimedia additions allows for more creativit There are more ways of telling stories these days than text and pictures. Some students have stories inside them that don’t get shared because of a lack of writing ability. Let’s give them opportunities to tell stories orally until they are ready to write so that they can develop their imaginations and story telling for when they are ready to write. These apps all allow for alternatives to traditional writing texts, either through combining audio and images seamlessly in a variety of formats
 Strip Designer Comic Life     Book Creator iPrompter Creative Book Builder iBooks
Explain Everything
Creating stories with audio, highlighted annotations, vocabulary support through linked dictionaries, scrolling screens provides support for students who lack reading skills. Getting children to record themselves reading gives them feedback on their progress as well as support for independent practice.
Edmodo VoiceThread Skype Evernote Keynote  VideoScribe  Haiku Deck   VoiceThread
Instapaper Whiteboard Popplet Comic Life  Explain Everything  Skitch   iPrompter
Comic Life  Writing Prompts SpellBoard Tap Dictionary iMind Map 3D  Popplet  Skitch Inspiration Maps Lite
Notability Whiteboard
 Evernote Edmodo   PollDaddy Socrative   EverNote  Edmodo Pinterest  Instapaper
Notability  Notability
 Notability Hopscotch
 Skitch  Evernote  Notability    Wolfram Alpha Numbers  Hopscotch
Wikinodes Notability
 Numbers  Wolfram Alpha  Doodle Buddy    Wolfram Alpha PollDaddy  WikiNodes Notability
Edmodo  PollDaddy   Socrative Numbers  Edmodo   Puppet Pals    
TagPad Evernote EasyTag
ClassDojo  Notability
Edmodo  Socrative   ClassDojo   Explain Everything   Edmodo Socrative  Notability 
Screen Shot 2013-04-23 at 8.32.29 PM   
Routes Explain Everything Skitch Geocaching Numbers Wolfram Alpha MyScript Calculator
My Maps Editor
Skitch Explain Everything  Skype    Edmodo  Skype
ArtRage Garageband Snapseed RoomPlanner
ArtRage GarageBand  Snapseed iStopMotion Skitch  Explain Everything   RoomPlanner iDraw
Phoster ScrapPad
Explain Everything   Numbers Hopscotch     Edmodo  VoiceThread Skype  iPrompter 




Maths Maps – an engaging way to teach Maths with Google Maps

It’s been around for a few years now and had plenty of interest from around the world already, but Mr G Online has only just discovered Maths Maps. From first impressions, I am absolutely blown away by the idea. The brainchild of leading UK educator Tom Barrett, (now based in Australia), Maths Maps uses Google Maps as the launching pad for Maths Investigations.

Barrett’s vision was for teachers around the world to collaborate on building Maths Maps, examples of some seen in the screenshots on the left. Here is a brief description of how it works from the Maths Maps website.

Elevator Pitch

  • Using Google Maps.
  • Maths activities in different places around the world.
  • One location, one maths topic, one map.
  • Activities explained in placemarks in Google Maps.
  • Placemarks geotagged to the maths it refers to. “How wide is this swimming pool?”
  • Teachers to contribute and share ideas.
  • Maps can be used as independent tasks or group activities in class.
  • Maps can be embedded on websites, blogs or wikis.
  • Tasks to be completed by students and recorded online or offline.

The collaboration aspect worked like this: ( again from the website)

How can you contribute?

  1. Explore the maps below for the ideas already added, follow the links to open them in a new window.
  2. Send me details of which map you want to edit and your Google email address and I will add you as an editor, follow the link from the email invite.
  3. Click on EDIT in the left panel.
  4. Zoom close to the city and it’s surroundings. (Don’t forget Streetview)
  5. Find some TOPIC ideas you can see.
  6. Add a placemark (use the right colour for the age group it is best for – see purple pin)
  7. Explain the activity in the description.
  8. Change the title to show how many ideas there are.
  9. Send out a Tweet or write a blog post to highlight this resource andencourage others to contribute.

For those of you who have never edited a Google Map before, you need a Google account to do so. Here is an annotated screenshot that shows the basic layout of the Edit stage. I know I say it a lot to colleagues who don’t believe me, but it is very easy to do, like most Web 2.0 tools.

I’m not sure I could handle the world wide collaboration long term but I think this would be very manageable at a school level if you could get together a team of teachers willing to contribute. To me, it is a great way of presenting worded problems in real life contexts. On one level, with the emphasis on teaching children how to analyse questions for standardised tests, this would be a more engaging way of presenting the problems to the children. On a more creative, engaging level, it provides opportunities for linking Maths to real problems, not just questions out of a textbook or practice test sheets.

Beyond the question level, it provides opportunities to investigate all Maths concepts as you can see from the screenshots above. Adding the investigations to an always available Google map means students can access the problems anytime, anywhere and can work at their own pace. I always see tech solutions for recording work for students to complete as a benefit, not extra work. Instead of photocopying or getting children to copy down unfinished problems in a rush before leaving, the work is stored online. It means it can be shared with other classes as well.

The image here shows how Maths Maps was set up to add problems and investigations for all grade levels so collaboration can take place across levels, allowing for differentiation possibilities. Barrett just colour coded the placemarks to match a grade level.

If students have access to Google accounts, it is a great opportunity for them to create their own investigations, taking it to a higher thinking level for them. Students in higher grades could create maps for lower grades to investigate or for their fellow classmates. If nearby schools wanted to join in, they could and, of course, you could go the Maths Maps website route and find some schools outside your area to collaborate with and learn so much more about the world.

Of course, there is no reason why it has to be limited to Maths. You could do the same investigations with geography heavy novels, historical events, geography investigations, anything you can link to real locations. It’s certainly open to a lot of possibilities and, while I know it’s easy for me to say, it doesn’t have a huge learning curve and, with collaboration, shouldn’t take too much time to create. If you are going to type out some questions and print out on paper anyway, it will not take much more effort to create this far more engaging option instead.

Here’s a direct link to one of Barrett’s embedded Maths Maps, 27 Measures Activities in Madrid. You can explore this in detail and get a greater sense of the range of real world Maths you can find in real geographic locations.

View 27 Measures Activities in Madrid in a larger map

And, since I’m one teacher who always has to practise what I preach rather than just post ideas from others, here’s my first attempt at starting a Maths Map around Melbourne – unfinished and early days but might test it out with a few of my colleagues and the Grade 5/6 students.

View Measuring Melbourne in a larger map

How effective is brainstorming at your school? (infographic and commentary)

The infographic below ( click on it to get a larger, readable version from the source) stimulates good discussion about the process of brainstorming. While its reference point is the business world,  brainstorming is clearly an oft-used and abused strategy in both classes and staff meetings at school. While we have developed this strategy somewhat with techniques like Think-Pair-Share, we can still fall back on the traditional model when strapped for time, with far from stellar outcomes.

While this infographic focuses on brainstorming, I think its message resonates across all forms of group work that occurs in schools, involving both students and teachers. I think it deserves reflection.

The following points are what I connected with as I read through the infographic.


  1. SOCIAL LOAFING – common in both student and staff settings, it is human nature to sit back and allow others to do the work if they are happy to. I see this at all forms of meetings involving school staff and it is particularly common in classrooms during whole class lessons. This is when you see the same 8 teacher pleasers and high achievers constantly contribute and give the teacher a false sense of success in getting the message of the lesson through. There needs to be protocols set in place so that all group members are accountable for contributing.
  2. SOCIAL MATCHING – Allowing group participants to choose their group members is fraught with danger. Amongst both children and adults, less dominating friends are loathe to disagree with their opinionated mates and very little innovation and debate occurs. Being in a group with leadership is also difficult if you have to go straight into groupdiscussion. Few challenge the boss without preparation.
  3. PRODUCTION BLOCKING – Dominant speakers not only take up air time but being forced to listen to them takes away opportunities for others to think about their opinions and ideas. This is one of the biggest dangers of group brainstorming – the first good idea expressed is accepted and stifles creative thinking and discussion.
  4. LACK OF ATTENTION – Large groups gives members an easy way to disengage. There is always someone contributing so the rest can switch off, allowing some to hide away during the entire discussion and avoid thinking.
  5. FEAR OF CRITICISM OR REJECTION – Anonymity is important sometimes. Processes that collect ideas without leaders/teachers  knowing the source can allow reticent participants to share their opinions and ideas. Ideas can then be challenged, not the person. And, who knows, that idea you though your teacher or leader was going to hate..may end up being the best one offered.
Independently prepare - While we are getting better at this for prepared Brainstorming sessions, I still think there are too many instances when we go straight to discussion without allowing for preparation. It happens in both classrooms and staff meetings. Often the only one prepared is the organiser who then dominates discussion. Even during general class time, there needs to be time for ALL students to think about a response, Teachers should monitor potential responses and catch a typically reluctant child with a good answer to call upon. Agendas need to go beyond dot points and elicit responses from participants by providing some questions and details to consider.
Set a Goal - Too often, thinking stops because we think we have finished. Clear goals or criteria (set the bar high but achieable), whether time or quantity based,  laid out at the beginning focuses participants on maintaining engagement in the task.
Have Meeting facilitators - Regardless of group size or duration of task, group leaders maintain focus on the task, This needs to be attended to during any group related task. Accountability creates attentiveness.
Avoid criticism - Both agree and disagree on this one. We can’t avoid being challenged – it is a necessary fact of life – but we do need to ensure the attack is on the idea, not the ‘man’. It’s why I believe in anonymity initially, time for everyone to
carefully reflect on ideas before responding and a requirement that you have a justification or alternative to the idea raised. Negativity without a practical reason is unacceptable.
Encourage competition - We avoid this too much in schools today. While we are after quality over quantity, you often get neither if there is no incentive. The aforementioned goal/criteria is the starting point. Competition is the finisher. Hear someone’s ideas. Allow for others to present something better in response. Competition encourages greater effort. Lack of it discourages trying.
Try Collaboration Apps  – Never one to pass on an opportunity to sell technology as a solution, I have had great success over the last couple of years using apps like Edmodo for brainstorming ideas. It addresses many of the problems mentioned above, Be forewarned though. It requires very stringent protocols to be in place lest unsavoury flame wars break out a la Apple vs PC vs Android nonsense. Monitoring and rules must always apply, even ( sometimes especially ) at the adult level.
Group work/brainstorming is a staple of the Education system. Sometimes, though, we take the process for granted, and get less than satisfactory outcomes as a result. We must always plan for these opportunities and I think this infographic is a useful resource to have beside you every time you are considering a brainstorm session.
How do you prepare for group work or brainstorming? Join the conversation.

Leadership Qualities – how close to the mark are you?

Leadership Qualities

Came across this infographic in my Scoop-It feed this morning and I couldn’t resist reflecting on its message. Schools are awash with opportunities for leadership building and modelling at 3 distinct levels – Peer Leadership (School Leadership teams/Curriculum leadership teams or individuals), Teacher-leading-Class and Student Leadership. It is telling to ponder the impact these 8 key leadership qualities can have in improving school environments and, as a result, performances.

 Peer Leadership: The keyword for me here is PROACTIVE. Tough decision making means knowing what may go wrong but being a believer in what can go right. Courageous leadership means not reacting to every bad standardised test result and looking for another solution because Plan A didn’t work straight away. This just leads to one unfinished project after another that never really leads to sustained improvement and consistent achievement. Real change and improvement takes time. Courageous leaders know this and can face the short term criticism that may come their way.

Teacher-leading-Class: We can’t expect one lesson to solve all learning difficulties in one go. Teachers have to have faith in programs that have been proven to be successful elsewhere and not cave in to change because things haven’t gone smoothly straight away. Students get confused with constant change and won’t learn to persist if we don’t.

Student Leadership: To prepare our students for the future, we need to develop courageous decision making skills in them. Good brainstorming  and discussions of positives and negatives are essential in this preparation.

Peer Leadership: Probably my biggest drawback is thinking of myself as the expert who has all the answers, although through blogging, Twitter and Edmodo I have come to accept that others have insight and skills I don’t possess. Other key messages out of the Humility point here is not putting yourself above others and telling colleagues you are leading to do things while contributing little yourself. Less experienced teachers want to contribute and develop; but they also crave advice from leaders. Leaders have to get in and do the hard yards with their teams, not delegate in the name of distributive leadership and take credit without contributing.

Teacher-leading-Class: Recognise the contribution your students can make to the learning in your grade. Share the front of the class with others, whether they be students or other staff who can contribute to the teaching and learning. Give credit to others who contributed if improvement is noticed. MOst likely you didn’t do it alone.

Student Leadership: Don’t over emphasise one group of students over the other. Make sure everyone has a chance to contribute. ‘Catch’ the quiet achievers and the less able succeeding and encourage them to share their learning so that the ‘smart kids’ in the grade realise they aren’t the only ones who know stuff. Give everyone the expectation to lead so that the regular leaders don’t get ahead of themselves.

Peer Leadership: Distributive Leadership should not be used as a way of handing all responsibility over to others so they can take the fall for problems. Everyone is responsible for every result. When survey results show some issues exist, don’t look for excuses why the questions and results could have been misinterpreted. Analyse critically and reflect on what could be the real reasons. If we don’t take the time to find out why and accept these reasons, improvement won’t happen.

Teacher-leading-Class: Sometimes, it is the teacher’s fault. We were not adequately prepared, we didn’t address the learning gaps effectively, we over-reacted and got too emotional, we didn’t stay focused. If we have a hard class, we have to work harder. If we have a dream class, we should still be working hard to extend them. It is easy to lay the blame on the class, and they can contribute to the problem. But if they see a teacher always passing the buck, they will learn to be unaccountable. Sometimes they don’t have good role models in being accountable in their lives; we need to be that role model.

Student Leadership: Our students do need to learn what accountability is about. In group work situations, ownership for results has to be attributed to those responsible, for success and failures. If a child makes poor choices, he need to be made aware of that  and there has to be logical consequences. If students are going to develop leadership skills, they have to learn to be accountable. They can’t rely on parents or teachers to do it all for them.

 Peer Leadership: In the words of Jesus of Nazareth,” Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Also known as “practise what you preach”, Trust isn’t earned by leaders who are inconsistent. Don’t expect hard work if you don’t work hard. Don’t expect others to give if you only take. Don’t play colleagues off against each other. GIve credit where credit’s due and give criticism where criticism’s due. Respond to criticism of yourself honestly, admit fault and be open about how you can improve.

Teacher-leading-Class: All of the above. If your students see you admitting fault, following the advice you dish out to them, acting the way you said you would, they will learn what being trustworthy means. Explain yourself if you change your mind, be consistent towards all students, don’t hold grudges, start each day afresh without any agendas against individuals despite their previous sins. One thing children react to is fairness. They may not always like what we do, but they accept it if it is fair and consistent.

Student Leadership: Be the role model mentioned above so students can learn what being trustworthy is all about. Have high expectations of them and demand consistency and honesty. Expect them to explain their actions and own up to their actions. Demand they co-operate with each other and follow through on work that is expected to be done collaboratively.

Peer Leadership: Keep lines of communication open at all times between meetings so discussions can continue beyond the meeting. Have high expectations that everyone contributes consistently. Be honest. Don’t put your grievances forward in the car park. Be professional. Allow for disagreement. Expect disagreement. Respect disagreement.

Teacher-leading-Class: Don’t dominate the conversation in class. Use technology to allow for everyone to share their opinions. Have high expectations that every child will contribute. Set up an environment that allows this to happen. Allow for disagreement. Expect disagreement. Respect disagreement.

Student Leadership: Don’t allow small pockets of students to dominate the class discussion. Don’t expect silence in class at all times. Teach students HOW to listen and respond. It’s not a simple skill. Give students a forum for discussion of issues. Allow for disagreement. Expect disagreement. Respect disagreement.

Peer Leadership: Passion is the keyword for me in this little grab. You have to be convincing about your plans. Going through the motions to tick off a list of recommendations does not bring about lasting change. Related to Courage earlier, leaders who are convinced about and committed to their vision will be able to battle through the inevitable pitfalls. Allowing plans to fall by the wayside because something else comes up does not bring about lasting change. Leaders need to stay true ot their convictions.

Teacher-leading-Class: Students have very good ‘lack of commitment’ sensors. They know when a teacher is going through the motions and they respond accordingly. Take them on a passionate journey of discovery and even the toughest ones will join you. They will commit to the cause too. But they will jump ship just as quickly if you don’t maintain the rage.

Student Leadership: If we cut students off every time they discover a passion worth pursuing, they will lose the courage of their convictions quite quickly. We need passionate, committed leaders for the future. Too many politicians show students that its OK to change your mind every time a poll doesn’t go your way. We have to develop the quality of conviction in our students as future leaders.

Peer Leadership: Collaborative decision making does not equal universal agreement but it also doesn’t mean contrived discussion on an issue a group of leaders have already made a decision on. Collaboration takes time, communication, honest feedback ( giving and receiving), evidence based opinions and creativity. It doesn’t happen as a result of 2-3 disconnected meetings over a time frame of 6-8 weeks. Leaders today need to embrace the collaborative nature of technology that allows for constant discussions, sharing of new research, arguing points of view without being verbally cut off mid sentence and time for reflection.

Teacher-leading-Class: All of the above. One of the 4 Cs of 21st Learning is Collaboration. We have the tools in our classrooms to embrace this well. Teachers can show how to be collaborative leaders by allowing this technology to take over the day to day running of discussions. Too often, collaboration is mistaken for brainstorming and sharing.

Student Leadership: Ditto. Students have to be taught how to collaborate. Group work is not dividing tasks up and getting the dedicated students to do most of the work.

Peer Leadership: “Moving beyond your own personal agenda” – Love that statement! ( and I’m as guilty as anyone of pushing my own agenda) You can have all of the other qualities listed above but it all falls apart if we are divided. While curriculum teams need their own meeting times, decisions have to be made with all involved present at all times. Last time I looked ,there are still only 24 hours in a day and 5 working days in a school week. If we added up the hours individual curriculum leaders needed to achieve their goals, there would need to be a substantial shift in the nature of the space-time continuum for it to actually occur. Splinter groups can’t solve the issue but committed discussion that involves aligning goals and finding ways to combine goals, targets and agenda can.

Teacher-leading-Class: Not so much with the students but more at planning level, team members need to align their individual passions and challenges to ensure a balanced curriculum for the students.

Student Leadership: Teaching compromise is a starting point here. Granted, it can be hard for children.

I’m under no illusions that I am any great role model for leadership. I choose teaching children over leading schools every year (although I have spent many years on leadership teams by virtue of my skill set and experience). Nevertheless, you don’t have to wear a badge that says Principal or Co-ordinator to understand the qualities and behaviours needed by leaders. Many schools need improving in this world of ours. These Leadership qualities are vital for success.

Technology – Providing Incredible Opportunities for Students whether we want it to or not

We hear bad stories about young people using technology, especially the internet, at a monotonous regularity. YouTube is awash with ridiculous copycat videos of boys putting themselves in danger. Forums are flooded with a steady stream of insults and rumours from teenagers protected by anonymity. As teachers, we are constantly dealing with reports of cyberbullying on Facebook and Twitter we have no personal control over. If you believed the media shock jocks, every kid on the internet is either an idiot or in great peril.

But I want to tell a different story starring my daughter, her best friend and a small group of friends ( including my opportunistic son!). This is a completely different story that highlights the amazing opportunities that today’s available technology offers our students. It’s also a story about how, if given the freedom, children will take what we ‘make’ them do at school and take it to a whole new level that the limited minds of us teachers don’t even plan for. It explains why student led learning can be a success if we don’t restrict our students from going beyond our stated objectives. It shows how true engagement doesn’t need a teacher or a classroom for children to achieve great things and how technology can allow young students follow their dreams without the restrictions we had in the past.

It begins with a simple project for my daughter’s Studio Arts class. They were asked to create a short Horror film for their major term project. That was the only requirement. My daughter and her friends, from this point on known as BatFilms Productions. ( long story I won’t go into – suffice to say I am listed as ‘Lucius Fox’ in my daughter’s address book)  could have just coasted through the class this term, like apparently some students did, cobbled together a few clips on the computers at school and handed in a bland DVD in a plastic bag to get their ‘At Standard’ mark and go back to studying for their Maths and English exams. That’s all that was expected of them – a video.

Instead, this is what happened. The formed BatFilms Productions. ‘Best Friend’ (who in the 10 years she’s been coming to our house I have never heard utter more than one sentence at a time yet was the star of the movie)  set herself the task of writing the script for the 9 minute ‘epic’. ( the script does not get handed in to the teacher). My daughter started work on the Film Poster and DVD sleeve cover ( also not expected) using her favourite app on her iPad, ArtRage. She is also a budding artist, having attended an after school art class since she was 8. She paints with both natural media and digitally on the iPad, all in her spare time, completing works of art for family members on a regular basis.

Over the Term 3 holidays, while most of their class mates were hanging out at resorts, shopping centres or in front of the TV, Batfilms Productions got together on a Thursday for an all day, all night rehearsal and filming marathon – during the holidays! My kids came home just before midnight, exhausted but excited. “School work” was the highlight of their holiday – and my son wasn’t even part of the assignment. He just went to be the cameraman but is now an official member of Batfilms Productions. Of course by this stage, it had moved beyond school work. A passion had been ignited and it just continued to grow.

While Daughter, who inherited her father’s tech geek gene, got to work on the film editing and production, piecing together hundreds of clips of outakes, bloopers and useable video, Best Friend started thinking about publicity. She set up a YouTube Channel ( not part of the assignment and not connected to the school component at all) and a Twitter Account (again, not part of the school work). Best Friend’s Cousin, also a member of BatFilms, started working on the Film Trailer on iMovie ( also not part of the assignment requirement) and Daughter decided to add a professional edge to the opening credits using another iPad app Intro Designer (she upgraded to the full paid version to get the Horror Movie template ). When she found out about Bsst Friend’s YouTube/Twitter idea, she decided to use her Weebly account to create a Website to advertise Batfilms and their future plans.

Back at school, they discovered their clips weren’t opening on the school computers. Daughter calmly announced she would take them home and convert them ALL on her MacBook using Handbrake. When they viewed the converted files back at school, they noticed pixelation in full screen. They could have accepted mediocrity – at this stage some students hadn’t even filmed their scenes yet – but instead Daughter took them all home again and re did the whole conversion process at a higher resolution setting.

After all that not for extra credit effort, the film was finally completed. It was only now that I found out all they had to hand in was a video. Everything else was their own choice. They handed the movie in completed but all the teacher got was the DVD. What they kept for themselves was a film trailer, extras sections with bloopers and outtakes, a professional standard DVD sleeve and Film poster, and the potential for a real audience through their YouTube Channel, Twitter account and website, none of which would have been encouraged by the school.

What also came out of this was the genesis of a film company with plans made by a group of teenagers to create  more films together. Best Friend already has a script on its way for Movie number two, the completed movie Midnight Man is on Youtube, the Twitter account @BatFilms has started attracting followers and the website tells the story of the fledgling crew and their plans.

The movie itself is pretty good for a bunch of teenagers’ first effort. Me being me, I offered some constructive criticism, suggesting it needed some background music for mood. Daughter said they’d do that for the NEXT movie. Yep, they’re more interested in improving the next movie, the one they have DECIDED to do in their own time, no the one for school.

So what is the message of this story for me as a teacher? Well, there’s several.

  1. Our students are capable of so much more than what we expect of them. They’re not really motivated by grades; they are motivated by engagement. Their reports will probably have the same At Standard score as the slackers who are still working on their films. But BatFilms don’t care. They’re working on their next movie.
  2. As teachers, we need to broaden our learning outcomes and assessment. All these students will be assessed on is the video under the umbrella of Studio Arts. But what else have they demonstrated? Collaboration, entrepreneurism, initiative, teamwork, commitment to excellence, independent learning, communication skills, visual arts, planning, time management and preparation. One of the strengths of Primary School is that your teacher takes you for all classes so she can possibly credit you for all this. Secondary school teachers with their single subject focus may only focus on their narrow subject based outcome. We need to credit our students for unintended outcomes.
  3. We need to know our students’ passions and interests and give them opportunities to grow. The Studio Arts teacher should let the Drama Teacher, the English teacher, the Art Teacher,  the History teacher, the ICT teacher all know what these students are willing to do. Given the opportunity, these kids would put together a great interpretation of Romeo and Juliet or a World War Two battle through the sheer engagement of digital media, showing more understanding than their standard written essay. What they got out of this experience will not show up in a two hour exam.
  4. ICT provides opportunities that us teachers never had when we were students at school. We are limited by our own experiences. We shouldn’t limit our students’ possibilities. Instead of dwelling on the fake death reports and insults on Twitter, explore the possibilities of connecting to promote creative pursuits and worthy causes at school. Use blogs and websites and Youtube. Which leads me to ….
  5. Trust that students can use the Web constructively and responsibly. BatFilms is not a secret project. They are loving that the geeky father is promoting them on his longwinded, highbrow educational blog. Daughter told me straight away that Best Friend had set up the Twitter account. All the parents were asked by the children for permission to set up the YouTube Channel and Twitter. I’m following @Batfilms and Daughter has already blocked a follower who was promoting inappropriate material for them. Daughter is already a Weebly veteran, having set up a website Gleje Comics, displaying her comic strips series and soon to be released animations. She registered her site on the Comic Book Archive to promote it and has followers. ( She’s aiming for a career in computer animation.) They are responsible kids whose only interest in the internet is promoting their talents. Give students the opportunity to be responsible and creative and they will become good digital citizens.

So let’s not limit our students. Let them explore every possibility and bring their own goals along. If we are not getting the best out of them the traditional way, we need to try it their way. Trust technology to open up those possibilities. They’ll do it without you anyway. BatFilms did. Wouldn’t we prefer our students to put in all that effort and be rewarded and acknowledged for it at school as well as outside? Wouldn’t it be better to tap into that energy and enthusiasm and be there to add our experience and knowledge to the mix to improve the experience? I’m reading enough about how we don’t need schools or teachers as we know them anymore. We do. Students still need us. But we need to meet them in their world and support them there. And for those who want to dwell on the students who didn’t make the same effort to argue against the engagement factor of technology, go ahead. I’ll focus on the positive story of BatFilms Productions.

P.S. Please check out the video. They’d like an audience. And Daughter’s comics too.