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 edtechteacher.org, 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 




20 random iPad Maths Apps that help cover all areas of curriculum


Around this time last year, I wrote a post about the lack of engaging Maths apps on the iPad that went beyond “skill and drill” number activities. Since then, developers have introduced a greater range of apps across all areas of the Maths curriculum that can be used to enhance the Maths teaching and learning in your classroom. Here’s a selection of 20 apps that cover Number and Algebra, Measurement and Geometry, and Statistics and Probability ( these are the Content strands (CS) Australia’s Mathematics curriculum has been categorized under ). They also cover the proficiency strands (PS) of Understanding, Fluency, Problem Solving and Reasoning. I’m sure other countries’ curricula are similar in many regards and you will be able to make the connections.

Undecided (free at time of writing)

A handy tool for probability experiments, Undecided comes with customisable dice ( up to six) with number of rolls, last roll and sum of rolls data, Heads/tails coin toss with cumulative tallies, a 1-10 spinner ( wish it was customisable) , Rock/Scissors/Paper and Short Straw simulations and a random number generator with customisable maximum number beyond thousands (although it’s time consuming to go beyond 1000).

CS  -Statistics and Probability  PS – Reasoning

Decide Now! ($0.99)

Does what Undecided doesn’t with spinner. You can create/edit unlimited numbers of spinners with any types of categories and combinations of categories. Minimum number of sections is 10. If you add less than that, it intelligently uses ratio to created the segments. Great for probability experiments, especially for increasing and decreasing chance of random events to occur.

CS  -Statistics and Probability  PS – Reasoning

DragonBox+ ($6.49 – expensive for multiple copies)

Despite the cost, which would be prohibitive for some schools with limited budgets, this is a clever app for building conceptual understanding of the principles for balancing algebraic equations. Presented in a game format, it builds up from simple to complex as you play through 5 levels and 300 individual puzzles. The object is to be left with a single object on one side by applying inverse operations to object on both sides. The final level introduces the alphanumerical symbols associated with algebra.

CS – Number and Algebra       PS – Understanding, Problem Solving, Reasoning

Dartfish EasyTag (free)

This app allows you to create data collection tools using panels as recording buttons for categories and and subcategories you create. Each time you touch a panel, it begins tallying results. It collects category totals and tracks the elapsed time by whole seconds, minutes and hours. Not only useful for data collection and statistics, but can be used as a simple timer as well. Results can be exported by email as a csv file which can be opened in Excel (not  iPad spreadsheet programs), although it records labels rather than numbers so editing the spreadsheet is necessary for tallying results.

CS – Measurement and Geometry, Number and Algebra  PS – Fluency, Reasoning

Pattern Blocks ($0.99)

A simple app that can be used for many purposes. The drag and drop geometric shapes can overlay translucently to create fraction models, supported by the grids. Tessellations can be created effortlessly and rotations can also be done. At junior levels, shape patterns can easily be created and continued. Relationships between different shapes can also be explored.

CS – Measurement and Geometry, Number and Algebra   PS – Problem Solving, Reasoning and Understanding

Room Planner (free)

Created with House planning in mind but can be applied for many measurement tasks. This app allows you to create and edit individual rooms or entire house plans. Each element ( room, architectural element or furniture) can have its dimensions adjusts though simple touch and drag, elements can be freely rotated and final plans can be viewed from all angles and views in 2D and 3D. Area and Perimeter investigations can be implemented and concepts of space can be explored through placing objects within the rooms. Text can be added and in 3D mode, creativity is encouraged though applying colours and textures for realism. Scale can be explored by creating models of actual rooms.

CS – Measurement and Geometry  PS – Problem Solving, Understanding and Reasoning

5 Dice Order of Operations (free)

A simple but engaging equation building game that builds understanding of order of operations rules. A target number is randomly selected and 5 dice are provided to use as the values to generate equations to reach the target. IT provides a whiteboard for experimenting with possibilities before dragging the numerals and operation symbols into place. There are options for using some or all operations and brackets to allow for different ability levels.

CS – Number and Algebra PS – Fluency, Problem Solving, Understanding and Reasoning

Foldify ($2.99)

Its whimsical nature and cost makes it appear superficial use of technology but it allows for an engaging exploration of 3D objects and nets. Can also be used to create patterns on dice faces that can encourage logical reasoning in building patterns.

CS – Measurement and Geometry PS – Reasoning and Problem Solving

Geoboard  (free)

Simply put, it is a Tech based Geoboard that allows for wide ranging angle and shape explorations as well as quick creations of arrays to build understanding of multiplication and division. Can also support fraction and decimal exploration with careful manipulation. Shapes can be rendered transparent or translucent for easier viewing and comparison.

CS -Measurement and Geometry, Number and Algebra   PS – Problem Solving, Understanding and Reasoning

Geometry Pad (free; $6.49 full features)

This app allows for exploration of shape, angles, co-ordinates, area, perimeter, circle properties,algebraic expressions on graphs and linear graphs ( functions in the paid version ). Free version is still quite functional but paid version has some compelling upgrade features for higher level mathematics.

CS – Measurement and Geometry, Number and Algebra    PS – Understanding, Reasoning

MyScript Calculator (free)

A screenshot doesn’t do this app justice. In a nutshell, this app converts your handwritten scrawlings into equations and calculates the answers. Recognises indices/roots, trigonometric functions, percentages and fractions as well as basic operations. YOu can edit equations on the spot by crossing out and replacing numbers and symbols and equations automatically update as you increase and decrease values on either side. Blank spaces are replaced with calculated values. A great app for exploring equations as well as a very functional calculator. Does have limits, which you will find as you explore but its free so explore at will.

CS – Number and Algebra    PS – Fluency, Problem Solving, Understanding and Reasoning

Friends of Ten  ($0.99)

A handy app for exploring subitising and the visual conceptualisation of 1-10, important number skills to develop in younger students. This app has six activities using Tens Frames to develop build to ten, how many and more than/less than.

CS – Number and Algebra   PS – Fluency and Understanding

Tens Frame Snap Lite (free)

This game based app consolidates the skills developed in Friends of Ten above using a 2 player Snap game.

CS – Number and Algebra   PS – Fluency and Understanding

Routes ($1.99) (My Maps – linked to Google Maps account – free but harder to use)

Using Google Maps as its base, this app allows students to build routes along maps by dropping waypoints along the way. It generates distances and estimated times along the route and between points and you can compare bicycle, car and walking routes to the same locations. It also creates instructions which can be tested by actually going out and following the routes created. The distances and times can also be tested by actually going along the route as well. Routes can be shared via email, Twitter/Facebook and printed.

CS – Measurement and Geometry, Number and Algebra     PS – Problem Solving, Reasoning and Understanding

Virtual Manipulatives! (free)

An app that provides manipulatives to explore the relationships between fractions, decimals and percentages. Limited to values from 1/2 to 1/12s ( no 1/7s or 1/9s)

CS – Number and Algebra    PS – Fluency and Understanding

Counting Board (free)

A simple but effective counting aid. Either show or hide numbers. Create visual number patterns. Use to develop count on/count to/ count backward strategies for counting, addition and subtraction. Has an option to say numbers as they are tapped.

CS – Number and Algebra    PS – Fluency and Understanding

Fraction Division ($0.99)

A very specific skill set for an app but great to see a conceptually difficult operation ( division of fractions) explained in a concrete way. I know teachers who don’t understand how to divide fractions or explore the rote learnt reciprocal concept. This app definitely helps

CS -Number and Algebra   PS – Fluency, Problem Solving, Understanding and Reasoning

Numbler Free (Free! – paid app $0.99)

A fun way to explore equations and practise calculations. Basically, this is a number based version of Scrabble. YOu are given a selection of tiles with numerals, operation symbols and an equality sign. The object is to make equations with the tiles you have and/or the tiles already on the board.  Easy to play, challenging to finish. Encourages experimentation by trying to score the highest possible score. Free version only allows for one player versus computer. Paid version allows two player game.

CS – Number and Algebra PS – Fluency, Problem Solving, Understanding and Reasoning

Logic Puzzles HD ($2.99)

I love Logic Puzzles. This app provides are large selection of puzzles to complete. While not easy to categorise under COntent strands, the logical reasoning developed throough these puzzles is essential for higher order thinking. I have successfully taught 7 year olds how to solve ( and create ) these types of puzzles which has encouraged thinking, problem solving, creativity and logic.

PS – Problem Solving and Reasoning

PollDaddy (free)

Others prefer SurveyMonkey but PollDaddy has its own iPad app that gives you a simple way to COLLECT data based on surveys created online. All you have to do is link the app to an account, download the survey and it creates an easy to use, question by question survey on the iPad. You can review the results and upload the surveys once done.

CS – Statistics and Probability

As you can see, most of these apps are free so you can easily try them out to see what you can do in your classrooms with them. The paid apps won’t exactly break the budget if you download one copy to try. While many have physical, old school versions that can be used instead ( just like they were pre-iPad), I am of the opinion that the iPad version are more user friendly are allow for more possibilities and instant, repetitive use.

Let me know what you think about these apps or maybe suggest some other apps I have left out.

Great infographic for Maths investigations – World as 100 people

The World as 100 People

I want to share this infographic today. Its an effective representation of a lot of data on a familiar topic. Many have seen this information presented before. This website gives the statistics in a simple list. It also provides links to earlier reports and origins.

This site provides a series of posters that present the same information and extra data in a graphical way.

And there’s always a YouTube video out there covering the same topic. This one is based on older data

Data like this can generate a lot of opportunities for Maths lessons.

  • Investigation and Generation of different graphs to represent the data in different ways
  • Conversion of data into raw numbers – what is 33% of 7 billion?
  • Compare the data from different eras – what has increased/decreased? By how much? What is the % increase/decrease?
  • How many more/less between different groupings within categories?

We need to work with data more and more. It surrounds us in today’s media. Getting children to understand it should be a major part of our Maths curriculum. Infographics like this one are a good start.

Standardised testing – Who’s at fault? System, teacher or student? Pt 1 – The System.

I had been planning to weigh in on the Standardised Testing debate for a while now. Then I spotted this article titled The four biggest myths of the anti-testing backlash and decided to put my ‘two cents worth’ in.

First of all, don’t call me a fence sitter, but I can see what both sides are saying. And that’s part of the problem with the whole debate. It’s just two sides not listening to the other’s point of view. Being a quasi/mutant part teacher, part leader composite being, I get to discuss the postives and negatives of testing with many stakeholders and this is where it all sits with me.

The System Level.

At system level, no one has a coherent, unified explanation of the purpose of Standardised Testing. Is it for tracking student progress or achievement? Is it a means of evaluating the performance of schools, teachers or students? Is it a “one off snapshot of performance to get a general picture of student achievement to be used alongside school/teacher recorded data to build a profile of a student’s strengths and weaknesses” ( phew!) or is it the all important indicator of school and teacher performance that takes precedence over all other evidence of achievement before or after the test? Are we meant to use the results to guide curriculum and school planning or work with the results at a one to one level to build on Individual Learning Plans for students? Are the results intended for educational experts or meant to be published by newspapers and government websites to pigeonhole schools into rankings based on a one off event? Over the years, I hear and see all of these scenarios played out all the time and the end results too often don’t result in targeted learning improvements because we get bogged down in definitions of purpose and mixed agendas.

Testing is necessary. In a mobile, global society, there needs to be some standard we have to set for the typical 10 year old if one year their Dad’s job takes him to Thailand and the next year he ends up in Dubai. Results can be used effectively. Trends can be found at a class or school level that can be addressed quickly. Results can generate purposeful planning conversations based on actual data rather than teacher intuition or generalisations based on a small sample group. Done well, students and their parents can get timely feedback that they can use to address strengths and weaknesses quickly, not when they get their report five months later. Despite what we think, many students like competition and like to know how they are performing against their best mate or nemesis. So I am not against the concept of standardised testing. I have issues with its perceived purpose.

I’ve spent the last 3 weeks at school using a lot of standardised tests. We believe at the leadership level, we have a clear purpose for these tests. The On Demand testing we are using online with entire Grade Levels can give us a snapshot of who is below, at and above standard. From there we plan programs to address needs of groups of students. It’s instant feedback – which is a massive advantage over the ridiculous 5 month waiting period for NAPLAN ( Australia’s nation wide standardised testing program) . The minute the student finishes the test, we can bring up overall and question by question results. But the amount of data can be overwhelming at the micro-level and too general at a macro level. More importantly for me, raw numbers and right and wrong answers tell me what the student can’t do BUT it doesn’t tell me why.

That’s why a more effective form of standardised testing is the one on one interview. Too time consuming to do with every student and often too pointless to use with high achievers or the ‘normed’ student, but what you get the chance to do that makes a real difference to the student’s learning is identify how they think. A instead of C doesn’t tell me why the child couldn’t add two digit numbers; listening to that same student verbalise the misconceptions of addition does. Where standardised testing of the written, whole class nature helps me here is identifying the students who would benefit from the interview. Over the last week, I have had some eye opening interviews and discovered some major issues with some students that NAPLAN and On Demand or class worksheets clearly missed. I’ve also found out that some of the students I interviewed because of Standardised Test results, were not low achievers at all. They were using sophisticated mental computation strategies that will support them in future years and should have helped them ‘ace’ the test. Something else was going on at the test site that a written test can’t begin to pick up.

I don’t know how possible it is but it would be nice if at system level someone could investigate the possibility of an alternative to the 50 question multiple choice question test. Is our priority the Collection of Data about WHO is at risk or finding out HOW we can help the at risk student? I don’t know how practical it is at a system level, but 5 questions on key ideas that ask a child to justify their responses is going to tell me more about what is going on in the head of that student than a score of 12/50.

Testing is vitally important but it’s important to find out how to help our students learn, not simply what they do and don’t know on a given Thursday. Identifying learning issues is what I want to see as the purpose of Standardised Testing. That helps teachers. That helps students. Anything else becomes a political football in a debate between two groups of people who are only providing the media 1o second soundbites to keep the real stakeholders out of the conversation.

Having said that, it is certainly not all the system’s fault. Teachers and students have to be accountable in all of this too. What roles, rights and responsibilities do those at the coalface have in this debate? I’ll cover that in Pt 2 ( or maybe even Pt 3 – depends on how much I ramble on for!!) In the meantime, I’d like to hear what you think? What’s your take on Standardised Testing? Which side of the debate do you support? Join the conversation.

Can we reconcile standardised testing with Personalised Learning?

I’ve been involved in a lot of discussions and Professional development sessions this year in my role as Maths lead learner that have revolved around the use of standardised testing and the role of data in improving outcomes. Twitter and Ed blogs are awash with concerns about the “dumbing down” of education today because of the direction to “teach to the test” so our schools’ publicly available data can improve (which in a more positive way should be phrased as ” so our student outcomes can improve).

At the same time, we are led to “worship at the altar” of the Ken Robinsons of the world who are leading us in this inevitable Education Revolution of personalised learning, creativity, student autonomy and voice and choice. Entire Education systems have published documents directing us to following this revolution, which to make it clear I am a big proponent of, only for this lofty goal to consciously or unconsciously hit the proverbial brick wall when our latest NAPLAN ( insert own country’s national testing program here) results come a-visiting to inform us we didn’t score as well as we need to. Suddenly, we as a system turn our curriculum into a series of ‘how tos” in comprehending test questions.

Can we get the balance right? Should we balance it? Is it possible to reconcile the unfortunate reality of needing decent test scores to feel good about your school’s achievements with our far more worthy, yet politically undervalued aim of developing creative, critical thinking, community minded, self driven, connected life long learners? Can we counteract the undoubted power of the the once a year standardised test score with our own data reflecting year long achievements? In a single reflective blog post I can’t answer the question definitively nor do I have all the data the research experts can throw at us to support their view point. Nevertheless, here are my views, and my views alone on some of the burning issues we face in our ideological battle between standardisation and Personalised learning.

The question about questions
One of the biggest issues is this whole perception that we must “teach to the test.” How often have you been directed to give the children more practice in comprehending the type of questions the students will face on the test. The mistake we often make here is we try to teach the children strategies in question answering; looking for key words, identifying reasonable and unreasonable answers. What we fail to do is look at the curriculum content behind the question and analyse how effectively we are teaching that content.

In our Mathematics Leadership team, we are spending a lot of time doing just that. We are making use of the data and the actual test questions to find possible gaps, not just in content, but also in the way we present that content. What language is used in the question- do we use that language? How was the mathematical concept represented – do we represent it that way? ( example from this year’s NAPLAN test – I doubled a number then subtracted 4. I was left with 8. What was the original number? Have we used this worded problem based representation or have we just used function machines or algebra forms? It’s a perfectly reasonable question that we just never presented to our students in that way)

So our aim in our team is not to “teach to the test” but to understand how we can teach effectively what might be in the test. That might just sound like a subtle rephrasing of he same thing but it’s not. We need to improve our knowledge of how concepts can be represented. We need to build the vocabulary and contextual range of teachers and students so that in our Maths classes we can provide all possible thinking experiences that may arise in “that test”. Not by doing practice tests, but by incorporating the language and representations found in these tests in our normal engaging lessons. The same applies to Literacy tests. Do we have a great enough range of questions in our day to day English teaching that are similar to the types of questions being asked in the test?

We also use the data from standardised testing ( not just NAPLAN but an On Demand Testing system) to plan for personalised learning for our students in Maths. We are able to identify student skill levels in different areas of the Maths curriculum and cater for differing needs. I’ve written about this elsewhere in my blog.

Having said that, I still have concerns about how the impost of the testing regime affects teaching, especially in Maths. As an education system, we have spent years extolling the virtues of Habits of Mind, Multiple intelligences and Learning styles. Mounds of research has emphasised that today’s students are very much visual learners. We have implemented technology integration across curriculum areas. And yet, despite all this, the ONLY data collection system we rely on is heavily skewed towards a linguistic test. Word problems and written responses. Maths is not just word problems. Life is not full of word problems and comprehension questions.

We have to get the balance right so that we have a curriculum that values verbal, physical, hands on, real life experiences above test questions. Primary School isn’t just a means for progressing to the textbook world of secondary school, where the student is surround by word problems and nothing else. We still need to problem solve, not just word problem answer.

And we can’t just put all our eggs in the standardised test basket in terms of assessment. There is real danger that teachers will lose faith in their own judgment, their own assessment tasks, the quality work the children produce before and after “that test”. It’s all too easy to just accept the score of the national test as a reflection of the student’s achievement, especially when it is public and known to the parents. While data from tests can be effective in planning programs for extension and intervention, the tests are still just an indication of performance on that given day. We have to trust the worth of all that other data we collect during the year – the student’s work. Which means we have to make that data work better for us. This leads to my next point.

Data vs. Data
Two things evident from the data from standardised tests are
It gets analysed; and
It gets publicised
Therefore we have to make sure our other data can be analysed effectively and we have to make it public so it can be used in a positive light.

Consistent, methodical use of checklists, rubrics, annotated samples. assessment spreadsheets and the like coupled with effective means of sorting and presenting the data so that it can be effectively analysed and used for improvement is the first part of the process. The second is counteracting the power of the publication of standardised test results. We can easily bemoan the unfairness of the misuse and misrepresentation the data. We can cry foul at the cold, limited process of league tables making you look like an underachiever because you’re one percentage point away from moving from below average to average. Or you could fight back and proactively publicise your year round data showing the students are far better achievers than that one off test suggests.

This is where the power of the Internet comes in. If you’re concerned prospective parents are put off by the red mark on the website showing national test results, start advertising your school’s achievements on line. Utilise the school website and class/student blogs to post exemplary work publicly. Use digital portfolios to showcase student progress year round to their parents so they can compare what their child has achieved all year as opposed to that test from May. Kill off the bad publicity a low ranking on the test score website gives you with the good publicity of getting student work published in public forums like local newspapers, community radio or other education based websites. Enter Writing, Maths or Arts competitions that don’t judge student acheivement by 40 minute test papers but by in-depth thinking and creativity and celebrate the results. Get your school involved in community, local, national and global projects to show what your students can achieve beyond a multiple choice question booklet.

One set of data should not outweigh multiple sets. Be organised. Be proactive. Know what data you have. Make it clear and accessible. Stop saying “our children are better than these results” and start proving they are. We live in a data driven age of education. Take control of the wheel yourself instead of being driven by external data.

There is a place for standardised testing. The data it provides can help us plan for Personalised learning. We, and by we I mean teachers, principals, education departments, parents, and most of all political leaders, have to get the balance right. We can’t talk of 21st Century education revolutions and then get judged by 19th/20th century methods. Politicians need to LISTEN to us and TRUST our data. Schools and Education systems have to create, collect and publicise data that CAN be TRUSTED. That’s the balance we need to find. I’m no expert. I’m just a teacher with an opinion. Sometimes we need to be heard.

What do you think? Have you found the balance between the standardised national test and a creative, purposeful school curriculum? Join the conversation.

Making infographics the easel.ly way

Infographics have become a very popular means of communication recently and in an earlier post, I discussed the potential uses for them in education. While viewing my Scoop-it feeds today, I came across this brand new Web tool for creating infographics called easel.ly.

It’s still in beta form but is free to test out. Being in beta form, it is obviously not 100% ready for prime time and incomplete but in a quick play with it this morning, I like what it has to offer.

It’s a drag and drop interface that allows you to drag ready made themes, objects, text fields and insert your own images to create an info graphic that looks as professional as the ones flooding the Net at the moment. There is an extensive collection of icons, graphic elements, maps etc although it lacks in a feature for creating and editing graphs ( there is one area graph you can drag on that is not editable but this shows that it is probably coming in the future ). Everything is very easy to edit and includes colour, layers, resizing, duplicating features.

With visual learners everywhere in our classroom, we need to think about presenting data in a variety of ways, Infographics is one option. You could use expensive, complex graphics software or something simple and free like easel.ly. I encourage you to give it a go.