Why we need more visual texts in our teaching and learning


Found this fantastic infographic touting the success of infographics. Reading it ( or more correctly, viewing it) immediately focused my thoughts on the use of visual texts in classrooms today. Click on the screenshot above to view the animated, interactive info graphic that presents  13 reasons why we should use infographics ( or visual texts in general). Unlike other infographics I link to on Mr G Online, I’m not going to discuss the specific points presented – that would be contradictory to the message of the infographic. I’ll let you get your own meaning from it. However, I am going to reflect on how it made me consider the use of visual texts in education.

If we take at face value the research this infographic is based on, human beings are, at heart, visual learners. Our first written languages were image based (hieroglyphics). Our first recorded historical artefacts are cave paintings. Before the Bible was printed, the story of Christianity was predominantly told through Church Art. Museums are based on our desire to see artefacts firsthand.

I in no way want to devalue the importance of reading. Making connections with the printed word promotes creativity and imagination as we strive to interpret the  detailed writings of an author. Words allow us to add our own meaning to written texts rather than have an artist’s or film maker’s interpretation forced upon us. Reading is vital for learning and engaging with the world.

Having said that, though, Literacy Education has been dominated by the written word, and to a lesser extent, spoken word in the form schooling has taken over the 100-200 years of formal education as we know it. In recent curriculum documents we have seen viewing make its long awaited debut, but it still seems to be a poor relation compared to the other strands of Literacy. Improvements are being made, but as teachers do we fall back to written and spoken texts because its easier for us?

Screen Shot 2013-06-16 at 11.02.57 AMIf our brains are visually wired, then it makes sense that we visually present information, instructions, new learning, methods. If half our brain capacity is involved in visual processing but we present our lessons verbally or in written text form, how much are we getting through to our students? If 70% of our sensory receptors are in our eyes, then why do we persist in TALKING so much as teachers? How much more learning could take place if we had much less word based instruction (written or oral) and much more Visual instruction, considering we can make sense of a visual scene (0.01 sec)  so much more quickly than a spoken or written scene.

I’m not saying teachers don’t use visuals – I’m saying we need to A LOT more.




  • In Mathematics we take away the visual representations far too early in our quest to rush in Screen Shot 2013-06-16 at 11.02.25 AMthe algorithm and written methods. Singapore’s visual pedagogy in Maths Education is an example of how it should be done.
  • Textbooks include plenty of visuals but are still dominated by the written text in putting forward the primary content. The visuals seem to be add ons. It should be the other way around. Start with the visuals as the primary content and support it with accompanying text.
  • How often do we complain that our students don’t follow instructions? Or that they don’t remember anything we taught them? How often are these instructions 10 minute monologues based on fifteen points teachers think are important to get across but in reality have no hope in getting across to overloaded children’s memories? Is ‘teaching’ verbally for 10 minutes resulting in students ‘learning’? Yes it takes more time to create and then present a visual alternative but do we waste even more time repeating lessons or instructions that would have been delivered more effectively with visual elements.
  • In our quest for improved standardised test scores, we cram more literacy lessons based on written texts at the expense of the Visual Arts. We spend countless hours teaching children to comprehend worded Maths problems but ignore how much visual representation of number concepts can improve their problem solving techniques.
  • “Flipping the classroom” has its pros and cons. Like any pedagogy it can be done well and poorly. But if at its heart is the ability to provide relevant, purposeful visual resources that can provide  a learner with extra support outside and within the classroom environment, we can’t be doing a bad thing.

Screen Shot 2013-06-16 at 11.01.48 AM

The world of our students IS overloaded with information. The expectations of our curricula are overloaded with information. How we present that information then is important. If it is primarily written and verbal we may well be banging our and our students’ heads against the proverbial brick wall if, despite the best of intentions, that information is not filtering through the brain’s barriers to processing and retention of information. We owe it to ourselves and our students to dig deeper into the theories and statistics highlighted/implied in this infographic to ensure we are giving everyone the best chance to learn. What do you think?

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.

5 Factors to Real Change

Scanning Twitter feeds today, I came across a Chart showing the 5 factors needed for Successful Change. After a bit of research, I linked it back to “The Art of Leadership” by Manning and Curtis (Manning, George, and Kent Curtis. “Part 2 – The Power of Vision.” The Art of Leadership. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill/Irwin, 2003. 56-66. Print.) Below is the relevant excerpt of the book courtesy of Google Books.


This is my version of the Change Chart

While I recall seeing this years ago, it comes as a timely reminder to all involved in massive change that is expected in schools today. It is quite confronting viewing this chart and reflecting on what is needed for REAL, long lasting change to take place. Schools are always clear on the need for a Vision. Of course that vision needs to be clear, committed and shared by all stakeholders in a school, including parents and students. It’s why we have so many surveys asking for their opinions on curriculum. If we as teachers embrace a particular curriculum change but it is not supported at home, then it makes teaching and learning difficult, when children are getting mixed message from home and school.

Skills need to be developed for change to take place or teachers can’t implement the changes required. Professional Development that makes a difference and available to all staff is vital. School communities need to see a final result that is going to lead to improved teaching and learning outcomes. This is how I define Incentive in the School Change setting. If we don’t access the required Resources to implement the change envisaged in the School’s Vision, it won’t occur. All the good intentions in the world are no substitute for the actual staffing, equipment and training required. Finally, a clear Action Plan is required to make it all happen. Change takes time. Time needs to be managed. Management requires planning.

Looking at these 5 factors in their totality, it is not surprising that real change in Educational Technology is so difficult. Too often, we put the Resources in place without the Skills to use them. We jump on the latest tool or idea without planning how it can be implemented effectively. We put together a wish list of short term plans but lack a Vision for the final result. And so often, we fail to articulate how it is actually going to help/improve the teaching and learning in the classroom and result in better outcomes, failing to provide an incentive to change current practices.

And the result? Frustrated, anxious teachers who struggle to learn the skills required and don’t see how it is going to improve their teaching and the student’s learning. At a system level, we pump money into resources for short term gain but then run out of money to maintain resources before teachers are ready to take advantage of them after decent training based on a purposeful action plan. We then hop back on the treadmill and chase the next change without actually ever reaching the goal our vision sets.

IF we are ever going to really fulfil the vision of all those wonderful orators who inspire us at conferences, on blogs and online TEDTalks, we need to consider all these factors. Educational Technology has been floating around school for a over quarter of a century. Sometimes we seem no closer to the Holy Grail of learning change than when those first Apple IIs were rolled out  all those years ago.

Can EVERYONE in Education really be “Tech Savvy”?



Over the last year, since I’ve joined the blogoshere, I read quite a few posts and tweets from well known education bloggers bemoaning the lack of uptake of educational technology by some teachers. Sometimes they have been reasonable discussions….and sometimes they have been a bit over the top and harsh. I’ll admit that I have been frustrated over the years by the slow progress by some in the teaching profession, and not just the usual scapegoats of ‘oldies’ – just as many graduates have seemed ill equipped. Lately, though, I’ve mellowed.

As legendary as my many gifts and talents are (!!) to those who know me well, there are many things I just don’t get. Everyone’s in the same boat. There are gifted artists who can’t throw a ball to save themselves, sporting heroes who can’t string two words together. My sister will never be a singer! Yet we expect everyone in education to automatically catch on to the latest technology. Is this against all our well worn theories we trot about student learning? Do we expect too much? And do we all have to be “tech savvy”?

Multiple Intelligences theory suggests some of us will find technology difficult. For Logical/Mathematical mindsets like mine, working out the intricacies of a mess of menus, toolbars, keyboard shortcuts and command lines is a piece of cake. But not everyone is strong in that area. From my experience in education, a majority of teachers and school leaders are from a Literacy rather than Numeracy background. Technology is number/symbol based, not word based. Some of us are hard wired for linguistic skills, others for social interaction of physical activity. Tech doesn’t come naturally to some any more than building a deck or fixing a car comes to me.

When you look at Habits of Mind, many of us are not strong in some areas. Persisting at something you find hard is not always that simple. I’ll persist at solving a computer issue until my last breath because I think I have some chance of success eventually. But if I start “sucking” at something I know I am bad at, I’ll give up pretty quick. I can’t be hypocritical and expect technophobes to persist just because I think they should try harder to understand a new tech tool. I might be absolutely fascinated by every new gadget or app, see new innovative ways to use them, use my past experience with tech to work out what to do and take risks at trying them out because of those past experiences. But that’s because their MY strong habits – and I dare say the strong habits of most tech heads. Those colleagues of ours that have issues with tech – I think they’re not the habits that get them through life.

My latest mantra for living at the moment is ” You find time for things you enjoy; you make excuses for not doing things you don’t like.” It is true I get frustrated when the old time excuse is trotted out by people who haven’t got time to learn about the latest Ed tech but can tell you about the latest episode of their five favourite shows they watched this week. But I get it. I’m always too busy to weed the garden on the weekends but I’ve got time to write a 1500 word blog post!

It’s not time that is the issue. It’s an excuse to avoid something that you just know you will struggle with. Much of the computer world is foreign to many. Book lovers don’t look for the latest chapter by clicking on File -> Open-> Scroll down to bottom of list and double click. Much of the stuff we tech heads take for granted is not normal human interaction.

We have to take it easy with the technophobes on our staff. Everyone has their Kryptonite. Not everyone can draw. Not everyone can sing. Not everyone finds mental arithmetic and algebra easy. Just because all of these come easy to ME doesn’t mean the rest of the world will follow. And don’t kid yourself about the kids in your class either. They’re not all digital natives, either. Some students would rather draw a poster than make a PowerPoint. We need to accept that tech is not everyone’s number one priority.

Learning and Teaching-quick fix diet or lifestyle decision?

I’m feeling strangely reflective today. This time two years ago I was recovering from the back operation that changed my life for the better. To cut a long story short, I was 125kg pre operation and 6 months later I’d lost 30 kg thanks to my new ability to exercise and a serious change of diet. So why am I writing about this in my education blog? Well, it got me thinking ( strange though it might sound ) about how education is a lot like what I went through to lose all that weight. I think education is like the weight loss industry. You can treat the experience two ways – a quick fix, short term success crash diet, or a life changing lifestyle decision.
Bear with me, if you can, as I explore this analogy further. For three months after Christmas following the operation, I became firmly focused on changing my body forever. I studied everything there was to know – being a self directed learner, I wasn’t going to any weight loss centre. Just like learning anything else, I felt it was best that I do it my way. By mid April, I had lost 25 kg. I had all but achieved my goal. For the rest of the year, I felt comfortable that I had changed my lifestyle and had consolidated my learning. And how did I do it? The way we should be doing it as learners in the classroom.

  • I set myself a long term goal to improve part of my life that wasn’t working. I didn’t make it unrealistic., though. A student in Grade 5 who has been assessed and diagnosed as 3 years behind in Mathematics is not going to be achieving a consistent, Grade 5 standard by the middle of the year so teacher, parent and child need to be realistic and set a goal for gradual but real improvement. You need to believe you can reach the goal or you won’t make the necessary effort. Sometimes, by making it achievable without too much work results in better than expected results because it wasn’t the struggle you expected. My goal was 30 kg by September – I’d reached 25 by End of April. Without stress but gradually working hard, I have taught students that have made huge improvements in a year.
  • I planned achievable steps to reach my goal. I took away the foods that were a problem, then added in the foods that would make a positive change and then organised the daily menu plan that would become a sustainable, enjoyable diet for me long term. I started walking for 3o minutes after school, built up to 30 minutes before and after, increased one of those to an hour, added in some bike riding of gradually increasing durations until I had a daily program which was manageable, flexible and consistent. Likewise, with learning, we need to plan goals that gradually build to success. If a child wants to improve their multiplication skills, we don’t rush into the ultimate short cut algorithm without going through the stages of conceptual understanding. If we rush, we will think they can multiply but then find out when concepts become more difficult, that they don’t really understand multiplication, just a procedure.
  • I monitored and tracked my progress. All the good nutrition and healthy living advice really stresses this. Once I was fully into my lifestyle change, I tracked the calories of each meal and snack to check I was maintaining my goal intake. I measured and recorded the distance, time and calorie burning result of each of my exercise sessions. I checked my weight regularly ( but not obsessively). This appeared over the top to some in my midst, but the methodical monitoring ensured my success and also enabled me to track my mistakes as well and plan for getting back on track. This is the same in education. Learners can’t just set goals and steps; they need to monitor their progress and level of achievement as well. Students need a journal to reflect on their learning and how it related to their goal. If they achieve some success, by recording what they did they can reflect back on those actions that worked. On the days they ‘failed’, they can think about what they didn’t do and plan what they need to make the progress they need. They can adjust the steps in their plan to catch up if they have fallen behind ( more revision, learn more strategies, work harder on editing, research a better way)
  • Above all, it was my responsibility and I made the decision. I had advice from my doctor and physio. I received encouragement from family and friends. But in the end, it was up to me. For years I had found being healthy difficult to achieve because of something I had let happen. Yes I had a bad back but it was caused or sustained in a big way by my weight problem. The operation fixed the back. I now had the chance to change my lifestyle tof fix the bigger issue. In the same way, it is the student’s responsibility to improve. Great teachers, dedicated parents, fantastic, well researched educational programs can all help, just like the back operation. But if the student doesn’t really want to make the effort, the goal will not be fully realised. It is the same with education in general. School leaders and departments can have the greatest plans but the teachers and students have to buy into them.

So, why am I being so reflective about my lifestyle change? Unfortunately, because I have fallen back into bad habits. I’m like the student who comes back to school after summer vacation and forgotten everything my teacher ‘taught’ me last year. I thought I learnt. I thought I had changed my lifestyle permanently. But ‘one good year does not a great education make.’ Where did I go wrong?

  • I stopped tracking my progress
  • I lost sight of my goal
  • I started taking shortcuts and stopped making the effort
  • I stopped taking responsibility and let others affect what I was doing
  • I decided near enough was good enough
  • I chose short term success over life time success
  • I ignored my mistakes even though I recognised them
  • I stopped planning and put off what I needed to do to a later ( but never completed) date

This is bad learning but it can be fixed. I still know what worked and I am recalibrating next week when Term 3 holidays begin. I got too close to stop now and the plan is coming back.

On the larger scale of Education, there are lessons in this.

Learning is not an isolated year by year proposition. The aim is not to get all the work done in Grade 5 so we can go on holidays at the end of the year. The aim is not to ‘cover the curriculum’ and hope that next year’s teacher will start all over again from scratch. Learning has to be maintained. Learning has to be maintained. Learning has to be tracked. And as soon as cracks start to appear in EVERY student’s progress, we need to be able to identify what happened, what caused it and have a plan for doing something about it. We can’t find out in Grade 4 or 5 that a student can’t count past 100 or double numbers.

We can’t rely on a curriculum set in concrete. For the last 25 years, I have been told that our curriculum documents are guides, not prescriptions. It is the responsibility of schools and individual teachers to ensure that students’ individual needs are met. This has for a long time troubled me. There are gaps everywhere in our systems’ curricula. Mathematical concepts are being introduced in Grade 3 then not reappearing again until Grade 6. Then we wonder why our students aren’t making connections from year to year. It’s one thing to have a curriculum that adresses key essential learning for each grade level. It’s another thing to actually provide a sequential plan for getting from Point A in Grade Prep to Point B in Grade 8. This is too often lacking system wide. We rely too much on individual schools solving these problems. We are doing a great job planning our new Maths curriculum but I don’t get why the Education Department doesn’t do that in the first place so that EVERY school has access to what we will have by the end of the year.

Learning is not a superficial experience. It is not a set of disconnected assessment tasks and projects that result in a good or bad report card. It should not be guided by week by week handing in of work that is judged by a teacher and handed back to file away for parents to see three months later. It certainly shouldn’t be determined by a series of multiple choice questions on a given day that are then reflected on four months later. It needs to be meaningful, ongoing, flexible, monitored, altered, maintained, ‘owned’ and lifelong.

Just like my diet and fitness program.

School iPad Program – not as easy as I thought!

One term into the official launch of our iPad program, I thought it would be opportune to reflect on the successes, failures and everything in between. I have to admit, as a self professed, but not certified, iPad/Mac “expert” and ‘All Things Apple’ zealot, things haven’t gone as smoothly as I’d hoped. I would like to blame it all on our proxy server, but I suspect Apple has something to do with it too.


I set up our iPads before Apple’s Configurator software for managing iPads came out. Regardless, the initial set up was pretty smooth. I set up the base iPad configuration on a targeted iPad and backed it up to my dedicated Mac Mini iPad machine. (Last year, when we trialled a small set of iPads with teachers, I was stuck using an Acer PC Laptop. Windows + iTunes + iPad ≠ smooth management. I strongly argued for a lone Mac to maintain my sanity in dealing with our iPad setup this year.) I set up all the apps in designated purpose built folders, created the school network connection, connected to iCloud, configured the network app FileBrowser to connect to our school network so we could access files and thought everything was ready to go.

In the main it was fine. I set up each of the remaining 34 iPads from the backed up iPad configuration using a 7 port USB hub. I know you can sync more than that with the Mac, but the 7 port hub was bought last year to work with the Windows ‘solution’ ( I was lucky to get 3 connected at one time!) and I never got around to buying a bigger one for this year. In the end, the delay in waiting for the Restores to finish before I could start the next installation meant having 16 plugged in would have meant a lot of waiting anyway. The whole set up took about 2 days to finish and was pretty painless; I had one error on one iPad that I had to reinstall but other than that each iPad’s installation went flawlessly if not a little long in duration but that was because I installed too many apps (more on that later). About a week later, Apple’s Configurator was released. ( missed it by that much!)

The hassles came in the weeks to follow. Due to a lack of forward thinking on my own behalf, there were several configuration set ups I didn’t think to do on the base iPad “image”. It was only when the iPads started being used and teachers and students wanted to email documents that I realised that I had not set up an email account on the iPads. Orginally I hadn’t considered it because of the perceived hassle of everyone wanting to use their own email on a shared iPad. That wasn’t going to work. However, we still needed a system to email work in apps that didn’t support other solutions. In the end, I set up a dedicated account in our school internet-based mail system just for the iPad ( with my account as the forwarding address in case inappropriate mail was being received) so that anyone could SEND emails to their own accounts to be opened on other computers. I also soon realised that I had inadvertently set up the FileBrowser app’s network access and the Edmodo app under my name so that any user on any iPad was logged in as me! All these settings had to be individually changed to fix that obvious security hole. Fortunately, I solved this quickly through the use of my newly appointed Student ICT Leadership team who spent an hour with me changing all the settings. Before you worry about the handing over of responsibility to students, none of this required providing sensitive information to them. I actually recommend training up a small group of students to help with non-critical management that doesn’t need passwords or the like – they’re easier to train than most adults as long as they are trustworthy, which mine are under supervision. They have also helped me with setting up numbered wallpapers for better identification, folder creation and maintenance and other simple management tasks.


The next issue to arise is the updating and installing of new apps and system updates. Originally, I had set up the iPads to sync and update wirelessly so that I wouldn’t have to manage that constantly. Unfortunately, I found this too be less than ideal for a number of reasons.

I’m not sure if it was because of our proxy server being mean to iTunes, the wifi being overloaded and inconsistent or a combination of both but I could never get the iPads to consistently sync. Some iPads would end up with newly purchased apps automatically installed while others wouldn’t. Some iPads would backup and update apps while others would deliver error messages to iTunes. Often, someone would open up an iPad to use an app they had previously used to find it in a longstanding waiting to update state, rendering it unusable. Then the emails from the Office complaining about the bills for exceeding our monthly downloads started coming. So I went back to physically connecting the iPads to iTunes and manually syncing for app updates and loading of new apps. This has proved to be less problematic and allowed me to keep all the iPads consistent in setup.

Having said that, with the number of apps I have loaded on iTunes , the download limit for the school is still being exceeded and I’ve resorted to taking an iPad home and updating there with my unlimited iTunes download account and then syncing the updated apps back to the Mac Mini at school. This is clearly not a viable long term solution as I won’t be around at the school forever and my home account can be relied upon as a management system. My ICT leader just informed me this week that the download cap issue is being fixed so that is one problem solved for us but is still a consideration for others to deal with .

Just as frustratingly problematic has been upgrading the iOS system software. As soon as I had set up all the iPads at the start of the year and rolled them out for use , the 5.1 update was released. Sometimes in schools, upgrade cycles are delayed because the benefits of upgrades are outweighed by the hassles of interrupting the workflow of others when dealing with a large scale deployment of devices. From personal experience, though, upgrading iOS was a walk in the park so I decided to do the upgrade straight away. Apple’s own upgraded apps wouldn’t work without the update anyway.

Well, again, not sure if it was proxy problems or trying to manage too many devices from a single computer but it wasn’t smooth sailing. Waiting for each iPad to install, load and restart before the next update cycle for the next iPad could begin meant a lot of wait time. iPad management is not my full time job so this was a time issue that could effect teachers in other schools who also become the iPad person. Occasionally updates would fail and you would have to start again. Once or twice, I’ve discovered one or two iPads in a set not up to date. For some reason, again possibly the proxy server problem, I couldn’t update wirelessly so I’ve just taken them home to run the update. As I mentioned earlier, I haven’t used Apple Configurator software yet because I haven’t had the chance to interrupt the workflow of iPad use to reconfigure the whole set up. Reading some reviews, it seems to be a good solution so will see how that goes at end of year when I reimage and set up for 2013.

Once all the setup hassles have been tackled, I can at least report the general day to day usage has run smoothly. In our case, all the iPads are centrally stored in one locked cupboard in my office. I set up a borrowing system on GoogleDocs that the teachers use to book out sets of iPads for timetabled sessions. We have five sets of 7 iPads in transportable kits. Instead of spending money on expensive sync carts, we decided to buy dish washing racks from the local hardware store and attached a powerboard to each rack. The iPads fit snugly in the racks and can be easily carried from office to classrooms. There are teachers who don’t like the hassle of “collect and return” but for charging, syncing and security reasons, we want all the iPads in a central locations at the end of the day. Each iPad is also assigned to an individual teacher so they can take one overnight or on weekends to explore. They have to sign an ipad agreement before this happens to ensure due care is taken. There have been occasional care issues with the return of the sets. It would be nice to see teachers take the extra 5 minutes to ensure the cables aren’t tangled or crossed over and the iPads are put neatly back in the racks.

There was a suggestion that the iPads should be available to only the junior grades since the senior grades had access to so much technology and the juniors didn’t but I pushed for a trial period of P-6 access. I didn’t want the situation of 35 iPads sitting idle waiting for the juniors to use them while the older children were hanging out for a chance to get their hands on them for valid reasons. As it stands, everyone is using them fairly consistently and there are still days when some sets don’t see the light of day. More training sessions are needed to showcase their potential use, Once that happens more frequently ( report writing time has delayed that in recent weeks ) I’m sure we’ll see empty cupboards.

After reading this you could either be doubting my supposed credentials as an iPad blogger or hesitating to tackle large scale deployment of iPads. Hopefully you won’t do either of those. Despite the hassles, the general experience has been a good one. My biggest mistake has been trying to do it all on my own. As a lifelong Apple user, I’m used to working out issues by myself but on a big scale you need support. Have a look at Configurator in the Mac App Store. Call Apple. Talk to others in the same situation.

Plan. Have a clear plan for what you want on each iPad. Make sure you know what you want in terms of network settings, mail settings, apps, restrictions and so on before you set up the iPad image you want to use. Think about how you are going to manage the upkeep long term and have an organized plan for that. Do your research. Make sure you have all infrastructure in place that can manage your plan effectively. Know what your school’s Internet usage is. Know how your security setting like proxies are and how they may affect your plan. ( ICT leader has just met with new Education Office expert who informs us that new system coming will solve the proxy problems we have – double Yay!!) Know your budget and for those outside USA, know that the Volume Purchasing Program is on its way and we will need to be stricter on our app purchasing and deployment.

I would love to hear from others their success stories and frustrations. This time two years ago the iPad was just a personal media device intended for individual use. In a very short time it has become a must have educational tool without a perfect system to make it happen. It’s no that simple yet.

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Tailor Made ICT PD for Staff

Sometimes we need support getting to ICT heaven!

In an earlier post on Teacher Technology PD, I mentioned 5 key ingredients to support the important development of Educational Technology in schools.

  1. PLTs dedicated to Technology integration into our teaching practices
  2. A constant focus on Technology throughout lesson and unit planning
  3. A restructuring of the role of ICT Leaders/teachers in schools
  4. A greater focus on Technology in Teacher Training programs
  5. A commitment to Technology Professional Development courses on an equal footing with Literacy and Numeracy Projects.
Obviously, I have no influence over the last two points, which are system wide initiatives. It is the first three that we can make a difference at individual school, and possibly, district level. In another post, I reflected on my dreams for this year in ICT at school.
  • Collaborative, ‘always on’ staff communication. In short, I dream of school system wide adoption of Edmodo, GoogleDocs, Dropbox and Diigo.
  • We have the hardware, let’s ALL use it. In short, PD has to be regular, consistent, continuous, collaborative, hands on and purposeful (linked to teaching and learning practice)
  • Student-led ICT development and  improvement. In short, establish an energising, active and supportive Student ICT Leadership team dedicated to the ongoing adoption and growth of ICT in our school
At the time, I thought they were great ideas that were unlikely to be implemented but we’ve made some real progress at the leadership level since then and I am really excited about the upcoming term at school. A commitment to ICT PD  for 2012 has been made and several initiatives are on track.


As part of our Contemporary Teaching and Learning Project, each Grade Level has taken on a project to trial and implement new learning and teaching techniques. A couple of teams have chosen ICT as a focus. This means a number of PLT sessions and extra planning time will be dedicated to planning for ICT at the classroom level. One team has chosen Web 2.0 tools and have already had a session with the ICT team to discuss their options.


What was exciting was that in that initial session, we quickly moved into a discussion about how the ICT can be used to improve learning. We discussed possible uses within the Grade Curriculum and finished the session with a clear plan for what we wanted to do. This is what I meant when I said staff meetings couldn’t meet the needs of individuals or specific teams, The level of professional educational discussion we had would never happen at a whole school meeting. Within this PLT environment, individuals were able to open address their strengths and weaknesses, set goals for themselves ( within the group were early adopters willing to try anything and self professed technophobes who had a great desire to improve and use ICT effectively but didn’t know how to start.). By the end of the session, they had a chance to explore some tools we had discussed could address the educational outcomes we had developed and are ready to go next term.


Encouragingly, ICT has also found a place in the PLT timetable. Teachers also communicated in the survey mentioned below a desire for sections of Curriculum Planning/PLTs to be dedicated to ICT integration with input from ICT team members who can attend for short amounts of time. This will require communication of planning focus so ICT team members can come prepared to contribute effectively.


Outside of the PLT/Planning, we agreed upon the need for further training in specific Web Tools, ICT usage and iPads/iPod Touches/Interactive Whiteboards. Again, we identified that there was a need for more than the occasional staff meeting or relying on teachers to train themselves. With less involvement in actual classroom teaching this year, I offered to take on a role in developing targeted PD for the teachers. I wanted it to address their needs so I sent out an online survey to identify what the teachers wanted. I also linked the survey to a page that outlined what each PD area would involve. From the survey, I was able to identify key areas the staff were interested in. The main areas were Blogging, iPad/iPod Touch, Assessment, Edmodo, Web 2. 0 tools and Special Needs and ICT. A majority of staff were willing to commit to at least fortnightly sessions and many to weekly. I’m now in the process of sorting through the survey data to plan the sessions, ensuring I cover everyone’s needs and time commitments. I have also started to develop a separate blog ( not live yet but will link later) that will provide information about each session, tutorials from the Web and a space for staff to ask questions and provide feedback. It’ going to be a lot of work but I’m excited, especially that some staff members have also offered to lead some sessions themselves.


On top of that, I’m also genuinely excited that Leadership is making a commitment to take on ICT more proactively. We will be including sessions in our meetings to develop awareness of the tools as well as attending the PD sessions with the staff. It was recognised that as leaders of curriculum areas, we need to have sufficient knowledge of how ICT can have an impact in our expert areas. We have made an initial commitment to forming a group on Edmodo and exploring how that can enhance our communication as a Leadership team.


Finally, the ICT leader and I have finally met with the Grade 6 Student ICT Leadership Team. It was an interesting beginning. They started out rather cautiously and predictably talked about having competitions for ICT products as their main goals. They seemed very unsure what their purpose was because it was the first time we had formed an ICT team and previous Student Leadership groups had been more involved in organising events than making real change. Gradually though, we managed to get them talking about their desire to learn new ICT tools and wanting to teach others. They started identifying purposes rather than tools, which was a great step to take in the space of a single meeting. Suddenly promoting the school, collaborating, creating content, blogging, website development and the like started springing from their minds. We also got a good commitment from the vast majority of the team to give up some of their lunchtimes to achieve these aims. It’s early days but I think there is great potential in this group for real change led by the students.


So what started as a pipe dream at the start of the year has become a reality. Hopefully we can maintain the commitment throughout the year and notice a real change by year’s end. In the meantime, I’d like to hear from others how they have taken on the responsibility of building capacity in their schools. Join the conversation.

Writing Prodigy or not, this is also about expectations, support and technology

A lot of you have probably heard of Adora Svitak.The now 14 year old literacy prodigy, came to prominence at the tender age of 7 (!) as a prolific writer. On her blog is a referenced article about a report on her by Diane Sawyer from Good Morning America. After reading the article and viewing the popular TEDTalk Adora presented a couple of years ago (as seen above), I started thinking about the impact of her story on education. Many have commented on Adora Svitak. Some comment on her unusual prodigious talent. Others ( not that much stock should be taken of the views of faceless YouTube commenters) question the “coaching” of her parents and how much of her ideas are truly hers. However, I approach her story differently. I focus on what has made an impact on her astounding growth in literacy skills and wonder whether the same influences can have similar, albeit not at the same level, effects on other children’s learning. Can Adora’s story be the story of every student in your grade?

Writing as means to express ideas
“On Good Morning America, Diane Sawyer called Adora Svitak a ‘Tiny literary giant.” The title seems astute when you measure her diminutive stature against her accomplishments. Though only four feet tall, seven-year-old Adora has written over 250,000 words this year alone. Try that one on for size. She may be small, but she has big ideas, and, thanks to writing, she has the means to express them.”

While I don’t expect many children in Grade 2 to be churning out 250 thousand words this year, this highlights the importance of valuing their ‘big ideas’ and giving children the opportunity and time to express them. I used to love watching those interviews Bill Cosby did with kids. Those little wonders could talk about amazing things. Cosby let them be the star of the show. Do we give our children enough opportunities just to express what they are thinking? Or do we only let them talk about topics we plan to cover our curriculum? Have we ever considered that its not that little Johnny is struggling in class because of poor literacy but because we don’t let him share what he likes and knows about?

As we continue to teach in this new Age of Personalised Learning, has our mindset changed enough to stop pigeonholing class timetables into pockets of time limited rotations of lessons or 40 minute standardized tests and start giving our students the time and freedom to express what they are really thinking? If we do, maybe we’ll get more Adoras writing 250,000 words in a year.

Early Support, genuine interest in the child’s passions and pushing your own passions, time and effort is important even before they are ready. Over to you, Parents (and teachers).
“At an early age, Adora’s passion for reading inspired her love for writing. Although she was originally not so confident in her spelling and grammar and her early writing depended on help from her mom, her sister, and her tutors, she refused to be discouraged by her mistakes and kept asking for help. Pretty soon she was able to write simple stories that were a few pages long. Her ideas and vocabulary were now advanced beyond her years, but she was still hindered by a typical five-year-olds’ limited handwriting skills”.

Obviously, Adora wanted to write and loved to read. Where did that come from? Her parents. What’s important in the reference above is that her parents and others recognised she wanted to write, had some limitations but didn’t let those limitations get in the way of Adora’s passions. We need to find ways to support students to keep pumping their ideas out and not hold them back because they have not achieved mastery in all required areas. So what if we can’t read the student’s work? Write it for them. That’s what publishers do for authors. JK Rowling didn’t personally type the 450 million copies of Harry Potter books. If we want students to develop as writers we have to teach writing as expression of ideas, not as a series of perfectly constructed letters spelt correctly and in beautifully constructed sentences. I’ve sat through too many writing moderation sessions where teachers are automatically drawn to the poor handwriting and spelling mistakes before they even read the content of the text. This has to change. Adora wan’t discouraged by her mistakes or issues with spelling, grammar and punctuation, or her five year old handwriting skills. She and her parents were determined to get the stories told one way or the other. Did it make it any less of a story because Mum wrote the words out correctly? I don’t think so. Children end up hating writing because we focus on the mechanics and aesthetics, not the content. Let’s shift the focus.

Watch the  video from 4:50 onwards. She tells of the other support her parents gave. I love the fact that Dad read Pioneer Germ Fighters and Aristotle to her as well as the Wheels on the Bus. As parents ( I have 2 brilliant (not quite Adora) kids of my own) it should be our goal to push the limits with our children. And it doesn’t have to be writing for parents who don’t have that passion. But push those boundaries. Teachers, I’m talking to you too. It is an abrogation of our responsibilities to let our our own limited interest in certain areas restrict student development. It’s also a crime not to share your own passion for learning, whatever it is, with children. Reach high. Expect greatness ( but not be disappointed if it doesn’t come ) Don’t be afraid to challenge your children and let them struggle. Support them through the struggle, as Adora’s parents did. This is not pushy parenting I’m talking about. This is just expecting the best for ,and from, your kids.

Technology plays its part. Don’t fear its influence. Embrace it.
“Her breakthrough came in the form of a used Dell laptop that her mother bought her in the spring of 2004. She was fascinated by what she could do with Microsoft Word. After her aunt and uncle showed her some of the functions, she was very eager to experiment and discovered many tools on her own. With the help of “JumpStart Typing for Kids” and DK’s “Creative Writing” program, she was soon typing 60 words a minute.

Her passion for writing grew as Word helped her surpass technical limitations. She could now check her own spelling, which helped her gain confidence. Even if she was not 100% sure of a word’s definition, she could now use the program’s simple ‘Look Up’ feature (Encarta Dictionary) or Dictionary.com on any new word she discovered in her reading, and she began using synonyms or antonyms to make her writing more exciting and precise.”

The key focus for me here ( and from the content of my blog my obvious bias is showing) is that technology enabled the breakthrough from struggling to prolific writer. As mentioned earlier, Adora’s writing was restricted by the limitation’s of a 5 year old’s physical writing skills. Using a laptop to compose her writing changed all that. I’ve made this point in another post, but I’ll say it again. We must stop seeing technology as an easy way out for writing. Spell check is an enabler, not the systematic destruction of spelling skills through laziness. Adora could concentrate on her ideas and let the computer help with the mechanics. From what she has become, it certainly didn’t affect her development as a writer. Access to computer based reference tools helped her expand her vocabulary far easier than flicking through page and pages of paper thesauruses and dictionaries. ( and when it didn’t help, no doubt her family was there to support). She didn’t have to wait for ‘teacher’ to correct her work before she moved on and I’m sure she wouldn’t have handwritten 250 thousand words in a year.

I’m not saying we just let computers take over the whole writing process. I am a major proponent of scaffolding writing, modelling text writing and improving grammatical and spelling knowledge. I’m saying that computers/laptops/tablets need to be part of the whole writing process. If we want more Adora Svitaks in the world, then we don’t just pray for good DNA; we need to build the environment she flourished in. TEchnology was a big part of that and continues to be today. She blogs, she authentically publishes for the world ( not just her classroom teacher and parents), she writes with other children. She’s done it all with technology at the forefront. We need to take notice of that.

What kind of person do we want our children to be?
“Adora has imagination, an ability to distill her vast learning into dynamic prose, the courage and curiosity to explore different genres, the wisdom and maturity to accept and learn from criticism, and a tireless desire to better her craft by writing and revising every day. She truly is a working literary giant.”

As teachers and parents, we have to develop these qualities in all of our children, not just the prodigy and the gifted. Not every child can be Adora Svitak. But every child has an imagination, which is sometimes repressed by the limitations of classroom protocols and restrictive parenting. Every child has curiosity, which can be killed off by the restraints of a prescribed curriculum focus. Genres are just different ways of communicating, which every child can explore if we allow them to, instead of mandating expositions for term 1 in preparation for standardised tests. As adults, we have to be brave enough to be critical so children can learn from their mistakes and our constructive feedback, instead of worrying about their fragile self esteem that can only handle ” that’s a great effort” when they write 1 sentence. Every child wants to be better, which will only happen in writing if we focus on revising. If we shift the focus from quantity and speed to quality, and allow technology to support revising instead of rewriting, there will be a lot more children out their writing as prolifically as Adora Svitak.

There will always be child prodigies in the world that stand out from the crowd. Little Mr “one sentence a week” in Grade 5 will never be Adora Svitak. Get him early, though, and with expectations, encouragement, support and a healthy dose of technology to guide him along, we can get him a lot closer. That’s my opinion, anyway. Am I way off? Without any research to back it up other than an amazing talent’s story, can I get this to happen? Over to you, readers. What do you think? Is it possible to create a world of Adoras if we get education right? Can all parents be this supportive? Join in the debate.

iPads can’t improve learning without good teaching Pt 1


Clearly there is a lot of buzz around iPads in schools at the moment. You can’t log on to the Web without reading about another school or entire district or department investing massive coin in a sparkling set of the Wonder Tablets, excited that they will cure all the ills of the current education systems around the world. From reading my blog, you would be no doubt convinced that I am very much in this Pro-iPad camp. Make no mistake I am.

However, no matter how versatile and potentially powerful a product the iPad is, it is merely an extremely expensive placemat without creative, well planned teaching behind its use. Before committing to an iPad implementation of any size, schools need to thoroughly think through how these technological marvels are going to enhance the teaching and learning process.

Its about Teaching and Learning, not iPads
The kind of shift in learning the iPad (and other tablets) can initiate is dependent on good teaching practice and preparation. The iPad has an app for just about anything. Students will be able to work out how to use the app. They do that quicker than us. As teachers, its our responsibility to show them what to use it for. It’s why we have to think of what we want them to do as learners, not what can the iPad do. We have to make the iPad suit the learning, not make the learning suit the iPad to justify having it. So think of the skills you want your students to develop and then work out if the iPad can improve that skill. If it doesn’t, don’t use it.

So let’s look at how we have gone about teaching up until now and examine how the iPad can fit in to our current programs. In today’s post, I’ll focus on how we can enhance note taking skills using the capabilities of an iPad compared to what we’ve done in the past and what we might do if we don’t think how the iPad could be used. I’ll be following with other areas one the coming weeks.

Without the iPad
With the aid of the 20th century’s very useful tool known as the highlighter, we have spent years highlighting key words, squashing in related notes, scribbling indecipherable diagrams and drawing arrows from one point to the next. We would then share our ideas one at a time recording them on the board, or maybe record them on big sheets of paper collaboratively until we run out of space or time. Possibly we organized our thoughts on a mind map or some other sort of graphic organizer. Eventually the sheets of paper or boardwork get replaced by new work and your discussion gets filed under ‘done and dusted. The good note takers and memorisers get something out of it and the rest move on to the next thing without any real reflective learning taking place.

With an iPad and no thoughtful plan
We hand the student an iPad, he opens up a PDF or iBook version of a document, chapter or book, highlights some key words using the program provided, write some notes in another app, draw a diagram or download an image from Google and save it for later discussion. In this scenario, you can record and store more information, have a greater variety of visuals, the ability to retrieve information at a later date and have the greater short term engagement resulting from using the latest tech. However, there is no real shift in the learning and teaching model here from the pre-iPad model. Same work, different set of tools.

Enhanced note taking with an iPad
This is how I envisage the iPad creating a major shift in note taking. Yes a lot of it can be done with regular desktop computers and laptops, but the unique touch interface and portability of the iPad makes it more accessible and practical.

Using Notability/Goodreader/Skitch/Evernote/iBooks (depending on the purpose), import the PDF, RTF, epub file or the Notability note from another source into the app. Use the highlighter and annotating tools to highlight keywords and phrases, underline or circle or arrow sections of text. (So far same as old system.) The shift is the ability to look up meanings with inbuilt dictionary, edit annotations, add extra notes from others during collaborative discussions without running out of room, take photos of other diagrams by other students and annotate them, add web clips of relevant websites that are searchable and accessible without leaving the app and record conversations. The notes can be saved, shared with others so they can add further comments, notes, diagrams etc. During whole class or group discussions, students and teachers can record the discussion in Notability and take notes or add photos, diagrams, web clips or handwritten notes during the recording. Later on, these notes can be reviewed and clicking on a note added during the recording will locate section of audio relevant to the note.

This type of sophisticated note taking will take time to embed in both student and teacher practice. I certainly haven’t mastered it yet. But you can’t help but see the possibilities for supporting student learning, especially special needs students or just generally struggling students, those who are constantly lost during note taking sessions. The ability to review notes with audio, related diagrams, websites, photos will enable them to access information at their own pace. Teachers can prepare notes with all the supporting AV resources for these students to use during sessions so they can enter into tasks with the more able students independently.The iPad can just be an engaging but expensive replacement for books and handouts. Or it can completely change the way we go about note taking

NEXT POST – Writing