Google Apps and Collaboration – a TeachMeet Melbourne Perspective

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

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

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

Google Maps in Education

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

Google Maps in Education

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?

TouchCast – interactive, browsable web in a video – insert possibilities here!


For a fully interactive version of this video, go to the Touchcast website and see it in action.

Just when I thought the Explain Everything iPad app was going to be my ‘go to’ app for everything in Education, this new app comes along. Touchcast (App Store link) is described as ‘the Web in a video’ rather than video on the web. It creates fully browsable, interactive videos that embed everything from websites, Twitter feeds and Youtube videos to polls, quizzes and news tickers inside your video creation.I’ve only just started experimenting  with the app and am yet to create a completed video, but I’ve already started getting a feel for how it works. Like all iPad apps, its dead easy to use. Using it effectively and with purpose is the crucial step.

While the above video and product website gives you a fair intro to the use of Touchcast, I’ve taken some screenshots of the app to show some of the features available. I have tested most but not all (greenscreen for one – sounds like a winner if it works well!).


When you open the app, a number of themed touchcasts ( News, Business, Sports, How to, Review, Travel Diary) are available as well as the option to create one from scratch.


If you select a theme, the option to add the title and search terms is provided. This creates the Touchcast title automatically and adds relevant content related to the subject to be used straight away, as seen below with the inclusion of a news ticker from Google News, a Twitter Feed and News Headlines. You can delete these if you don’t want them. Deleting content is as simple as selecting and dragging the thumbnail at the bottom to a ‘magically appearing’ trash icon.


If you create a Touchcast from scratch, all the tools are at the bottom of the screen. The basic tools are Camera, The Record Button, Effects, Whiteboard, Titles and vApps.(see below)


There are many title styles to choose from but all have a similar look to the Titles seen on TV programs


One of the most powerful features of the app is the capacity to add vApps. These are the interactive, live and embeddable extra content elements that can be added to your video as you record. Ideally though, you would add and prepare all of these elements before recording. The screenshot below shows all of the vApp options. It’s an impressive list of options that can help create a truly interactive and educational experience in the school setting. Imagine an interactive presentation that calls up web pages, images, polls,quizzes and rating systems, slide shows from Flickr, working GoogleMaps. There is certainly potential for overkill from both teachers and students but the possibilities for screencasting/flipped lessons, multimodal presentations, digital story tellings, project presentations, reports, reviews, surveys are there to be considered.


Once a vApp is created, they appear in a thumbnail view at the bottom of the screen and with a simple touch they can appear and disappear from your video at your discretion. As I said earlier, by preparing all of the vApps you require before recording, you have great control over their use during the video creation process.

Another useful feature in the Educational setting is the Whiteboard. You can call up multiple whiteboards and switch between visible boards to record notes or invisible in order to draw or type directly onto the video or images


To help with the flow of your recording, Touchcast comes with a built in Teleprompter. This is found in the Camera tool.This allows you to write a script to follow as you record rather than umming and aahing your way through your video. You can alter the speed at any time. Also within the Camera tool options is the ability to swap between front and rear cameras


Special effects include a Green Screen option ( will check this out when I get access to my GReen Screen), video filters for different effects and sound effects such as applause, laughter and emotional expressions ( a bit cheesy, but some will like it!)




Opportunities for digital literacy and multimodal learning abound in using this app but there are some limitations that are not obvious until you start using the app.


  • First there is a 5 minute limit to the length of the video. Probably not a bad thing as you could fall in the trap of going overboard. Also this 5 minute limit doesn’t restrict you from pausing the video and viewing the interactive elements and multimedia content ( e.g. the embedded YouTube clip can be as long as it is in its source location). 
  • While you can save your project along the way as you add in all of your extra elements, once you start recording, you cannot go back and edit or continue. Once you start recording, you can pause but if you want to stop or exit the app, you can only save as a non editable video not as a project. I hope they can change this option in the future. You can re-record the video if you make mistakes and restart without losing all of your vApps, however
  • Another limitation is that the only additional video you can add is through the web. You cannot add your own video (only photos)  from the iPad. This is probably reasonable, considering the file sizes this would create. You can always add your video content to a Youtube account and then add it.
  • As this is a very recent startup, at present it is a free account for users to experiment with. At present, this means a maximum of 60 minutes of video on their site. There are plans for paid accounts in the future but as it stands now, 1 hour is it. Of course, you can store videos locally on your iPad within the app, but you can’t save to Camera Roll. You can export to a Touchcast account on their website, share via social media and post on YouTube. Be warned, though, the YouTube video is only a video – there is no interaction. That is only possible through Touchcast. However, for presentation only purposes with all the content included, YouTube export is a way of storing more content if you dont need the interaction.
  • As with most Web tools, the Under 13 caveat applies. There are some features you woud want to monitor.I have emailed Touchcast for clarification on whether it is OK to set up a teacher controlled account for students to post content from their iPad app. I’ll post their answer if and when they reply.

While it’s early days in my experimenting , I’m really excited about this app. The use of it can really encourage creativity, problem solving, planning, and a range of digital literacy skills. Like any tool, we need to make sure purpose comes before play. There is more to ed tech than engagement. We want it to make a difference. Check it out. It’s a free app but you do need to set up an account (not a lot of info required – user name and password). Would like to hear from anyone who has used it and appreciate ideas on how it can be used for educational purposes. Like most tools on the Web, they don’t start out aimed at schools, but we tend to find a way to embed them in teaching and learning.

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.

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

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

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


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

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

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

Creating a Padlet Wall.

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

Modify address Add background  Privacy
 Layout  Notification  Title

Adding content

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

iPurpose before iPad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



iMovie Pinnacle Studio VideoScribe HD iStopMotion GarageBand  TagPad  Evernote  Notability

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




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

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

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

Elevator Pitch

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

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

How can you contribute?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View 27 Measures Activities in Madrid in a larger map

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

View Measuring Melbourne in a larger map

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.

School Shared iPad User Policies – a Necessity or Overkill? (used and adapted under CC licence)

In 2011, our iPad program began with 15 trial iPads given out to willing teachers and school leaders prepared to test out their usefulness.

In 2012, 35 iPads were divided up into five sets of 7 and shared between the 27 classes at our school.

Now, in 2013, Phase 3 begins with further purchases enabling us to put together sets of 14 iPads for EACH Grade Level ( 4 classes in each). With greater and more regular ( and unregulated) use across the school, I’ve begun to consider what policies/procedures/practices to put in place to enable a successful implementation of iPads across the school.

Last year’s setup had its limitations. All of the iPads were centrally stored in my office in a secure, locked cupboard. This was great for the 5/6 classes who lived with me but a pain for some grades who have to travel 100 metres to find them and carry the tray(s) across, sometimes with weather as an issue. It was an unfortunate necessity as we wanted everyone to have equitable access to the number they wanted rather than spreading them thinly across all classrooms.

This year, with the Grade levels having their own sets of iPads, they are now to be stored locally in their area. Great for them, but security, level of care and monitoring become an issue. I don’t want to be concerned, but at times last year iPads were returned with cables and covers in a sorry state – and that was with me seeing them at the end of each day. Out of sight but not out of mind, I want procedures in place to ensure staff and students look after them responsibly.

I also want to monitor their use. I know this is probably seen as overkill by some but it has its reasons. The introduction of the iPad across the school is different to how we have accessed desktop and laptop computers in the past. Because of this, I want to be able to assess the implementation and use of the iPad for future planning and use. Like everything in schools today, data is required. Therefore, the monitoring system comes in to play.

So this is how I plan to implement the program this year. I would really appreciate feedback from other co-ordinators of iPad programs at their schools or districts. Is it overkill or a necessity? Let me know what you think.


Similar to last year, class teachers or teams will need to record when they are going to use the iPads and for what purpose ( or what apps were used). This should be a simpler task this year as teachers will only be negotiating with their own team rather than all 28 classroom teachers. This means it can all be sorted out at team planning rather than worrying about clashing or double booking with other year levels.

The booking will be done on a shared Google Spreadsheet. If the team decides they want to have a chart on the wall to make bookings more visible and easily accessed that will be their call but at the end of the day, I still expect a team member, possibly the ICT team member of the year level to record all details on the Google Spreadsheet. What I need all to understand is that I want to be able to evaluate the level of use the iPads are getting at each Grade level and what apps are being used regularly so that future decisions can be made about further app or iPad purchases. It’s not a matter of ‘checking up’ on individuals or teams. It’s a way of collecting data that can inform me on who may need more PD in using the iPads or which apps I have spent money on have been worth the cost based on use. Now that the iPads are linked to Grades rather than the whole school, I can focus on purchasing apps specifically targetted at Grade level needs rather than installing a large number of a particular app on all iPads and then not being used. This should save money in the long run.

The Spreadsheet will also include a list of the Apps installed at the level as well as sheet for recording a Wish List of apps or purposes. Teachers and students will be able to browse the App Store on the iPads ( but not purchase ).Grades may be able to apportion a small percentage of their Year Level budget on apps specifically for them. This sheet will be an efficient way of informing me of what the grade wants.

If teachers want to borrow overnight, they can just write their name instead of Class name. An unforeseen problem caused by Configurator’s Supervise mode means that teachers will need to bring the iPad to me before they take it home if they want internet access at home. I have to disable the installed profile to allow the iPad to connect to a wifi network other than school’s and reinstall it the next day so that it will work at school.


A: I think it would be generally accepted that the use of Desktops and to a lesser extent Laptops at our school hasn’t changed too much over the years. Internet use (free but monitored for acceptable use), desktop publishing ( = Microsoft Office, included in our computer licensing agreements) some dabbling in programs like Pivot, Google SketchUp, Scratch and Inspiration and, more recently, free access to some web 2.o tools like blogging, Prezi and Glogster. Mostly free or established as part of the standard school computer set up, monitoring is not required.

The iPad changed the game ( sorry for the cliche!) It doesn’t sit on a desk with its limited use cases. It is isn’t restricted by the limited number of programs installed on them. It’s a camera, a movie maker, an audio recording device, a book, a mobile device of many uses. It offers new opportunities for teaching and learning that staff may or may not be aware of. Its going to be used in ways the desktop/laptop haven’t been and above all, it’s being shared. For these reasons, I want the system in place so teachers can plan for their new uses, so I can monitor how they’re being used and plan for support and PD to improve usage, and yes, so we know who is responsible for the iPads at a given time ( they’re more fragile, more difficult to pack up, so I want to monitor who has them if they are damaged. One iPad was broken last year ; I was able to trace the source immediately because I knew who had just used them. Full disclosure – it was actual my group!) We have a system for borrowing books, a system for borrowing Maths resources, a system for borrowing digital cameras, all items that are shared and limited… we can have a system for borrowing iPads.


My other big issue ( and maybe its because I’m a closet ‘control freak’) is insuring that the iPads are secure and stay in one piece. Laptop screens can break, keyboards and monitors can get knocked on the floor. iPads are just looking for trouble in their design. Entire faces made of glass, connections with fiddly pins ( we still have 35 iPad 2 connectors to contend with), ultra-portability that can sometimes mean users forget where it’s placed. On top of that is my cost cutting measuring to save money to get more iPads. No fancy charge and sync trolleys costing thousands at our school. Dish rack + powerboard + extension cord = iPad storage system Mr G style. Cheap, effective, easy to store – but easy to mess up, too. Tangled cords, shifting iPads, heavy to carry for some -there have been issues. My neighbouring Grade 6 Teachers and I spent more than a few days tidying up after iPad trays returned from some grades. So we need to be on top of all of this with some clear procedures and protocols. Check the cords are tied up, the iPads are placed correctly and in the right position, the cords aren’t bent or stuck under the iPad, apps are shut down, covers closed properly.

Security wise, teachers can’t afford to leave them laying in the open exposed to the view of others walking past their windows or open entrances. Each Grade level will be getting a lockable cupboard to store them when not in use. Not jsut at the end of the day but at recess and lunch time as well.

Last year was a starting point. This year is the beginning of the real thing. No more Mr G watching over the whole thing. The staff have what they asked for – more access, more responsibility, more iPads. Now its time to use them well.