Wednesday, 10 January 2018

STEM and STEAM directions - exciting developments for the future

What made me really excited about 2017?

The prospect of PBL development across faculties would be one of the most exciting developments at BDC in the year for me as an educator being personally involved in the process. The projects that students engaged in were great to see and made me really wonder in awe about the creativity our students possess. Many educational researchers say that the system takes learners creativity away as they are herded through the syllabuses, but I have witnessed that it is definitely there and the enthusiasm students have for doing projects is something to behold.

Our projects across faculties involving Science, Maths, TAS, HSIE and commercial studies (not all in each project, but different subjects depending on the project) were:

  • Year 7 - Design and build a catapult to project supplies from an exploding volcano. The students needed to use graphing methods to predict how far the catapult would shoot based on how far it was pulled back and then on competition day they only had limited attempts to get as many supply pods as possible to the neighbouring island.
  • Year 8 - The students did their project in the last week and a half of the year. They were studying Japanese history and the buildings were a part of this. Science and Maths built into the project the study of architecture and design of the structures. They had limited supplies to construct their castle.
  • Year 9 - Their task was to come up with a solution the marine crisis of crayweed depletion along the coast from Sydney to northern NSW. A marine biologist from Coffs Harbour's National Marine Science Centre was involved in a shark tank style presentation of the students solutions on how to regenerate the ocean floors with crayweed.
  • Year 10 - Our senior students were tasked with another real world problem. Imagine you own a property in western rural NSW with bore water and windy conditions. Design an efficient wind turbine method to draw the water from the bore. Some of the designs were incredible and even though there were failures on the competition day, students learnt a lot through the process and were not marked on the final outcome, but the learning that occurred along their journey. It was a two week project that was disruptive learning, engaging and deep.
It is important to understand what project and problem based learning are about and what they involve. It is not just doing a project as part of the assessment because most subjects could say they do that all the time, it isn't the case. Connecting all of their learning across subjects is really powerful, relating it to real world issues, solving problems for the present and future, investigating problems from the past to understand the future, all of these aspects. The problem needs to be challenging, with a low entry (floor) and high ceiling for learning to involve all students. It requires effective group work, a skill essential for students once they leave our care. As a summary, not all are required for every task, but a healthy selection are vital for success:
  1. Challenging
  2. Teamwork and communication
  3. Real-world problems
  4. Lots of question asking and investigation
  5. Choice and student direction
  6. Share with the world (this can be a difficult aspect to achieve)
  7. Reflecting on the task (and effectiveness of team members)
Out four pillars of learning at BDC are resourcefulness, resilience, reflective practice and collaboration. You can see clearly that these projects are learning that foster each of these in spades. The best part? As an educator it is so fun to watch them think, design, construct, fail, and try again!

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

BLC Session Files

Hi everyone,

Thank you so much for coming along to one of my sessions "Using Data to Inform Teaching and Guide Student Reflection" or "Citizens of the Digital Age". Or, maybe you heard this from, someone else, or Twitter. Either way, please be welcome to all session slides and resources, spreadsheets all made in a globally shared google drive folder. I will also add hard files in ppt. And .xlsx for,at for all resources before the conference is over.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Progressive Peer Instruction - From RED to GREEN in three steps. 4 years of reflecting to this, my refined method

OK, from RED to GREEN in three steps. There is more to it than just that but for all you visual learners I find the image accurately depicts what I now follow and find highly successful.

So I am a big big fan of Peer Instruction (PI) as titled by Eric Mazur, Dean of Physics at Harvard. The results are staring at you in the face and the methodology for doing so is simple to get started and fantastic in order to reflect and refine. I also read Julie Schell's blog and really enjoyed the perspectives of staff who have tried and failed with some of these innovative practices.

Now I have been doing PI for a few years, going on four this year. I do not do it all the time in terms of the interactive real-time quizzes as I mix up my pedagogy. I have refined my methods and reflected a lot on how I run my interactive PI quizzes. I will show you how they have developed below. Remember these are largely formative quizzes and whilst they definitely can and should be used summatively (end of a topic), I have found them best used in a unit where they are performed beginning, middle and end.

Figure 1 - From RED to GREEN in three steps visual.
First PI quizzes

  • Repeat question once
  • Didn't go through questions based on <75% correct etc. only loosely around whether I thought all students required because the percentage correct seemed low.

Current methodology for PI quizzes

  • Repeat question until class is >75% correct. Ideally do this with a repeat button, but if not can be done manually out front.
  • Grade questions through quiz in topic sections bunched together and within those sections increasing in difficulty on each sub-concept three times, then moving on. 

Notice I mention in my new, and current method, that I repeat the questions, but they also are grouped in topic sections and sub-concepts within those. The critical thing I feel that is now done is the step-up in difficulty for each sub-concept. This is really important in maths because for mid to low students they now have more scaffolding and I can chunk them up further. For high students I can give them a separate quiz and it really accelerates them.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Best latest Google Ed updated

Google Classroom can call itself a polished classroom communication platform, but it obviously extends well beyond that with its full suite of other apps for education. The latest updates of which I am especially positive about.

1). Ask a question in Google Classroom. This allows teachers to mark homework that is completed online as a response to a question post. Furthermore, for those educators who like to 'flip' their classroom it provides a great platform of quickly checking who has responded to the online video or reading that you may have set. 
2) Google Forms. I like to get feedback from students after assessment tasks. This feedback is easy with Google Forms because I can just copy my main questionnaire as it is a set of standard reflective questions for students, not one or two topic specific questions. Doing this on paper and then making a copy of each for myself and storing in a Manila folder seems like years ago. With Forms latest update you can now see individuals responses without having all the peers responses together in a spreadsheet. This makes it particularly useful for using a student reflection survey with parent teacher info nights and a range of other educational uses.

Still an avid Google user with these popular updates!

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Building Learning Communities 2015 - Boston, MA

Hi all,

Here are my slides from my presentations. Feel free to download and copy. Whilst links to student samples won't be active, all other material will be.

I hope you enjoy my sessions and always feel free to drop me an email about anything educational, opportunities etc. at I'm always keen to enter conversations on a wide variety of educational topics.

Session 1 - Creating "Choose Your Own Assessment" Tasks

Monday, 18 May 2015

What happens when SAMR vs TPACK vs November ICT Model?

Have you ever thought about this? I have listened to Alan November mention that SAMR didn't exactly fit the description necessary for teachers to evaluate their use of technology, yet it provided an incredibly useful scaffold nonetheless. His reasoning was that if you get to the R-Redefinition stage then one could say they have reached the top and he then went on to say that there is no limit to technology integration (I hope i've paraphrased him accurately). Alan November has Automating (reproducing traditional classroom practise with technology) and Informating, with the latter being the word to describe more authentic use of technology in education. In addition, attendees at BLC14 mentioned that they thought that the TPACK model was particularly useful.

I have read some blogs on the web by Julie Balen about Digital Literacies that then got me onto Silvia Tolisano's site that has compared the steps of SAMR to the relevant terms in November's Automating, Informating. Have a read, it is truly worthwhile, but as a simple summary it is SA(Automate), MR(Informate). I like the use of language and have said in previous posts that language from models and scaffolds give us a dialogue from which to converse with each other objectively about our teaching in order to develop our skills. So, I give you the 3 Dimensional cone that describes the association of the language used in all three. Below is roughly the net of a cone, with tabs on the side to glue it together. The picture gives us language and the positions for which the depth of those terms represent are most useful to us.

Diagram 1.1 - SAMR vs TPACK vs November ICT Model

The above diagram is something that ICT Managers and eLearning Coordinators might find interesting and useful as it compares the differing levels of ICT integration between the three models. After discussing this image our ICT Committee wanted to create a simpler model that would enable staff that were still at the beginning stages of being comfortable and confident with technology integration to have a scaffold for comparison and reflection. The below staged Diagram 1.2 provides a synthesis of the language used by SAMR, TPACK and November, which allows staff to have a more comprehensive metalanguage for use in reflective dialogues between staff members.

Diagram 1.2 - Bishop Druitt College's ICT Model Scaffold

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Global Comparisons, Vested Interest, Backwards Policy, CreativityForward?

So, there has been some heightened awareness lately in global comparison of student achievement. The Age has recently published data from PISA, highlighting a slide in Australia's ranking from just inside the top 10, to now 14th over a decade. TIMMS studies have also purported to similar movement. Australian media seized this as a moment to focus in on what we are doing wrong. I pose the following rhetorical questions: 

  • Berliner & David (2009) have shown the problem of adverse effects of policies that are created to be in line with improving standardised international comparisons for science, mathematics and reading. A narrowing of curriculum and lack of opportunity for creative moments in the education system ensues. Zhao (2012) has mentioned at length that China is looking to improve its creativity and entrepreneurial stocks through certain measures in their education system, which he has recommended need to happen.
  • Some studies such as Kim, Hye-Young et al (2003) say that diet and physical exercise are a main cause of their high scores in science and mathematics. If so, how does government policy in Australia, throwing money at these subjects bring us up to their level without looking at these other variables.
  • Blanket policy to not look at bridging the demonstrable gap between socio-economic classes displayed in ACER's analysis of Australian results by De Bortolli & Macaskill (2014). The Age on May 15 brought this issue up as their take on this recent debate on education 'big data' and that is a much more sensible perspective for analysis. Unfortunately, most Australians will not get this message, they get quick snipped stories on the news and the morning shows, focusing in on the "we're dropping globally" storyline. This is much easier to peddle.
  • A large number of papers have been written to analyse the success of South Korean students. Huang (2001) mentioned a number of factors including a long standing cultural emphasis on these three core aspects of traditional education. Zhao (2012) has said in regards to Chinese students that you would find it an incredibly difficult task to overtake China on the rankings, in reference to US. His perspective that examinations have taken place in Chinese society for several thousand years as a means to deciding the type of job pathway that someone will embark on for life. This is engrained in their culture, just as Huang (2001) mentions similarly for the South Koreans.
  • Going further into the success of South Korean students, Phillips (2015) highlights that they have such a successful standing in TIMMS and PISA testing, though they are unparalleled in their happiness, with their students being at the bottom of happiness in regards to school, of OECD countries. T.D, (2015) wrote in the economist that South Korean students are doing too much study. Numbers of hours involved in math in some Asian countries far outweigh the time that Australia puts towards mathematics, science and reading. Is this a bad thing for Australia? As a mathematics teacher, I feel that we do not want to narrow the curriculum and focus only on these core areas. Creativity and entrepreneurship are paramount in being successful in todays economic climate as Zhao (2012) points out at length in many of his books. A point of difference, thinking outside the box are just as important as drive.  
  • The United States ranks 1st in the world OECD Global Entrepreneurial Rankings in a recent study. Their students are ranked below Australia, and well below Asian countries in mathematics, science and reading, though they are highly sought after by companies for creative thinking and new direction. Which skills are more important to companies in the 21st century? With Australia in 3rd, I think we are showing our ability to think outside the box, even when our curriculum sometimes stifles that creativity. Check global rankings and you soon see quite a different picture to PISA rankings. These areas are apples and oranges, though the world our students need to survive and thrive in today demands creativity and entrepreneurial skills.
  • One solution is to try and increase creativity. Then unfortunately politicians find vested interests in attempting to measure said creativity, something that Zhao (2012) thinks defeats the purpose of creativity.  
  • Diane Ravitch puts it perfectly in her blog from a US perspective on similar heat that they get in regards to global comparisons.

Where does this put us, listening to the news? It shouldn't change our ability to listen, though we must be critical in what is being served up in front of us. Money for change is not something we want to throw at our education system. Money does not guarantee anything. Wise policy does. If media looks narrowly at global testing (TIMMS & PISA) and local testing (NAPLAN), then political parties will again be hamstrung into policy that does not give our students what they need to succeed in the 21st Century, though it will prepare them perfectly for a world that no longer exists......


  • Berliner, David C. "MCLB (Much Curriculum Left Behind): A US calamity in the making." The educational forum. Vol. 73. No. 4. Taylor & Francis Group, 2009.
  • De Bortoli, Lisa, and Greg Macaskill. "Thinking it through: Australian students’ skills in creative problem solving." (2014).
  • Hwang, Yunhan. "Why do South Korean students study hard? Reflections on Paik's study." International Journal of Educational Research 35.6 (2001): 609-618.
  • Jacks, Timna. 'Rich School, Poor School: Battle For Resources Creates Academic Divide'. The Age 2015: Online. Web. 15 May 2015.
  • Kim, Hye-Young P., et al. "Academic performance of Korean children is associated with dietary behaviours and physical status." Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition 12.2 (2003): 186-192.
  • Phillips, Matthew. 'Korea Is The World’S Top Producer Of Unhappy School Children'. Quartz 2013. Web. 18 May 2015.
  • T, D. 'We Don't Need Quite So Much Education'. The Economist 2011. Web. 18 May 2015.
  • Zhao, Yong. World class learners: Educating creative and entrepreneurial students. Corwin Press, 2012.
  • Zhao, Yong. "Doublethink: The creativity-testing conflict." Education Week31.36 (2012): 26-32.

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