Reviewing a “New Culture of Learning”


A New Culture of Learning” by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown is a great book that will help any reader grasp present day thinking about how information technology provides a set of tools which will allow us to re-evaluate education.  The book does not produce a solution to what is the next step for general education.  What it does do is to bring together a range of thinking, aligning terminology, and thus providing all teachers who want to to discuss how technology can be used to cultivate the imagination of learners to help reach a deeper understanding of a changing world.

Unlike many school environments today, the book identifies locations where there is a genuine culture of learning within our digital age.  One of the first points acknowledged is that success should no longer be evaluated by an ability to retain information but an appreciation of accessing and evaluating the needed facts – the crucial “where” over “what”.

How your own personal learning network (PLN) represents your presence in a number of distinct learning collectives.  Furthermore the levels of involvement in these collectives can be described as follows;  knowing how and where to access reliable information; making,  which requires the remixing or synthesis to consider how information can be utilised and finally the opportunity to reach a learning epiphany through playing. The involvement in blogging models these phases.  A casual reader knows where to go to find a blog they deem as relevant.  A personal blogger is refining the thinking of others and making it relevant to themselves.   To take an active part in commenting and extending the dialogues within your own blog and beyond, surely represents play.

True inquiry based learning, not the polite acknowledgement seen in many schools, is celebrated and seen as analogous to the methods gamers learn through experimentation.  We are asked as teachers to consider what can be learnt from games to improve our student’s involvement of their own learning.  This is at the crux of the term  gamification in education, which should not be considered as a by-word for the dumbing down of education into Tetris like blocks but rather the search for new environments where people are motivated to learn, such as those found connected to a number of massively multiplayer on-line games.  This new culture of learning will take people through the stages, as identified by Mizuko Ito’s ethnographic studies, of involvement in new media. From hanging out, to messing around and finally to geeking out.

The book ends with a concluding message, which goes back to Johan Huizinga’s thoughts on play and its being a pre-requirement of culture.  For the writers recognize that where we find imaginative play, we observe active learning. I hope this brief synopsis encourages others to take the time to read this fascinating book.

What my student think about the flipped classroom


My class making balloon kebabs

My year 12 IB Physics class is first approaching the completion of a full year of my flipped classroom and I wanted to know what they felt about the experience.  So in an attempt to respect their privacy and empower honesty I created a student questionnaire which they could complete at their own discretion.

From the top it is really rewarding to a 100% emphatic yes to both enjoyment of the flipped classroom method and also that they would like to continue with this method next year.  This obviously makes me very happy but it is the finer details which my students shared which I hope others will consider.

The students felt that the flipped classroom method was less stressful as they could review without feeling like a hindrance and do this in a time suitable to them.  They did however note that getting this right took a little bit of time but now they have a routine and will sometimes do an additional viewing just before the lesson to be better prepared.  That preparation is something that they even admit to transferring to other classes by watching related videos.

At the beginning of the year I was using videos which were available online and felt this was an acceptable starting point before I moved onto producing my own clips.  Now the majority of my class specifically mentioned that content produced by me was much better as they felt it was additional teacher contact time and I used the exact language which they needed to know.  That exact language point is crucial as it highlights my use of specific IB Physics words and symbols which they pick out as being vital for exam success.

I also asked questions about phases of a typical class.  They felt positively about starting activities reviewing required knowledge, the opportunity to question their own misconceptions, time to develop and practice skills.  Within this there was also a clear feeling in the class that they would happily reduce practical lab time.  Now my hands are tied here due to requirements of the IB Physics course but it does make me think that I need to revisit lab work with respect to better integrating a learning aspect.

Another element of my own flipped classroom is the requirement to independently complete related online mastery questions. I use the excellent Minds on Physics tool by allocating specific units and getting the pupils to record their own progress.  The students felt the process reduced stress but not requiring work to be handed into a teacher and also by getting immediate feedback.  It should be noted that the recently increased game aspect of this tool has seemingly gone down very well with my class (I make this statement based on the impassioned wailing I hear in the corridor when they only have a little bit of life left and they come across a difficult question).

So the key points I want to make about the flipped classroom that I have learnt from my wonderful class:

  • Students do learn how to manage themselves to make this method effective
  • Making your own video’s really matters with respect to teacher contact and correct syllabus language/ style
  • The right online question bank is a great tool for student learning (plus reduces stress on all)

And finally …my year 12 IB Physics flipped classroom really works and so could anyone else’s.

Flipped classroom and a changing perception


Some rights reserved by Genna G

Thinking about perception – I am now approaching the end of my first flipped academic year.  I have personally found that this has allowed me to refine the content to exactly what the student’s need, so cover more content whilst having more class time for improved learning strategies and developing deeper understanding which has resulted in all round better grades. Yet I also know that this is just my perception and that I do not have enough data to realistically make statements about better achievement.  Recognizing this, I decided to search for some harder data and distributed questionnaires to those teachers exposed in some way to my flipped class experience (department members, line managers and other interested parties.



For my teacher questionnaire I was really interested in how perception was changed through observing my experience.  I asked this sample to remember their opinions at the start of the year and to identify changes.

At the start of the year the sample showed overall neutral to positive attitude towards what they perceived to be the flipped classroom.  Highlighting benefits such as:

  • Better position to respond to student needs/ Differentiation easier to manage
  • Encouraging use of prior knowledge to expand on in class
  • More time to take on challenging concepts

However, the sample also had a number of concerns:

  • Overreliance on dumping content onto homework time
  • Lack of student motivation/ students not completing tasks

Now a year later the sample has shifted to an even more positive attitude towards what they perceive to be the flipped classroom.  They have also identified the following recognizes additional benefits of the flipped classroom:

  • Challenges teachers to stop lecturing
  • Frees up time to do real learning/ Greater onus on learning
  • Opportunity for deeper understanding

However, new issues have also been highlighted:

  • Students need more education about this teaching style
  • Parents need to be educated

I also asked about where they felt the flipped classroom could be utilized and they indicated with older students in math, science and, surprisingly for me, languages.


So this is interesting and shows a positive change in perception about the flipped classroom.  The problem is this is all about perception and not about what is actually happening and for that I have to ask my students and that will be in my next blog post…

One-to-one integration the continued journey


Following my attendance at the ASB Unplugged 2012 conference in Mumbai I have started to reflect on how my own school’s one-to-one program needs to continue to work towards true integration of technology.

So the secondary school section of my school began rolling out tablet computers to upper secondary year groups 5 years ago.  This gradual phasing in process continued until 18 months prior to now, when my school’s secondary became a fully one-to-one school.  With this statement it would apparently be strange to report on this school’s readiness for a one-to-one program.  Yet I would argue that the provision of hardware does not necessarily align with a full integration into all aspects of teaching and learning.  It is this, with this in mind that I want to consider how we, as a school, can continue to move forward developed from ideas and techniques developed at ASB Unplugged 2012.      ology beyond all of the students having a computer.

Dr. Damien Bebell in his hands-on learning institute session, which I attended on the morning of Friday 24th February considered the importance of educational measurement and evaluation in the development and sustainability of any educational technology initiative or school reform.  At my school it is still unclear to me as to what are underlying motivations for our one-to-one program.  I myself can eulogise over the impact of greater connectivity and the provision for a wide range of teaching and learning opportunities.  Yet I also know that this one-to-one program is so tantalising because it reflects an expected future for the students we have.  Yet that still does not clearly identify the core objectives, and in turn allow us to measure our success in the development of our students against these objectives.  So moving forward the identification of such objectives and the development of an annual school survey system which allows the school to measure progression is vital.  The techniques/ styles presented by Dr. Bebell reflected the need to really consider what your needs are from such surveys and to carefully consider the needs of the audience to guarantee a high percentage of involved responses.

Within the above mentioned measurement session a back channel conversation developed with two staff members from UWC in Singapore about effective ways to share best practice.  My school has two full-time staff members whose job is to support the teaching and learning in a one-to-one environment.   They provide additional support to teachers in the classroom and also run sessions sharing useful tools.  However, beyond these two members of staff there is not a true forum for sharing best (or unsuccessful) practice.  For that reason teachers are not learning from their peers and students are not exposed to being set up to transfer skills from subject to subject.  Now UWC have a digital literacy blog which empowers teachers to share their experiences.  The structure allows teachers to easily follow blog posts from all or just from a specific teaching section, for instance middle school.  In reviewing examples it is apparent that this has become not only a forum for best practice or an honest reflection on less than successful attempts.  The site also provides teachers with a starting point for considered dialogue on related issues – for example the post on the association between violence and video games.  So I believe that the construction of such a blog for teachers at my school would better integrate effective digital teaching and learning.

Although the above mentioned blog would produce an interesting conversation starting point it would not provide the opportunity for teachers to consider issues in a more in depth but collaborative manner.  For this reason process modeled by the ASB research and development teams in the “Power of the journey” sessions held throughout the morning of Thursday 23rd February would appear to be another element which I would like to introduce at my school.  Teams formed around a number of topics had the opportunity to complete in depth research with the goal of presenting an informed opinion on future use.  Without a required implementation outcome it appeared to provide an opportunity for honest discussion. Whilst the need to present findings provided a motivational timeline as did an influential audience that the teams felt would respond to the suggestions made.  Having seen a number of research and development team members presenting in more detail about how they are already using elements of their research in their classes it would also seem that the process also accelerates implementation if taken on.

So in conclusion, to improve the integration of the one-to-one program in my school I would like to see:

  • The identification of the key objectives of our one-to-one program
  • An annual questionnaire designed to measure how well the objectives are being achieved
  • A digital literacy blog to share best practice between teachers
  • The construction of research and development team which can look into selected aspects of educational development
  • The R&D process to have a clear influential audience that are required to act on the findings

I hope my own continued conversations at school will allow the implementation of these ideas.

What is carved in stone in our educational standards?


I am asking the question when considering several sets of educational standards what is really carved in stone?  For this I have considered:

Stone Carving Some rights reserved by dileeshus


1) The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has created a set of standards which they feel reflect the core requirements of students in our digital age.

2) The International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO) have identified a set of approaches to learning (ATL) skills which should be as standard developed by students from 11 to 16 years old within the Middle Year’s Programme (MYP)

3) The American Association of School Librairians have also created their own set of educational standards.




All of these standards represent what the best and the brightest of these respected organisations feel students today need to develop above and beyond the curriculum content.  For the most part there is a general consensus on these attributes, but there are also some gaps.  Within this blog post I will compare ISTEs NETs with the MYPs ATL skills.

ATLvs ISTE Standards

The table clearly shows the large amount of crossover between the two sets of standards.  The most obvious gap is Digital Citizenship.  This standard reflects the need for students to be a responsible member of a digital society.  However, although not shown as an ATL skill this message is already expressed in the other aeras of interaction of which ATL skills presently only represents a portion of.  Suffice to say this is less of a gap but more of a unjust comparison on my behalf.

What the IBO ATL skills have which the ISTE standards do not is a requirement of self-reflection.  In fact the AASL stands also represent this through their self-assessment strategies.  I think this omission is a failing of those standards.  I believe that our digital times with blogging, tweeting and open-source ideas self reflection is an inherent and vital component.  Also with the high paced changes within the digital landscape to be able to self-reflect and say that I don’t know how to use that tool, because I have never needed to before, but I know a number of resources (often digital) with which can soon learn, would be welcoming.

The two standards which I found most difficult to match related to a final product:

1) create original works as a means of personal or group expression

2) process data and report results

I can understand why a list which pertains to approaches to learning does not strongly focus on the final product.  I finally found the link hidden within a transfer expectation ” making connections—including using knowledge, understanding and skills across subjects to create products or solutions, applying skills and knowledge in unfamiliar situations”.  This is interesting for two reasons.  Firstly I like the fact that the creativity of the ISTE does quite accurately reflect the transfer skills of the IBO – this is a good thing.  I think this highlights a gap in the IBOs ATLs skill which reflects the requirement of an individual to have the motivation to complete a product and also the fact that we all only learn by producing something and reflecting on that and making it better.  So I would like to add two further transfer expectations:

1) self-motivating – to complete a product highlights the transfer of knowledge and understanding

2) personal transfer – to transfer prior experiences to improve future products


How should I respond to bad things?


bullying-739607 by Chesi – Fotos CC
Attribution-ShareAlike License

“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.” —Justice Potter Stewart, concurring opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio, regarding possible obscenity in The Lovers.

Like pornography, what is cyber bullying is itself subjective and lacks clearly defined parameters.  The U.S.A. based site, states “Cyber bullying” is when a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones.”

My own school uses the simple statement in the secondary laptop use agreement of “Don’t do bad things”.  Now I recognise that this statement is vague enough to capture a range of actions but undoubtedly within that net is cyber bullying.  As a guideline to what a bad thing could it would seem sensible to cross reference our own disciplinary procedure.  Under Step 2, which is described as not behaving responsibly, cyber bullying has been clearly highlighted.  So the dots are joined between abstract policy statements.

Yet abstract policy statements do not equate to everyday practice, they certainly do not help a student who is being cyber bullied and as a teacher I am not aware of either a related procedure or the underlying issues which have driven it.    Now before people misinterpret what I am saying let me make it clear that I honestly believe that my school would respond to (and undoubtedly does) such issues in a fair and considered manner.  Yet what I am also stating is that at present the bigger picture has not been addressed.

The Scottish based anti-bullying site suggests some important elements of practice which need to be in place to combat bullying:

1)    Culture 

An organisation’s culture should make it clear that bullying is never acceptable and support all adults and children and young people in achieving this ethos.

My thoughts: The opportunities to address and highlight the issues of cyber bullying only appears as a session during the year 7 tech conference day which they attend upon receiving their laptops for the first time.  The need for the issue to be explicitly addressed and at different year levels to empahsize both consistency and more advance intricacies that will come as the students become older.  This should be aligned with the ideas of each student’s growth as a digital citizen and what responsibilities come with that role. This also provides a route to consider our students beyond the confines of the school grounds.

2)    Practice

Day to day practices should reflect the message that bullying is never acceptable and should be continuously reinforced in all the work that you do.

My thoughts: The effective implementation of a clearer procedure of practice to all staff should use role play scenarios.  This would provide staff with an exposure of a range of situations and encourage through discussion an informed alignment in response to these issues.  This implementation should also provide an opportunity for the issues discussed with students to be further disseminated with staff.  All of which opens up the opportunity for a continued conversation with students when those magical teachable moments occur.

3)    Response

Responses when dealing with children and young people who are involved in bullying incidents is vitally important. The response should be consistent, regardless of whom the child or young person approaches.

My thoughts: The details of the response should be more closely considered.  The abstract behaviour policy at present does not reflect an opportunity for meaningful peer mediation.  Also an anonymous forum or tip off location could be offered where students can highlight examples of cyber bullying for the school to deal with and to further empower those bullied students.

With these elements as a starting point I am going to add my own ideas and then will work with my own pastoral role (I am a house leader – go blue house) to move this issue forward.  I will let you know how this goes.


Using scribd to show other sources in a blog – (End of unit 1 project)


I have discovered that my year 11 science classes, due to a lack of exposure, are not as confident with word press blogging as the present year 6 students. So I felt it was my duty to provide them with a the useful skill of converting files into an attractive blog embedded format.

The attached file is the required format of the related culminating task for unit 1 of the excellent CoETaIL course.

UbDProject Champions of the Earth (Neil)

The NISTtech unconference


My school recently organised its very own unconference NISTech 2011. This provided staff with an opportunity to consider IT integration in an environment which advocated considered discussion and real consideration of the needs of all the stakeholders.  Sessions themes were identified in advance by the staff under the headings of discussion or skills.  As it was mandatory professional development (I don’t begrudge this is anyway but is does make the fact I diligently attended every session sound a little more normal).  In total there were 7 sessions attended or helped facilitate.  More detailed content from a number of these will very shortly be appearing my blog.  However, I do want to quickly recap on the sessions I did go to and make some comments.


Session 1

Student Organisation – Using Outlook, OneNote and other digital resources to help students stay organized with their laptop and school materials

I was actually facilitating this session with the help of David Hilbourne (Head of Math and OneNote wizard).  My task was to help inform teachers that outlook has tremendous potential for helping student organise themselves by allocating assignments through the task manager (this becomes one of the themes of my day).  It also has a range of tools to help us teachers organise ourselves.  The power of using OneNote as an ever evolving workbook for student designed was clearly presented.  I can really see the benefits of this idea especially in mathematics and potentially for me in the future with my higher Physics class (but I have some other plans on that which will come up later).

Session 2

To blog or not to blog – When is using a blog an effective tool when teaching and learning? Discuss situations and motivations for creating, maintaining, and using a blog.

Teresa Tung – a Humanities teacher – led the discussion on blogging.  As a prolific blogger herself  was refreshingly admitted that she was struggling with practically implementing this into her own classroom.  This led to an excellent discussion with respect that there is a time and place for blogging and how our school can create a place (or places if we use also create an individual blog to help student organise their own personal portfolios).  One of the key points was we needed to find the right motivation (s) for insightful commentary and comments – a homework task for a whole class to comment on something did not fit into this criteria.

Session 3

Student Organisation – What are the best tools to use to help students organize their work?

I facilitated this with Jason Reilly and will discuss in much more detail later.

Session 4

Departmental Meeting – How can we more effectively use IT in Science?

Outcome 1 – recognition that we need to find and develop student skills in a more effective graphing programme than excel.

Outcome 2 – Recognition that excel can be very useful but the skills for students are not being developed elsewhere and we need to step up to the plate.

Session 5

Video Tips – After you have planned the video, tips on how to create a better video from camera angles, lighting, downloading, adding sound/music, and edit the material efficiently and effectively.

So this is the session I selected just because this seemed the most interesting of the bunch and I when I do try and use edited video effectively in my classroom I have some great starting points.

Session 6

Passwords – How to manage? What do you do? – An exploration into Lastpass

So I am now using Lastpass to help me organise all the passwords that exist in my world.  I have even tried to get my Dad to use it, which indicates that it is a success.

Session 7

Syncback – Auto backup/update notes/files to portal/media/dropbox

A really useful tool for synchronized backing up which I am already using for personal content up to dropbox.  What I really need to do is think how teachers running parallel courses can use it effectively to share resources.



Connectivism is there a learning hurdle ahead


My experience of learning as stimulated by the COETAIL course highlights the essence of connectivism.  The idea has been introduced through George Siemens article – Connectivism: A learning theory for a digital age.  So first I need to define connectivism, for this I found a link (connection) to the connectivism glossary which has been set up by students who where studying earlier iterations of this theory – the irony of this will become more clear in a moment.

Connectivism is a learning theory advocated by George Siemens and Stephen Downes, among others, which emphasises the importance and role of networks and connections between people (and things?) as preminent (central) to the learning process.

My own learning about the integration and education and technology has started with the creation of connections through blogging, RSS feeds and twitter.  As I start to develop confidence, and in turn allocate importance to these connections I feel my understanding is being wired into an extended out of body cloud of knowledge which I now have the power to access, evaluate and create my own further connections to/with.  I know I evaluate the power of a news story due to it’s location on Google News which in turn reflects each’s stories connectedness.

So I have bought into this new learning theory within the modern day as it closely reflects my own knowledge evaluation process.  I can appreciate how mastery of connections will help my students fit into and build upon all prior knowledge.  This will help them to be successful in many potential fields in the future.  This brings a smile to my face as I imagine these lit up and connected future human bulbs.  Then I consider the standard level Physics exams my students will have to face and the requirement where the final outcome is not assessed on connectivity but the ability to solve some problems whilst removed from your knowledge web.  I appreciate that connectivist theory can be used by me to help my student learn more effectively.  My concern is if the present world of final exams at age 18 will get in the way of this enlightening.

With great power comes…


I have recently been reading two different sources.  The first article considers What does “Technology Integration” really mean? The article really highlighted for me the privailaged position I presently find myself in with a one-to-one laptop programme throughout the school.  It also meant that I had to consider what was next after reaching, what is described as the seamless integration stage without really trying that hard.

Having read Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project it further highlighted my position with the statements such as:

“Both the generational divide and the divide between in-school and out-ofschool learning are part of a resilient set of questions about adult authority in the education and socialization of youth. Some argue that new media empower youth to challenge the social norms and educational agendas of their elders in unique ways.”

So it is my job as a teacher to start to consider what I need to do to bridge this divide and actively use new media and the associated mind-set of my students to help them make better use of their school time and learn to shine brighter in the future.   So I suppose as spiderman’s Aunt May best said, “With great power comes great responsibility”

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