Project post – the end, the start!

The idea for my UbD unit plan came from reading a brief article on content curation somewhere along the line.  One of the links at the bottom of the page was to an article on TeachThought by Leanna Johnson on  And this started the process on its way.

I have subscribed to Google Reader for years and have dabbled with Diigo and other social bookmarking sites as ways of getting information across to my students – but with very mixed results.  But both bookmarking and readers are generally dull for students.  There are some great applications like which give you the opportunity to build your own news feeds in an appealing interface but I was immediately struck by the opportunities presented by

I teach IB diploma Environmental Systems & Societies which is a great course.  It can be very interesting for students if they engage in the currency of the issues at hand and are able to develop their understanding of how important these issues are to them personally.  But there lies the rub.  The students who take this course are invariably what I call terminal scientists – they never want to hear the word science again in their lives.  They are also some of the academically weakest students in the school – and engagement is a constant challenge.  Students really have to keep current with environmental issues around the world to understand the subject and to develop a sense of their own environmental values if they are to pass this course.  And they struggle to do this.

Enter the attempts at setting up a class blog in which students had to find an article relevant to the topic being studied in class, comment on the article and comment on other students articles and comments.  This worked for a while but students very quickly tired of this – especially if the interface on the blog was dull – my experience is that the articles that got read the most were those that had pictures or videos embedded in them. has a great student interface and I have started using it in class (see my site here) and the response has been quite positive from the students.  So how is this all going to work?

I want students to develop their understanding and skills in a couple of ways.

Firstly, ESS students have to read, watch and access whatever they can to develop a personal context and involvement in the subject which is about the world around them. is great for this.  You can scoop articles, videos, blogposts, wiki sections and the site has a nice “front page” which looks good and is appealing (student’s words).  I like to use as the analytical framework for this an approach proposed by Yael Weiner that he entitle “What’s Missing”.  The approach is simple, analyse news articles and try to make connections to environmental issues around you – for example an article on a trade agreement regarding importation of shrimp from South East Asia – massive implications in the producer countries where mangroves are destroyed to produce cheap shrimp for western markets.  The kids get this process easily.  The reading is the challenge!!

Secondly, I want to get students to start to engage in developing skills to support their own use of the massive amount of information on the internet.  There are a couple of great articles on content curation that helped me think about this in an educational setting, one of them with Marc Rougier one of the founders of (the link to this is somewhere deep in my OneNote files which are currently lying dead in my cold PC and cannot be read on a Mac).  I use as my departure point a line from an infographic I found entitled Content Curation 101 – “Content curators are the masters of sifting through all the content on the web and finding the gems that you need to pay attention to”- it tell the students that this is them – with a little help and some commitment to their own learning.   (As an aside have a look at Robin Good’s mindmap of content curation).

Thirdly, I want students to understand that they need to be connected and creative within their digital world – but there are certain behaviours that are acceptable and that there are others that are not.  Etiquette, digital footprints and digital citizenship in general.  I do this by showing students how much of Facebook can be accessed if they are not aware of security settings, issues of privacy etc.  Students have  responded well to this and engaged in the discussion which was supported by articles such as one on web-identities by Kelly Schryver in the NYT.

So – is this a new thing – I dont know – is this an old thing in new ways – I dont know – I have been wondering where I fit on the continuum – but it works and its more fun than it was.  And the students are learning and having fun.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , |

All Change – Mind the gap

A week late and a dollar short this blog post is one of those catch ups that you know are never going to get you as far as you need to go – but things have been happening.  Week 5 was focused on how technology is changing the learning landscape and global education.  And some fascinating reading there was – the Horizon Report, the SAMR model of technology adoption and Dan Meyer’s math video all made for some thought provocation.  In the Diigo list there are also a couple of articles that I looked through on the possible demise of teaching as a profession and the massive expansion of online courses in secondary and tertiary education.  And, once again for me more questions are raised that are actually being addressed.

The Horizon Report is a “global” initiative, 46 experts from 22 countries I think – and it was interesting to read about how these experts see the future trends in terms of technology and education.  Do they really represent global trends?  There is an assumption here that implies that the reach of technology is equitable and that the access to these possible trends is equitable.  We know this is not true.  So what does this mean for “global education”.  Anyone who has watched Hans Rossling’s wonderful videos on the Gapminder website knows we work in schools that represent the cream of the top one percent of schools in the world – but even then things are not equal on the ground.

Look at the situation here in Angola – a couple of months ago the fibreoptic cable connecting the country to the rest of the world was rearranged by a bulldozer and the country’s access to the internet was reduced to a couple of low bandwidth satellite links.  Banks could not do transfers and we could certainly not use the internet effectively on campus.  Power cuts and power surges are a daily occurrence and everything works on UPS’s if you want it to last.

And then my last week – not one I want to go through again.

The internet went down spectacularly to the point that the whole school was running on the equivalent bandwidth of an early 2000 home (I could not run any of the Ecovue simulations for my ESS class) and then my computer decided that enough was enough and died.  I then spent most of  Wednesday, Thursday and Friday recovering my hard drive, trying to find a replacement and learning to use a Mac with some degree of proficiency.  And I still don’t have a computer to use at home.  Normally I would have just gone down to the local computer discount warehouse and picked up a new computer.  Not here in Angola – the base model Macbook comes in at an eye-watering 3 K plus and a basic netbook PC at around 700 to  800.

My point here is that I am thankful that I am not 100 % digital in my classroom – stuff happens and will always happen in those parts of the world where access to resources in not necessarily equitable.  And although a number of articles suggest the demise of teaching as we know it now – I don’t see it.  There is some great innovative, inspirational teaching going on out there – in the absence of technology – don’t write teaching off.  And, if I am anything to go on, I do better in the face to face situation rather than the digital ether where I feel I am impatient with irresolution (as per Dan Meyer.  But this is learning style and I am old school (I had to print the Horizon Report to read it).  So lets recognise learning styles and the need for differentiation at a new level – the non-technological real classroom not necessarily the virtual one that seems to be the panacea of the future.  I like people and I am sure others do to.

Change is going to happen in the class room and anyone denying it has got to be a member of that close to extinct species – the Digital Ostrich Luditis doesnotexistis.   But lets remember that great teaching is taking place now in classrooms where technology penetration is low.  We have kids asking questions, seeking clarificiation and developing their own understandings.  Lets not forget these models of excellence.  And I also feel that the current basic school model isn’t all wrong or broken.  We have to develop our teaching the same way we teach kids – work at the level of available or current knowledge and then push the boundaries forward.  Technology in and of itself is not an end in itself (Will Richardson has emphasized this on a number of blog posts).  And remember your roots – because – the day the bulldozer driver in your town cuts the fibre optic cable to the world you are dependent on  – you had better have some low-tech solutions in your teaching backpack.

So all change (bring it on) but mind the gap in terms of resourcing (hardware, software, ISP services, utilities and the wholesale/retail market).


Posted in Uncategorized |

Connected lurking = tweaking adaptor

For some reason I was fiddling on the internet this evening (doing some research into chamaeleons and butterflies in Angola) and along the way I found a reference to the ECIS Tech conference that is coming up in the UK in 2 weeks.

We multitask without thinking out here on the information highway – sort of changing lanes and not quite remembering what traffic we noticed to make us change lanes.  And we get frustrated with the kids when they keep flipping through page links.  Makes me think I should be a little more reflective of my own practices.  

Anyway – anyone going to the tech conference –  entitled

Learning to love the iGeneration – is education ready to embrace the irresistible IT vision of tomorrow’s classroom?

it seems to be focused on the subject area for COETAIL.  Nobody from my school is going as far as I know, but I would certainly be interested to see the presentations and dialogue following the conference.  The following outline is from the website:

The two main conference days offer delegates 4 powerful keynote speakers, opportunities to see IT integration in action through classroom tours, and stimulating break-out sessions debating the key issues around our theme:

‘That was then. This is now.’ Accentuating the generation change from baby boomers to bloggers – benefits, challenges, etc.

  • Technology – driver or enabler?
  • The role of IT in redefining schools of the future where students are more in control of the style and content of their own learning
  • The role of Social Media in technology and learning
  • Information at your fingertips – an advantage or a distraction
  • Data access and storage – the challenges
  • What’s next – How do we keep up?
And this got me thinking again about the nature of blogging and redundancy – basically the last statement “Whats next – How do we keep up?” set me off down a path of thinking about whether blogging is really that effective (it is certainly not my metier) and so if I feel that way then what should I be using.  And the whole issue of connectivism and being a creator. 
I struggle with the idea of writing on a blog (I am not much of a writer) and so there must be others (surely).  So for our learning what do we need to make us comfortable in this digital world – as in the past we had differentiation we now need digital differentiation!  So whats next for us with bloggophobia?
And then being a creator or a lurker or a user in the digital world.  I am a user/lurker – I gain a huge amount of information and knowledge from the internet on a daily basis.  Its amazing to me that just about everything I need is out there if I scratch around enough – and you get better and better at using the system.  But I am not a creator, but I do contact people where I think I can make a contribution or share a resource.  But I am not a creator of totally original stuff for the most part.  I think that the model we have of lurkers and users vs creators is too simple – in any organisation there are those who tweak, adapt, refine, improve and disseminate information/processes etc and facilitate the adoption of these new ways without claiming creative cudos.  I personally don’t feel strongly about the rights to materials I might produce but I do new stuff in new ways when I can.  So maybe we can propose a new class of digital citizen – the tweaking adaptors (adopters?) who just do and dont really say.  Fits with my view of blogging! Continue reading
Posted in Uncategorized |

Change happens.

Technology in the classroom and changes in teaching was the subject of videos, a number of articles and blog posts I have read over the past week or so. In their TED talks Salman Khan and Sugata Mitra demonstrate that change is happening and can happen. But there are others who are tough on technology (see Larry Cuban) and its impact on learning.

One or two even irritated me! Probably the one that irked me most was the article by Ritchel in the New York Times. Published in 2011 the article suggests that the introduction of digital technologies into classrooms does nothing for test scores. My irk came from the simplistic nature of the argument – if you add technology to the classroom, you should get improved test scores and if you don’t then technology is not working. The author never suggests why this should be so.

I was also surprised by a few articles about the imminent demise of teaching as a profession because of the rapid and pervasive development of digital media and technology. It started with a short blog post from Clarence Fisher entitled Suddenly Endangered Educators based on a post by Clay Shirky (a good read). I probably spent way too much time reading this stuff (I get sidetracked easily when reading) but it got me thinking a little about the nature of schools in general.

Schools and education systems are conservative institutions – they are self-preserving bureaucracies and change does not come easily to any bureaucracy! I worked in government for 20 plus years and it was very rare that you got an enthusiastic response to any proposal for change – it is easier to say NO!, than yes because if there is a yes then someone has to do some work! So it is with schools, but its more complicated than just someone doing some work.

Schools are complex communities of students, teachers and staff, parents, support communities and funding bodies. And then there are all the influences from outside the gates in terms of entrance requirements to further learning institutions and so on. This stakeholder profile presents an enormous inertial mass – it will take a lot of effort to get change happening. I don’t think any one group is vehemently opposed to change in the classroom in response to digital technologies but there are some real speedbumps in the road to change. Here are some of my thoughts ….

As the NYT article indicates there is an expectation that things will improve because you add technology to the mix. Why? All you are doing is adding a new tool (toy) to the toolbox and so the tool gets used in a way that fits in with current practice. Teachers do the same thing they always did, but now in full colour! The shift will happen when we get to the point where students are in charge of their own learning – right now teachers drive the technology wagon and assess students according to expected outcomes based on traditional practice. There is a replacement of the encyclopaedia on the shelves with the digital subscription, Wikipedia or Google. I don’t think that this is a teacher only problem – school administrations see that technology is important and invest in the hardware and software but there is little change in practice in the classroom and levels of achievement in the student body – and so admin worries that something is wrong but don’t do much about it.

Why is this so? My 5c worth of experience and reading suggests that some of the following are significant.

Teachers are not trained to use the technology in ways that would improve student learning and understanding. The use of technologies for management of a classroom, development of materials and the myriad of other things that teachers do must surely be preceded by lots of training (if we want to see an improvement in scores etc). But teachers don’t get trained and training courses which result in changes in classroom practice are probably quite uncommon or expensive (or both)! You can learn how to use software or a piece of equipment, but accessing the potential for HOTS (Digital Blooms) is the challenge – and so teachers go back to same, same but in colour. So training is a problem.

Many schools have tech departments filled with wonderfully helpful people who know everything there is to know about virus software, BIOS, operating systems and drive technologies but know squat about teaching. Fortunately, I see more and more job descriptions along the lines of ‘technology integration teacher”, “integration coach” etc – which is fantastic, but these folks are rare birds indeed and I am not sure that they are initially seen as a priority for schools. Because we are still stuck on the “if the technology is there, things will improve” paradigm and people cost money per unit. Investment has to be in change facilitators who operate in the classroom and empower teachers and students to explore, take risks and change.

Do students get enough digital exposure? A resounding yes for some teachers maybe. But here at my school exposure is pretty low and digital skills levels are poor. I have Y13 students still trying to do their graphing on paper and others unable to put a header into a document. Many of these students have fantastically powerful computers but have yet to go from toy to tool. That aspect of classroom teaching sometimes gets forgotten because “surely, that has been done by (someother) department”. We need to look at expected skills across the school and make sure that skills are explicitly taught if we are to get this change thing moving. But again that requires folks who can see the big picture.

This post is way too long, but there is one other factor I think is really difficult in terms of change and links back to the fact that many classrooms are the same place except in technological colour. I don’t think we have come up with a good handle on how to assess students for learning and understanding that isn’t in a traditional format. How we get past this is a challenge – but we have to because students are developing new skills and new pathways of learning.

George Siemens has a lot of interesting stuff on his blog site including the slides from a number of talks he has given. In one given at UNISA in South Africa he has a great list of “if it changes” statements related to creativity, sharing, evaluation, connecting, communication and what people can do for themselves, and concludes “Then it will change education, teaching and learning”. Momentum is growing in the direction of change, I see this course as my opportunity to contribute to that change.

Posted in Uncategorized |

It’s the pipe – not whats in it!

Last week was the 204th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth.  The Darwin Project is an information initiative on the internet allowing access to all of Darwin’s correspondence (or at least up to 1868).  In the 40 or so years covered by the project, Darwin wrote and received in excess of 15000 letters – now that might not seem like much, but put into today’s terms we are looking at a major blog post every day (averages out at around 31 per month!) for 40 years.  What is remarkable about this is that he was able to do this at the same time as conducting his research, being an active and loving father, as well as a leading member of a very active social group – remember also that most letter writers of the day made copies of their letters (by hand!) for their own correspondence files (hence the legacy we are left with today).  And Darwin was connected – Alfred Russel Wallace (a major celebration of his life this year) was out in Malaysia/Indonesia writing to him about his ideas, Haekel in Germany, Aggasiz in the USA and lots of “local” correspondence in the UK (everyone from amateur pigeon fanciers to emminent scientists of the day).  Darwin (who never used the word ecology in his works) was a practitioner of connectivism – in a big way.  He understood early on that what you know is as important as who you tell it to and how you use the information and how to synthesis new findings of others.   George Siemens in his review of connectivism stresses in his conclusion that its the pipe not the content in it that is the key to successful connectivism (connectedness).   Darwin made fantastic use of the pipe available to him – it was not very complex – magazines/journals, correspondence and personal connections – and became a controlling and enervating node of learning and understanding – feeding off others (many of his lines of enquiry came from simple ideas in the letters or writings of others) but providing inspiration and understanding to others.

So for me connectivism is not new – but the challenges of the internet and what it brings, is new (and daunting).  We have volumes of information that are unprecedented, highly variable in quality and quantity and other issues like common property and intellectual property rights confound our right to use information.  Not to mention the potential for digressionary forays down unplanned paths – just click that hyperlink.  So what I take from this is relatively simple – in order to get this system to work for me I need to define and control my sources of information (pipe) – I have to trust these to use them – in order to gain the advantage of expanding my learning and using this to help guide my students into a world of learning of their own.  As George Siemens stresses, the power of the internet and digital media lies in it leveraging the small efforts of many with the large efforts of few.  We will see innovation in the ways we access and supply information in ways that would not have been thought possible or even desirable in the past.  All at the speed of light!

And that is why I thoroughly enjoyed going through Andrew Churches’ Bloom’s Taxonomy website.  I started working on it with some frustration – I still struggle to remember what was on which page where in the digital firmament – but discovered the pdf which I have now printed (analog dinosaur that I am) and it is covered with notes and ideas.

The statement that got me thinking was in the first page of the synopsis – “… the learning process can be initiated at any point…”.  This struck a chord with me – as a kid I knew the biology of different birds in my farm backyard before I had a name for them.  I learned that this one ate insects, that one seed and they had different ways of flying.  I had learned by observing etc – but I did not need the lowest levels of Bloom’s before I got to understand where to find them on the farm.  So I started the learning process where it worked for me.

If we can initiate learning anywhere in the system, then for me Churches’ digital framework for Bloom’s (if I can call it that) is a multidimensional space with nodes for remembering, understanding, applying, analysing, evaluating and creating.  There is no linear progression here.  And the students define their own pathways of learning – they can collectively develop a vocabulary using Quizlet or a wordwall application, the creative node could include opportunities to engage with any number of people, programmes and applications, analytical tools abound and these would feed into the evaluative node.  This would not be linear – some students will focus on the application and analysis, others may choose to engage in debates at the evaluation node.  Different nodal strengths would show in different subject areas – and – hopefully some of that cross curricular stuff we all want to happen but never really work at, may serendipitously appear.  Students and teachers alike have an opportunity here to really develop a suite of tools at each of the LOTS to HOTS nodes to foster learning and understanding at whatever their level of Bloom’s.

The key here again is the pipe.  I see this as both the architecture of this multidimensional space – no limits to linkages, opportunities to fly the intellectual kite to see what lightning strike it may bring – and the tools at each of the nodes that will support real learning, knowledge and understanding.  Our job is to facilitate and encourage the use of those tools and to develop new ways to assess our students and to encourage a responsible citizenship of connectivity.  As George Siemens says in his concluding paragraph we need the skills to be able to plug into a range of resources “when knowledge is need, but not known”.



Posted in Uncategorized |

What am I doing here?

In the late 1980’s, just before he died, Bruce Chatwin published a great book with the same title as this blog post.  I read the book several times but never found any reference to the actual title of the book in the book itself.  Having spent the week doing the readings for this course and getting myself set up, I realised I needed to ask myself what it is that I wanted to get out of this course and where I am currently at with my thinking.  My purpose in this post is to put my own thinking into the context of some of the key issues that came up in the readings – and hopefully giving me the opportunity to collect my thoughts so that I have a clearer idea of what I am doing here!  The thoughts here are in no real order of priority.

Some confessions may be in order.  Teaching is a second career for me.  I worked as a plant & wildlife ecologist in Namibia for 24 years – working in national parks and remote rural areas for much of that time.  I have only been teaching for 6 years and am still learning what are probably the basics for many people.  I love this job and I love science in all its forms – as a way of seeing the world and making sense of things before me.  The digital revolution has transformed my view of both teaching and science because so much more of it is available to me now – and its free.  How do I use these opportunities to inform myself better and develop students understanding and learning experiences?

The expansion and penetration of the internet in our lives has been phenomenal and while I am by no means a digital dummy, I really dont know my way around much of the new media and technologies that are currently available to us.   Through this course I am hoping to gain a practical understanding of how to use these in a classroom and to develop my own learning further.  Here are some of the things/issues that immediately come to mind:

  • The speed of change is impressive – tools, access to information, amounts of information.  Yesterday it was blogging as the future, now its Instagram or some other program.  As Will Richardson’s Edutopia article suggests these tools are social and provide learning opportunities – but only if “we can figure out how to leverage their potential”.  So different to my teacher training – where the models are based on some very old ideas!  Currency is an issue – I see professional connectivity and collaboration as the only way to survive this tidal wave of change (and still get to your students) – learning effective ways to do this is important to me in this programme.  I like the term ‘weapons of mass-collaboration’ used by Don Tapscott (
  •  As a printed page reader for much of my life I have always assumed that I am protected to some extent by rigorous editing and review processes.  That has all changed – I now need to help my students understand how to think critically about the veracity of information they come across and how to access “good” stuff with a bit of effort.  Is this digital literacy?  Using tools to access information/resources, evaluate it and to use it  effectively is a challenge.  I want to learn how to help my students do this (and get beyond my bias for the printed page!).  How do I instill in students the excitement of directed enquiry on the internet?  As a research scientist for 20 years of my life there is little that is more exciting than putting your understanding (findings) into a broader context.
  • How do we transform our classrooms so that we can tap into all of this innovation and change if we are required to “teach to the test” paradigm of the last 100 years? – gatekeeper subjects, individual testing are the measure of a students performance.  How does this fit into the collaborative future proposed by Richardson and Christensen and Horn?  Teachers expectations are changing but parents are quite often even less comfortable with it.  Acceptance has to be a 3 level intervention – students, parents & teachers.  Unless all players are exposed (not necessarily immersed) in the rapidly morphing landscape of digital media we will encounter resistance and anxiety.  My need here is to develop ways of doing this effectively.  I like the idea of the non-consumer market (for students) aligned with a model that services the original consumers (the parents).  How do we do it?
  • Things are changing in schools and the classroom (if it wasn’t we would not have signed up for COETAIL).  Something that has been at the back of my mind for a long time now is the question of whether we actually need to go to school anymore?    What purpose do schools serve if we have all this information and innovative virtual classrooms at our finger tips?  Christensen & Horn discuss some of these issues in their article and I hope to put my own thoughts on this into some sort of framework of action during the course.  I have 2 small children and I would love to be able to take them out of school for a year or 2 – travel, build a house, learn to fix cars, learn to smell the rain – without compromising their “education”.  Do we really need to put our children into schools?
  • Ito et al.’s summary report on New Media addresses an issue that has also been in the back of my head (my mind being somewhere else).  Why is there resistance to the acceptance of so much of the change and innovation surrounding learning opportunities?  They comment on the fact that many adults find new practices mystifying and threatening to established norms and educational standards.  My personal feeling here (and again this is probably an poorly informed bias) is that we don’t know how to assess it.  We don’t have the structures in place to give a “mark” to what students do.  I wrote my school leaving exams in the 1970’s – and in the IB bio exam of May 2012 I saw exactly the same question that faced me 40 years ago! Nothing has changed in the exam but the science of biology has transformed.  Why is this not reflected in the classroom?  How do I as a teacher enable student involvement to the point where we have creativity, self-expression and genuine learning that we can assess in a meaningful way?  Is it the autonomy that students have in engaging with their learning that threatens us?  Or are we just confused about what students are doing because we are overwhelmed by an environment with which we are not that comfortable?
  • I have been an internet lurker for a long time – and have known for a long time that lurking is not particularly productive.  As Utecht outlines in Reach, there is no gain in lurking because you don’t grow in terms of connections and connections give depth to the content you are using.  I have subscribed to RSS feeds for years in certain areas of interest – but I have been poor at translating any of this new information into meaningful classroom practice because I am not asking anyone to help me do the translation!  So one of my aims in this course is to increase my connectivity, maintain my inputs,  benefit from controlling the information that gets to  me  –  all of which will improve and inform my classroom practice.
Posted in Uncategorized |

First steps

The idea of hanging your thoughts out in public is an interesting one for me.  I have read (over the course of the last couple of days) a number of web resources on “how to” blog.  The thing that strikes me is the “virginal” first step – getting into bed with your blog and going for it.  It takes a certain amount of commitment and a fundamental belief that those reading your blog  are both open to discourse and view the thoughts/opinions of others in the sense of a positive dialogue.   I think I am going to have to take Jeff’s Cabernet pathway the first time around!!

This is really just a post in order to post and test the system – I have to get my thoughts together on what it is that I want to say and how I want to say it.  The time-suck aspect of setting up the blog is amazing – who thought fiddling with backgrounds, themes and all the other little tweeks could occupy some much time.  I have now done the readings, think that I am up to speed with additional requirements of the opening week of the course and now have to write something down.  Damn – there is work to be done.


Posted in Uncategorized |