Sunday, 27 December 2015


Long time no post - but sometimes life gets in the way of blogging. There have been a number of changes in my life:
My current (or should I say previous?) role was moving into an unexpected direction and not one I was interested in pursuing, so at the end of October I handed in my notice. I was extremely surprised when my company decided to pay out rather than let me serve out my notice period. While it gave me lots of time to plan my next professional steps, I was unable to complete remaining hours with schools or even just say my farewells. Should any of my readers be from these schools, please accept my apologies for my sudden departure, and I wish you all the best for the future!

While we have thoroughly enjoyed many aspects of our life in Australia, the BeLbird family decided to return home to New Zealand, and we have been back in Northland just over 3 weeks now. Everything seems to be falling into place, and for the last 5 days we have been unwrapping and unpacking our household stuff which was delivered several weeks earlier than we had expected. Life is treating us well, we're catching up with family and friends and enjoying what Northland summers have to offer. I'm slowly rejoining the online world, though with a slightly changed focus as I will be back in the classroom next year.

May the New Year bring lots of happiness and positive changes to you!

Saturday, 3 October 2015

TeachMeetNZ meets TMSydney - live blog

It's TeachMeetNZ time again and this time we have another trans-Tasman collaboration by joining forces with TMSydney!
This will be my first attempt at live blogging during the event, so please be patient with me:)

Our presenters are
+Fiona Grant on Being Cybersmart,
+Isaac Crandell-Tanner on Project Based Literacy Learning,
+Ros MacEachern on Critical Friendships,
+Hannah Dodds on her First Flipped EC Experience,
+Matthew Esterman on #TMSydney,
as usual hosted by the fabulous +Sonya Van Schaijik and +Rachel Chisnall as Twitter Broadcaster.

Being Cybersmart - Fiona Grant
Fiona is well known in NZ education and beyond for her work around EducampNZ, with GEG New Zealand and much more. She currently works as Facilitator for the Manaiakalani Trust, supporting teachers, leaders and schools to inquire into their practise to improve student outcomes.

Why do we need to be cybersmart? With the move to 1:1 to enable learners to be confident, connected and empower them to drive their learning, students are learning to become 'at home' in a digital world. It is really important that we teach our students about being smart when online. As blogging is integral to the programmes at Manaiakalani schools, students need to apply their cybersmarts all the time, not just at school, but for life. Fiona and her colleagues have found that it is vital to integrate cybersmart programmes into the curriculum and not just have it as a stand-alone programme to ensure that these skills get truly embedded.
While students are surrounded by devices more and more, students still need to be explicitly taught to be cybersmart. The emphasis is on being positive, to make good choices.

Project Based Literacy Learning - Isaac Crandell-Tanner
Isaac works at Hillcrest High school in Hamilton as English and Literacy Teacher for years 9 - 13.

Isaac has been working with a Y9 class to support them to increase their literacy skills to be prepared better as they are heading towards Y11. He reflected on his lesson designs and felt he could improve on that with a project-based approach to better engage his students and help them achieve. Using Google Docs, Isaac shared instructions and modelled what he was looking for.
Isaac found that giving students choices, providing teacher modelling and the fact they worked on authentic projects made a difference to the students' learning. A by-product of this project was developing more digital literacy skills in regards to the reliability of online courses etc.
He has identified some points that he could improve on in regards to monitoring etc. The big buzz for the students (and him) was when student letters were published in the paper, which gave them true authenticity.

Critical Friendships - Ros MacEachern
Ros joined the staff at Hobsonville Point Secondary School after 9 years at Bay of Island College (the first school I ever taught at, and I still hold fond memories of my time there). She is Learning Team Leader and Responsive Pedagogy Leader.

Critical friendships can help educators improve their own professional learning - rather than having learning done to us, peer learning puts us in the driver's seat. Critical friendships are an important part of the culture at Hobsonville Point Secondary School, Ros helped facilitate the formation of these friendships.
Putting the 'critical' into the relationship can be challenging. By having all teachers included in the design of the observations tool etc. all teachers feel ownership and are able to take part more effectively. The modelling of this form of ako to the students further affirms the philosophy of Hobsonville Point Secondary School. There are a number of schools around NZ that use this system effectively; it is helpful when such system is embedded across the school, supported by all and time is allowed for this to happen. MLEs and the approach of 'all students are our students' links in well with that for Roz and her colleagues. "It takes a village to raise a teacher" Mike Esterman - so true!
In preparation for next year and new staff coming on board, Roz is considering how she can involve the new staff into the design process so that they can own the process, too. Set up through Google Docs, it has been easy to change as it has been required so far, and changes will continue to be made to meet teacher needs.

My First Flipped EC Experience - Hannah Dodds
Hannah is a Y1 teacher in Western Australia. She calls herself a Newbie Coder and KAGAN enthusiast.

What does flipped learning look like with young learners? Hannah has adapted models she had seen to better meet the needs of her students, giving them some explicit teaching and then the opportunity to work individually. As a result, student engagement improved and their achievement increased. Hannah uses KAGAN, a model I have not been familiar with yet - you can find out more at While it was not without challenge for Hannah, by her empowering students to have choice, control and drive their learning, these students are more ready to face the future:)

What I particularly loved about this presentation is that Hannah is already thinking about how Critical Friendships, as described by Ros, could help her and her colleagues to further improve their practise!

#TMSydney - Matt Esterman
Matt is well known to many of us, not just for his work with TeachMeet Sydney, you will also find him on Twitter and many other Social media platforms.

TeachMeets are a great way for teachers to learn with and from each other. TMSydney has a lot of events with any number of participants - check out There are no leaders at TeachMeet, just teachers who have done it before so please get involved!

There are a number of Ed Events coming up in New Zealand:
Ulearn 2015 7-9 October
Check out GEGNZ for their upcoming events
#edbookNZ - watch this space!
#EduCamp Kaikoura 7 November
#scichatNZ is every other Tuesday during term time, starting back on 13 October
# CENZ event Thurs Week 1

and in Australia:
#EdCampQLD 17 October at Noosa
#TMSydney have regular events across Sydney

Thanks for joining us, you can watch the full recording here on YouTube:

Clicking on the hyperlinked presentation titles above will take you to the individual presentations, and their recordings will be added over the coming weeks.

Thanks to the lovely +Marnel van der Spuy, here is the Twitter Storify:

As always, thanks heaps for organising +Sonya Van Schaijik and to the presenters and supporters for giving up their Saturday morning / afternoon!

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Professional Inquiry - reflection term 3

Term 3 is coming towards a close, hasn't it been a very busy term! Often I have felt pulled in many different directions, and I have spent less time working on my inquiry than I hoped to. However, it is reflection that makes the difference, not the experience: "We do not learn from experience... we learn from reflecting on experience." is credited to John Dewey though this does not appear to be a verbatim quote (possible from publication Experience and Education 1939).

Just as a reminder, my inquiry question is "How can I support teachers to develop 21C skills and apply these in their classrooms by utilising the 21CLD approach in my own practise?". So far I have looked at the skills of Collaboration, Knowledge Creation and Self-Regulation, and I have made an effort to incorporate these into my work with teachers. I have found circumstances where I don't work with teachers on an ongoing basis more challenging as the first step in Self-Regulation is that the learning activity offers substantive time and opportunity which a one-off session does not fulfil.

Real-World Innovation and Problem-Solving are next on my radar; working with teachers, I try to relate all activities to their work in schools, that means even in a more tool focused session like introduction to OneNote I encourage them to create the practise OneNote with a particular school context in mind (resources for their Grade 7 Social Sciences class, Class Notebook for their Grade 11 Maths B class, a collaborative notebook for the HPE faculty etc.). Some of the work I do with schools allows us to take this further; especially during the ICT Peer Coaching work, we actively inquire and pose questions, generate possibilities, design and test out solutions, and all participants need to reflect and take actions on their ideas in order to gain accreditation. I am not entirely sure yet how to incorporate more of this into other aspects of my work outside peer coaching.
I have realised that I apply a lot of R-W I & P-S in my own work; I try to reflect on my work at all times (too much I have been told by family members - I need to find that off-switch more often) and I always try to come up with improvements to work better for my schools and teachers.

The fifth 21C skill I want to mention is ICT for Learning. Working in e-learning, the use of ICT for Learning seems a given; however, when we examine the rubric, it quickly becomes apparent that there is more to it than just use a computer. The second question on the rubric asks: Is ICT required to construct knowledge and add value to learning? As I wrote about in my term 2 reflection, not all circumstances have lend themselves yet to get to high level knowledge creation. Looking at the next step in the rubric, "Do learners use ICT to create new ideas and products for authentic users", I would argue that yes, many of my learners do. However, do I require them to do this, or is this their own choice? Ultimately, do I have the say here or is it them, as professionals, who make this choice?

I feel I am getting to an interesting point in my inquiry: How does applying 21CLD in a PLD context differ from applying it in compulsory schooling? A professional learning consultant has a different role to a teacher in the classroom, the amount of time they spend with their learners is different, content and reporting mechanisms are different. So far, I am feeling that while I am incorporating a low level of 21C skills into my activities, I am not really getting to the higher levels of these 21C skills, and I am wondering if I am causing this or if there are circumstances beyond my control?

One more skill to cover but lots more thinking to do...

Google Updates

There have been a flurry of updates around Google lately - from the announcement of a holding company Alphabet to new logos and beyond:

I am very excited about the new addition to Google Docs, a tool called Voice Typing. You find it under Tools - Voice typing

This will pop up a little box with a microphone icon in it, to activate the dictation function, you will have to click on the icon:

There are a number of punctuation commands: "Period", comma", "exclamation point", "question mark", "new line" and "new paragraph" according to Google Docs editor help. I have also found that it started responding to "full stop" after several attempts.
You might see a grey line appear under some of your dictated text. Right-click on this and you will get some suggestions:

The 'so what': Why do I care, and why should you?

I have blogged before about the value of digital storytelling, by looking at incorporating different ways of telling our stories rather than just in text. I believe that this nifty little tool will allow students to tell their stories orally and turn it into text for them without having to go through the often painfully slow typing process.  I could see this especially helpful for students with special learning needs, if offered as one of multiple means of expression and action. Students still have to edit their text to ensure that it represents what they want to say, so they have to engage with the text further.
Combine this with a Chrome Extension like Read & Write for Google, even just on the free version, for students to have the option to hear this text spoken back to them and I think we are really onto a winner here. Not only are we allowing students to get their text to paper without having to physically type it, we are also lightening the cognitive load on them a little, allowing them to spend more time on getting their story just right. Taking away barriers allows us to focus on what is really important - the learning.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Technology makes me wonder....

Every now and then I realise how fortunate I am to be living now and working in the role I am in. How has society developed over the last 100 years to the point where you can catch a plane (or two) to travel from Queensland to South Australia, can call or video call your family and friends from most place on this earth, where you can access your 'stuff' anywhere anytime on any device? The power of connecting and collaborating though is in my humble opinion the biggest game changer for our life today and in the future.

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Humans are (in the majority) social creatures, and as far as I know, telling stories are a vital part of the culture of all peoples on earth. I sometimes I wish we could have a time lapse of the different ways we have been telling stories over time; I expect that oral story telling would get by far the most airtime! However, the reliance on a person orally telling a story to others is limiting the potential audience. Add the written word, first by hand, later in printed form, and your story can reach a potentially much larger audience - though the absence of a narrator would potentially change the message (which in itself is not necessarily a bad or a good thing, it's simply different). Going to the extreme of making the written form the only acceptable form of story telling though is limiting both the authorship and the audience.

Now we have so many more ways of telling a story and connecting with an audience: Digital voice recording tools help us to record an oral story and share it; video incorporates visual and aural aspects and can also be shared; via online collaborative tools not only can be we connect an authentic audience with the written, oral or visual story we want to tell, we can also collaborate on and become co-authors.

There are a number of apps out there that combine several of above features into one finished product. +Allanah King was the first person to introduce me to Book Creator and I have been a huge fan ever since (in fact she became one of the first book Creator Ambassadors just recently and has inspired me to attempt this, too). Book Creator is to my knowledge the only widely used app yet that works across iOS, Android and Win8.1 (I will try it on Win10 soon) and allows anyone to be the author of an eBook. Combine text, photos, drawing, audio and video into one and share your finished ePub creation yet still leave us with the book experience so that we don't loose this part of our story telling history.  

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However, technology is not without challenge; I often feel like Frank Zappa who is quoted on the left. With all these stories out there that we can connect to anywhere anytime, do I have anything to add? While I have been talking about digital storytelling and the Book Creator app to a lot of the schools I work with, I have never felt the need to blog about it - after all lots of other bloggers have already done that. Are we going to see less original stories written because of the fact that digital technology lets us connect with all these already created stories? How are we going to ensure that 'good stories' will continue to be written by people without 'wigs and stuff'?

Technology certainly makes me wonder...

Saturday, 18 July 2015

TeachMeetNZ Session 2/2015 18 July 2015

Today I had the pleasure to once again be supporting the fabulous +Sonya Van Schaijik and her group of dedicated educators with #TeachMeetNZ as their Twitter Broadcaster. You can view the full recording here on YouTube, and Sonya will be cutting it into individual presentations which will be available from the TeachMeetNZ Wiki in the coming days.

I collated the tweets around this session into a Storify, please enjoy:

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Flick app

I'm impressed by how apps and programmes are starting to play nicely across different platforms, Flick is one of these examples. I was introduced to this app by teachers at one of my New Zealand schools in 2014, originally it allowed you to move images from one Apple device to another, e.g. from your MacBook to your iPad and vice versa - rather than plugging the iPad into the MacBook and moving files that way. Last week I found out that Flick can do much more now:
In a multi-platform BYOD environment this could be a simple and free tool to share images and now documents between the different devices.

What is the use of this in the classroom? If I was in an environment without a reliable cloud platform such as GAFE or O365, this would be a simple way to share an image and / or document between any number of different devices connected to the same wifi.

Note: There is now an auto-destruct feature which reminds me a lot of snapchat (and the controversy around it). As with all digital technologies, we need to ensure we keep (digital) citizenship rights and responsibilities in mind at all times.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Controlling the on-sharing of your Google Docs

It was signalled at the GAFE Summit in Sydney in April, but today is the first time that I have seen how you can control the on-sharing of your Google docs.

Click on Share at the top right of your screen, and this window opens:

Select Advanced, and you get this new window:

Just above the blue 'Done' you can Change who has permission to add people:

Why does this matter? Some information in the education context is private to a certain degree and should not be shared on beyond the initial group. This change will make it much easier for schools to fulfil their obligations without someone accidentally sharing confidential information in the wrong circle.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Professional Inquiry 2015 - reflection term 2

I just realised that my first post around my inquiry was just after the last GEG Gold Coast Meet up, and tonight is Meetup #3 :) The fabulous +Danni Foster-Brown has invited me to present on Read & Write for Google, expanding on what +Greg O'Connor presented on last time. High time for a reflection post on the progress with my Professional Inquiry!
Collaboration is the 21CLD skill I have decided to focus on first. In the sessions I have run since the last post I have made a deliberate effort to incorporate some form of collaboration, sometimes just informal collaboration (for example a collaborative web tool for brain storming) or shared responsibility (e.g. explain your thinking to a partner, they clarify and present this back to the group). In some instances I have been able to push this just a step further and had them make substantive decisions together. Given the nature of the PL sessions I have been running, this is as far as I can go I believe. Interestingly enough, the presentation for tonight includes no collaboration so far at all; I think a presentation could well include collaborative aspects, so I will re-work it before I run it.

The next skill I want to look at is Knowledge Construction. My gut feeling would be that most teachers would be involved in Knowledge Creation for planning and preparing their work; however, anecdotally I have heard of teachers who have all their planning and preparation provided to them and just need to 'deliver' the lessons. I would count the teachers I have worked with over the last few months as Knowledge Creators.
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Almost all my sessions are planned with the WHY - HOW - WHAT in mind - giving a foundation for meaningful knowledge construction. We always try to work within the school context; however, when you are working with diverse groups you have not met before, a broad approach will be useful. Rich, open-ended questions are really important to allow learners (in this case teachers) to create knowledge. The next step requires learners to be inquirers into significant ideas - in New Zealand the practise known as Teaching as Inquiry (also called Teacher / Teaching Inquiry, Action Research or Action Learning) helps teachers to enhance their practise by focusing on a particular need. Over the last few years I had opportunity to support teachers with this, and I am looking forward to doing so again in the future. Until such time that I can work with teachers on a more long-term basis I will 'park' this skill here as I want to actively explore what it looks like when we take it to the next level of making connections and identifying patterns.

This give me a chance to reflect on skill #3 which is Self-Regulation, with the first step requiring substantive time and opportunity. I have not spent enough time in Australia yet to refer to my current work, so I will reflect on past experiences. Most of the teachers I have supported with the Teaching Inquiries have certainly had extended periods of time to work on their inquiries.
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I am not sure that I have always made the LI and SC completely clear in that context, though, the inquiry question is not necessarily the LI. The aim of a Teaching Inquiries is in almost all cases to enhance student learning by improving teacher practise, so I will try to make sure I make this completely clear in the future. Teachers who are inquiring into their practise plan their work and receive feedback to use to improve their learning.
At this point I would like to give mention to the various online fora teachers are participating in, namely the VLN in NZ and various Educator Groups on Facebook and Google Plus. While some people are rightly concerned about the echo chamber effect, I have seen a lot of roust discussion in these groups which are helping teachers to receive outside information and feedback they can utilise to improve their practise.

So my goal for the next few months is to consolidate and expand the efforts I have made in regards to these three skills, before I tackle the next 21C skills :) I would love some ideas or feedback on what you think works for your professional learning- feel free to leave comment below. THANKS!

EdCamp QLD

EdCamps or EduCamps are also known as TeachMeet UnConferences. They usually follow the Unconference idea ( If you are interested you can find out more about EducampNZ at

This clip give a good summary about how most EdCamps are run.

Would you like to have an EdCamp somewhere in Queensland during 2015? A group of keen educators are are hoping to make this happen. Please complete below survey to help us with planning and running one (or more) event(s)!

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Embedding a OneNote Online notebook into a blog post

Just trialling how to insert a OneNote Online notebook into a blog post. Not overly successful just yet...

Cloud Computing: Moving accounts

Over the last few days I have come across a few comments and posts in regards to moving accounts so I thought I share some of my ideas and observations here. Please add to this if you like!

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What is cloud-computing?

Cloud-computing is`when we talk about saving files 'in the cloud' rather than on our own computers or on say the school server. This is a somewhat misleading term, by no means do we have computers float around in the sky :) Instead, companies are using massive big servers at different places across the world, and rather than saving your file to your computer, you save them via the internet to their servers.

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Your files are accessible on multiple devices and, if you share access, by multiple users, which makes collaboration, synchronous and asynchronous, from the same and different locations, possible. The cloud service provider looks after your data without you needing to think about backup or losing all files in case of a hardware failure (dropped laptop etc.). When you change devices, your files come with you. In addition, services like Google and Office365 offer not just the storage capacity, also built in applications (such as Google Docs or Word Online etc.) within 'the cloud' minimising the need for installing costly (and memory consuming) applications. Many such services are free of cost (at least to a certain degree).

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Your files are no longer in your possession at all times, depending on the service you used they may be hosted within or outside your country of residence and subject to the laws in those countries. While all providers assure us our data is safe with them, some users are concerned about hacking, about their privacy and about data mining (e.g. if you browse the internet for particular items, ads for these particular items are more likely to appear in your search results even if you search for something completely different). Your files are attached to an account, you need your username and your password to access them (rather than just going to My Documents on your computer). When your account is closed, the data is lost.

Schools and Cloud-Computing
Many schools are either considering or have already gone 'into the cloud'. I am an advocate for cloud computing when used to support effective pedagogy and 21C / future focussed learning.  I believe that it can be a vital tool to support our young people to become 
Vision NZC

General Capabilities AC
Sometimes a lack of understanding about the nature of cloud-computing becomes apparent when a teacher or a student moves schools and changes email accounts, or when a content from an external cloud gets moved to a new internal account. The nature of the data and files in the cloud is that they are attached to an account, and if that account is no longer existent, the access to that data is gone.

Important considerations for GAFE schools
(Note: I will research what possible solutions could work for O365 accounts and share this at a later date).
Who owns a teacher's files? Are any files shared with others? Do these need to be accessible beyond the teachers' tenure at a particular schools? Is it important to keep a continuity to show development of ideas, resources etc. over time?

Some possible solutions include:
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  • Don't close accounts after teachers / students have left, archive them instead which keeps all files live.
  • Have all important files owned by an account independent of a personal account, e.g. /
  • Use Google Takeout to create a zip file of all data - this keeps you with an offline copy which could be loaded into a new GDrive and shared again.
  • Create a new Google account / using your new GAFE school account, share every file in the old account with the new account and hand over ownership to the new account. (For students under age 13 leaving a school and not enrolling at another GAFE school, parents need to create a Google account to hand files to - they might need some support from the school for that.)
  • For blogs, add the new account to the blog as admin, then you can remove the old account
  • Your GAFE Administrator can also hand over files to a new owner before deleting an account.

Tim Harper made an interesting comment on the VLN , suggesting schools could think about one joint platform across all of New Zealand to make transition from one to another school easier. What are your thoughts on this? Do you think this would work for New Zealand? For educators from other countries, how is thins handled in your education systems?

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I believe cloud-computing is an important tool in modern education, when used well it can enhance learning considerably. It is important that we think carefully about what we do with accounts and the data attached to these accounts to ensure that the benefits are not outweighed by the potential loss of all files to everyone who had access to them.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

QR Codes

(Since I wrote this post yesterday, a teacher made the very valid point that QR Codes can promote self-management and independence for her year 1 learners. I am very thankful that she pointed out how the Key Competencies (NZC) and General Capabilities (AC) can also be enhanced and have therefore decided to add some points to the classroom use.)

I came across an interesting question in a Facebook group this morning: "Has anyone got any good ideas that they would like to share for using QR codes in the classroom?" My standard reply question to this is "What learning is happening in your classroom that could be enhanced with QR Codes"?

QR Code for The BeLbird Blog
A QR Code is a two dimensional bar code, originally invented for the automotive industry, now commonly used in a wide range of fields, especially advertising, and more and more also in education. In it's simplest form a QR Code lets you access a URL just by scanning the little image consisting of black dots and lines (you can use different colours, too, but not all scanning apps are created equal, some of them have trouble picking up QR Codes with less contrast). Due to its capacity to store more data than a regular barcode, QR Codes can also store plain text, can link to videos, audio, maps, computerised voices speaking your text etc.

How are QR Codes being used in the classroom? 
QR Codes relate to NZC Key Competencies and AC General Capabilities:  Using language, symbols and texts (NZC), and ICT Capability (AC).
    Using the SAMR model, here are some examples of how QR codes may be used in the classroom:
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    • Teacher supplies a QR Code for students to access a worksheet, students complete the work in their book.
    • Teacher supplies a QR Code for students to scan to access a URL.
    This can increase student independence and self-management Managing self (NZC),  Personal and social capability (AC)

    • Teacher supplies a QR Code where students can find a video that provides them with additional information to a topic.
    • Students add the QR Code for their school website / class blog to their own business card or to a text they are writing (as part of the information about the author).
    • Students paste QR codes of relevant videos on their assignment poster to allow exploring the topic in more depth and with multiple modes.
    • Students create a digital learning object DLO for an assignment (e.g. video, e-book etc.), then create and share the QR Code to access it with their teacher.
    • Students create a QR Code treasure hunt for a specific audience (e.g. younger students at their school). Depending on their audience, they might use all or a mixture of text clues, verbal clues, video, map coordinates etc.
    Audience consideration requires Relating to others (NZC), and Ethical understanding (AC).
    • Students write and then video their book reviews. These videos are uploaded to the cloud and they create a QR Code for the video. This QR Code gets displayed in the school library so other students can watch their video reviews when they are choosing books.
    • Students research and present information on local historic sites. This information gets uploaded to the cloud, and a QR code to this information gets added to the visitor information for this particular site.
    • On their class blog, student DLOs are made available to access and comment on via QR Codes. Students reflect on the comments provided by their authentic audience to enhance their learning.
    The deeper learning enhanced by use of QR Codes requires Thinking (NZC) and Critical and creative thinking (AC)
    The key is that the learning is the most important thing, the QR Codes are just there to support and enhance. Not all tasks at all ages have to be at the Redefinition level at all times, but it is my believe student learning gets most transformed when we set high expectations. Please find here a resource I have used with teachers and students in 2014; I would like to acknowledge the use of some fabulous ideas around QR Codes that have been shared with me by +Catriona Pene and +Esther Casey.

    Do you agree or disagree with my ideas around QR Codes and SAMR? How are you using QR Codes to enhance learning in your classroom? Looking forward to your ideas!

    Wednesday, 8 April 2015

    My thoughts on how our changing world requires change to education

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    I often marvel at how the world has changed... Here I am, in Brisbane, working, while I watch the Twitter stream from #gafesummit in New Zealand and #usetechnologybetter in Melbourne. This is the world we live in now, and I doubt it will regress in our children's future. The world has changed from when we grew up, and it continues to change, every day. Some of these changes are in response to problems (remember when it was in the headlines that Prince Charles was making virtual appearances at conferences to cut down on emissions which lead to global warming?), some of them are in response to the opportunity afforded to us by technology (I would not have dreamed off following two conferences, interstate and overseas, simultaneously, before the advent of twitter and my signing up to it).

    My thoughts are (as usual) revolving around children and education; given all these changes, what can we do in education to set our children up for success? We truly don't know what their future will bring!

    Let me digress for a moment: As adult in my forties I still enjoy reading YA novels at times, and especially the advent of ebooks, which seem to make it easier to publish lesser known authors, has given me access to many interesting titles. When I was a teenager, such YA novels often themed around the world after an atomic bomb (understandably in Europe in the 80s); current YA novels often revolve around a world having returned to a more primitive society after some sort of mankind induced catastrophe. Both of them are predictions of possible futures (and I'm very glad the 80s version did not eventuate), but in the absence of a crystal ball, we don't know what the future will bring.
    So what is actually the purpose of school? I see it as a way to prepare children and young people for life. Many people talk about the need to prepare students for the work force, which is the reality for the vast majority of us, though Vivek Wadhwa (amongst others) predicts a jobless future. We are obviously not sure what the future will hold, if there will be jobs or not, if there will be catastrophes forcing society to change or not, so how are we preparing young people for that?

    There have been a number of blog posts and tweets lately that have made me think:

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    Tweet from NZ GAFE Summit by @markherring

    AUT Professor of Education Jane Gilbert's thoughts on educating young people for the future have been featured in this post on idealog; she talks about the assumptions we are making in education, the targets we are setting on achieving qualifications and how these are not necessarily setting young people up for long-term success in their future.
    "We’re still working within the same twentieth-century framework. The thinking hasn’t changed. It’s just couching what we’ve already done in much fancier production values. It looks cooler and more digitised, but the underlying educational objectives have not changed. (...) Our education system is meant to serve the collective good and create the kind of society we want to live in.” 
    This last sentence is of utmost importance: Rather than preparing our young people at school for a future they will live in, it is education's role to create the kind of society we want to live in. What do we want society to look like in the future? Do we want people to be able to work together, at times while geographically distant from each other, and solve the problems of the world, create new understanding for a better future?

    The New Zealand NCEA (National Certificate in Educational Achievement) system is using Achievement Standards to describe what students are able to do when they achieve a particular standard. The idea behind it allows educators a lot of flexibility in how they approach learning, while providing moderation of results to ensure that standards are of the same quality across the country. Where traditionally exams were seen as the only valid form of assessment, the NCEA allows a combination of internal and external assessments, in my opinion much more reflective of real-life (how many of us get assessed in our work performance once a year for 3 hours in an assembly hall, using pen and paper? By the way, the NZQA has indicated they plan to move to online exams available at any time of the year in the next few years.)

    The qualification system in itself is not the problem, it is the way it is being applied in some (many?) schools in my opinion. I am not proud of the fact that I used to choose my Achievement Standards and topics for the year (no consultation of student interests or connection with other subject areas) and then developed the course around that, and I believe this practise is still rather common. Many a time secondary students will ask "How many credits is that?" and weigh up if it is worth their time for the result they might get out of it. Why does the learning take a back seat to the qualification? Why is the tail wagging the dog? Does it need to be this way?

    +Claire Amos, DP at Hobsonville Point Secondary School in New Zealand, approaches the issue of qualification from a more pedagogical angle; rather than fully adopting or throwing out a qualification system which might not be the be-all-and-end-all to preparing students for the future, HPSS staff are trying to make it work within their pedagogical frameworks. I encourage you to read her post Why are you still doing NCEA Level One? My understanding of their approach, like the approach of Te Karaka Area School, is that they put the learning first, across multiple curriculum areas, and then use suitable Achievement Standards to assess the students' learning. 

    These are just some of the examples that make me think. I am convinced that now and in the future we need to have a certain set of transferable skills. The terms vary, but I really like the terms from the ITL research and the 21CLD:
    Collaboration, Knowledge Construction, Self-Regulation, Real-World Problem Solving & Innovation, ICT for Learning and Skilful Communication.

    Is your approach to learning and teaching fostering these skills?

    Not everyone agrees with this approach, not even within the teaching profession. I read a Facebook conversation yesterday where a teacher asked "I am really curious to know what the driver for devices in schools truly is.The deeper we go into devices in education the more I feel we are pulling away from core learning, the basics." An article in the NZ Herald yesterday stated Computers take learning out of equation. Interestingly, both of these focus on 'the tool' (devices, computers) rather than on the pedagogical framework which the tools might support.

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    By no means would I claim to have all the answers, but here are some of the changes on my wishlist:

    • Let's have a conversation about what we want society to look like in the next 20-30 years 
    • Aim to set our students up for success within the society we are aiming for with its uncertainties and unknowns
    • Pedagogy first, tools (incl. computers) to support it second.
    • Reinvent schools to provide young people with a safe place to learn to learn, to acquire necessary skills for the future (such as collaboration, knowledge construction etc.)
    • At the same time, provide young people with the inspiration to look beyond their immediate interests and environment, so that they can gather a holistic world view taking into account history, different cultures, others' viewpoints and experiences
    • Use a system like the NCEA to make report on what students are able to do.
    Please feel free to share your wishlist and your thoughts, I would love to know and discuss with you!

    Tuesday, 7 April 2015

    Support your students' literacy with Google Read & Write Extension

    Not all our students find reading and writing easy, but it is such a vital part of today's life. They might have trouble reading, or writing meaningfully. Many of my students have struggled to re-read their work and self-correct, and buddy-systems don't work for everyone either. Add to this spelling programmes, which are useful only really become meaningful when they are personalised and related to what the students is reading and writing about and I wouldn't be the only teacher wondering how to fit all this into my day with my students!

    I absolutely love the Read & Write for Google extension, a great tool to support student literacy. It is not going to take all literacy issues in the classroom away, but it includes text-to-speech, speech input, word prediction, talking and picture dictionaries, vocabulary builder, highlight collector, simplify and a translator funtion (French and Spanish).  The basic version (with limited features) is free, comes with access to the Premium features for 30 days. The lovely people from Texthelp are giving away 12 month access to the Premium features for free for teachers, you can register for it here. Here is a little video I made a few weeks ago showing you some of the functions you can use with the free version.

    WHY use it?
    All students deserve to be set up for success, literacy is vital to success in education and in life.

    HOW use it?
    This is an extension for Chrome, so you need to be using this browser. From experience it works well for GAFE schools, for use within Google Drive and on the web, but also for anyone else as Read & Write for Google also works on websites, PDFs, ePubs etc. (Premium version).
    For students who struggle with reading and writing, the Premium Version might be very useful. Everyone will still benefit from the text-to-speech function in the Free Version to listen to text and to their own writing.

    WHAT to do with it?
    Both versions:
    • Listen to text in Google Docs or on the web.
    • Listen back to your own writing to extend and improve it.
    • Have text translated.
    Premium version only:
    • Dictate your text into Google Doc
    • Use the talking dictionary, picture dictionary and fact finder to gather more information
    • Collect highlights from Google Docs, Web, PDF, ePub into a new Google Doc
    • Build your personalised spelling lists
    • Simplify cluttered websites.

    Please find here a video by Texthelp about more of the features:

    Google Maps - arrive by

    Having moved to a new city (emphasis on new and on city:D) getting around is something I need to get used to. I have recently discovered that you can add 'arrive by' to your directions in Google Maps (this function has been available for a while but I didn't know). If you like me think this might be useful for planning your day and want to know how to use it, have a look at my short video below:

    Thursday, 2 April 2015

    21st Century Learning Design and ICT Peer Coaching Workshops

    21st Century Learning Design is having a major impact on my thinking. While I'm looking into the research behind it, I'm thinking of all the areas where it can change classroom practise as well as my practise as facilitator. Our team from Expanding Learning Horizons is hoping to run some of these workshops in New Zealand (please note that I am employed by Expanding Learning Horizons - feel free to count this post as advertising!). While there will admittedly be a commercial benefit for my company, I would love as many teachers as possible to learn about the research and the programme and use the planning tools provided in the course to enhance their students' learning in the classroom. 

    21CLD is a two day workshop with an online session prior and one after the workshop. It is aimed at teachers and school leaders.

    ICT Peer Coaching contains much of the content of 21CLD but with a train the trainer focus. Therefore it runs for 3 days with again an online session prior and one after the workshops.

    At this stage we have arranged courses in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, but we would be happy to run it at other locations if there is sufficient interest. Please get in touch if you would like to find out more, would love to see you there!

    Friday, 27 March 2015

    The Why and How of Projecting

    I was just reading a few posts on the VLN that mentioned projectors / Interactive Whiteboards. I felt this is an opportune time to have a look at projecting in general, not just at the tools that make it happen. I have talked about some of the options in previous posts (Apple TV and reflector app, Chromebooks (cont.)) but I felt it was time to look at why and how we can utilise projecting.

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    In the 'traditional' classroom, teachers used to write content on the board which students copied into their books. Along came the OHP (for those of us who are old enough to remember them - I still have a box of transparencies in my basement!) and rather than writing on the board and wiping it off after (remember the mess students could make with the dusters? lol) the teacher could just handwrite - or later type / print - their transparencies to reuse for later. When I trained as teacher (about 500 years ago as I like to tell students), this was a recommended strategy to prevent off-task behaviour as you wouldn't turn your back to the class.

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    Fast forward to projectors, and teachers' digital documents can be displayed on the projector with ease!

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    However, in the end this is still using technology at a Substitution level: You are replacing hand writing on the board with projecting digital content:

    Let us examine what we are actually trying to achieve. The Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (MCEETYA 2008) sets out as Goal 2 for "all young Australians (to) become successful learners, confident and creative individuals, and active and informed citizens".  To my mind, creative and active are two keywords in there. Using projectors in the way we used the chalk boards is not allowing our students enough opportunity to develop their creativity and be actively involved. What I want to see is for students' to share their learning, their progress, their finished result with the class by being able to show it on a sizeable screen for some or all of their peers to see and give feedback on.

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    In a time where we are encouraging students to be active creators of knowledge and want them to create digital content to share with others, it is important that for them to show their work to others (and not always make them stand at the front of the room for that). It can be a real hassle though if you have to access this content on the one device connected to the projector / screen. Similarly in classes where we have BYOD how many times do we not have the right connector / dongle for the particular device?

    How would I make use of it:
    • Project my screen from anywhere around the room to share content / model activity / enable discussion (maybe with one student documenting our discussion by taking notes for all to see on the screen)
    • Gather feedback / administer quiz and have all students view questions and / or results as they come in
    • Students project what they are working on to ask for support and / or feedback
    • Students share their finished product to the class
    • A collaborative task, between learners in the room and / or including learners outside the room, gets displayed on the screen to allow for monitoring and / or support etc.

    Here are some of the options you might want to consider:

    Interactive Whiteboards (IWBs) allow, as the name implies, more interactivity for the person(s) at the board. Here students and teachers can interact with content,create new content - and we are moving in our application higher up in the SAMR model, depending on how the IWB is used in the particular situation. However, a number of schools have now moved away from these devices as they find the price and the limits on the number of people who can use them at any one time them less cost-effective than other solutions.

    Some schools use TV screens instead of traditional projectors or IWBs. As with all projection solutions, it is important to consider location, size, quality. Can you see the screen from different places in the room? How does the light affect how well you can see at different times of the day and year? Does the screen need to be moveable? How easy can you connect to it? What size screen do you need for the size room you have?

    Wireless projecting is becoming more common, but you require reliable wifi on the same network as the wireless device to project a device. In my opinion this is the best tool for students to share their learning with others in a flexible, non-threatening way. If you are thinking about upgrading your existing projector / screen to give it wireless capabilities without replacing it with a wireless projector you might consider:
    • Apple TV: Mini-computer that mirrors content on Apple devices to your screen as well as play some content from YouTube etc. directly. Advantages: You are not tying up a device to project / mirror or play YouTube. Cost: around $110 plus cost of HDMI cable.
    • Reflector App (or similar): Software installed on your device (laptop) connected to the screen / projector which allows you to mirror iOS devices to the laptop and from there to the screen. Advantages: Cost around $13 per licence
    • Chromecast: Mirrors content on Android devices and content from your Chrome browser, also streams some iOS apps. Advantages: You are not tying up a device to project / mirror or play YouTube. Cost: around $50.
    • Actiontec Screenbeam: Mirrors your laptop to your screen (I have only tried it with my Windows 8 devices so far). Cost around $60.

    No matter what tool you go for, what you do with it will make the biggest  difference to your learners! Would love to hear if you are using projecting in your learning environment and how!

    Tuesday, 17 March 2015

    Applying 21CLD in Teacher Professional Learning

    Yesterday I went to the GEG Gold Coast Meet-up - loved being amongst a small group of like-minded people! +Greg O'Connor presented to supporting Literacy with Chrome - ultimately UDL though he didn't use the term - and while I knew a lot of the tools he mentioned, I learnt quite a bit, too. +Michael Mathews talked about how he using using Google Sites at his school as a way for teachers and students to be involved in sharing what is going on which was very cool, too. I got talking with Greg briefly, about how I have been thinking about applying what we tell teachers to do in their classrooms in our working with them. He made a good point when he mentioned how he was trying to incorporate the UDL approaches into his work with teachers, and I was mulling this over on the way back.

    I think I have incorporated more UDL approaches in my work with teachers than I used to but still I have the niggling feeling that I could improve my facilitation. I keep on thinking, too often we do to teachers what we don't want them to do in class ("sit down, be quiet, eyes to the front" etc.). Does this help or hinder our teachers from applying their learning in their classrooms? Also, is it really UDL I'm thinking about, or is it something else?

    Through taking up my ELH role I am in the fortunate position to facilitate workshops on 21CLD. While I had often talked about collaboration, about creating new knowledge, real-world problem solving etc., what that exactly looks like in practise and how to develop these skills to a high degree had sometimes remained a bit vague. Through the ITL research and the 21CLD programme I have gained much greater clarity of what the skills are that we belief our learners need to be successful in the future. Whatever you might call it, 21C or Future Focussed Learning, many of us share the believe that education has to change to prepare young people for their future. At the same time I believe that we learn a lot by modelling, so if I want my teachers to support the development of 21C skills in their students, it would be helpful for me to model this and support them to develop these skills themselves.

    All of the above has led to my decision to inquire into my practise: How can I support teachers to develop 21C skills and apply these in their classrooms by utilising the 21CLD approach in my own practise?

    I am using this model for my professional inquiry, if you would like to follow and inquire into your practise, I will describe the steps I intend on taking below:
    Inquiry learning and action spiral for networks (Timperley, Kaser and Halbert, 2012)
    I have been informally scanning for a little while: What's going on for the teachers I am working with?

    • They are busy professionals.
    • Some though not all teachers agree with the need to change the way we teach our students.
    • There are many sometimes seemingly conflicting ideas, initiatives, tools they get bombarded with.
    • Student achievement is often seen as a measurement of their effectiveness as teachers.
    • Some teachers feel overwhelmed by technology, struggle with it themselves; other teachers are more confident users of technology but are yet to figure out how technology use fits into the bigger picture. There are some teachers who have got it all 'sussed' and integrate technology effectively into their 21C classrooms -> there is obviously huge variability!
    (Looks awfully familiar to a regular classroom and no, I did not write it intentionally that way! However, different to a regular classroom, I do not get to see them every day, every week or even every month, sometimes I meet them once only.)

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    My focus will be on applying 21CLD: How can we design our learning activities so learner are required to develop and apply 21C skills?
    I chose to focus on this because I believe this is really vital to set our young people up for success. As I am relatively new to this particular programme, this will also help me understand it better.
    While it would be tempting to just apply this in 21CLD sessions, I want to make sure I consider this for sessions outside this course, also. I would prefer not to narrow this down to just a particular group; however, the need to use some sort of data to understand if I have made a difference will require me to select 1-3 groups of teachers who will be invited to complete a survey before and after. While I endeavour to not limit my use of 21CLD approaches to these teachers, I will measure the effect for working with them.

    My hunch is that teachers would benefit from having the 21CLD approach modelled in the way I work with them. If I set it up well, they should be required to develop and apply 21C skills themselves. At the same time I could make this process very transparent so that they can see by my modelling how they could apply this in their own context.

    My learning will start with going back through my course resources and background information so I feel confident I clearly understand what the individual capabilities are and how tasks need to be designed to require development of these skills to a high level. I am sure there will be much more learning to come over this year.

    What I will do differently: At this point I'm thinking I will focus on one of the skills at a time, starting with Collaboration, and examine my activities / sessions / workshops to what degree they require collaboration. I will set up some kind of document to monitor this. Given we are talking about 6 skills (Collaboration, Knowledge Construction, Self-regulation, Real-world Problem-solving and Innovation, ICT for Learning, Skilful Communication), of which some require more or less time, and some will combine more easily, I will aim at a very rough 6 weeks for each.

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    If this will make a difference is the big question; for this I need pre- and post-data. In most cases I don't have the opportunity to visit classrooms and have discussions with teachers about their practise before I meet them in a workshop. Therefore I will look at developing a questionnaire that I will share with selected groups of teachers and follow it up with a questionnaire some time later this year to compare results. I'm still thinking about what exactly I will be looking for; a greater understanding? a shift in confidence? application in the classroom? All of these seem relevant.

    Is there anything I'm missing? Do I approach this logically? Any comments and ideas would be much appreciated!

    Are you inquiring into your practise? Would you mind sharing some of it? If not, why don't you join me and share your inquiry?