FutureSchools Review – Day 3 Session 1 Part 1

“I am a child.
I come to you, a teacher.
I bring a whisper
Can you hear the poem in it?
Will you tell me what to think,
Or show me how?
Will you teach me answers,
Or the symmetry of a question well composed?”
– Carol Ann Tomlinson, I am child.

Welcome back to my review of the 2016 iteration of the FutureSchools conference, where we are now on the final day. If you missed the previous article, you can find it here. The opening speaker for day three of the ClassTech conference stream at FutureSchools was Peggy Sheehy (@PeggySheehy) speaking under the title The Game Plan, and which I gathered from the agenda was a talk focusing on Gamification and game-based learning in education, a topic which I think has some interesting potential within the education sphere, but which is not on my radar at the present moment. I do need to make it clear from the outset that I did not know Peggy at all, and that I did have a number of takeaways from her presentation, but the fact that she disregarded her two-minute warning, and ended up finishing fifteen minutes overtime engendered a lot of anger and frustration in the room towards her. That said, I do feel that she had some significant things to say.

Peggy opened with a snippet of a poem from Carol Tomlinson, which I have sourced online and included above. Peggy reminded us there are many children who enter our classroom feeling, for a variety of reasons, as though they are less than their peers and that she finds it odd that there are so many education conferences, with big-name keynote speakers, yet with so little representation from the core of the industry, the students. This is not a universal truth, yet it does hold a lot of weight, and this video below is the result of students creating a keynote address for the Net Generation Education Project.

The video went viral very quickly, and Alan November (@globalearner) apparently told the group that if they shortened it to three minutes from the original length of just under six minutes, then he would viralise it world wide. The students eventual response was apparently that “….teachers expect us to sit through six hours of school, they can sit through a six-minute film.” This triggered a memory for me, of the time I recorded one of my teaching sessions, a forty-five minute session with a class of Stage Two students and how horrified I was when I realised how much talking I had done. We do, often, talk far too much as teachers.

Peggy made the point that students, outside of school, are playing Minecraft, Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and a multitude of other high-quality games, yet we, as teachers, often get excited by something as low-tech as Classroom Jeopardy. This goes back to Stephen Lethbridge’s point that so much of what ends up in educational contexts, as a result of being popular in mainstream society, is a watered down version of the original concept that our students do not engage with in the same way that they would a high quality game.

Peggy brought up the point that smart phones these days are more powerful computers than those which sent man to the moon, yet we tell students to leave them in their bags, depriving them and us of a potentially powerful learning tool, a point which I heard Richard Byrnes make in his keynote at FutureSchools last year. Peggy reminded us that the now common four-colour pen and calculators both used to be items which were commonly prohibited in classrooms.

Switching concepts, Peggy stated that we “…need to stop the corporate handover of public schools…” and allow teachers to teach, a sentiment that I suspect Gary Stager (@GaryStager), with his frustration with educational corporations such as Pearson, would agree.

Peggy continued by saying that educational game designers need to forget everything they know about school, and that when designing games, they need to know the content just as well as they know the gaming structure, with the only company whose educational games she had confidence in was Filament Games (@FilamentGames). She quoted John Paul Gee as having said that we need to “…stop asking if games belong in schools, but which games belong in schools.” 

It was at this point that we were beyond the time for Peggy’s presentation, and she continued to speak, giving us a Marc Prensky quote (“…don’t bother me now mum, I’m learning”) and invoking Seymour Papert, who apparently called computers “…the children’s machine.” The next quote, from John Seely Brown was an intriguing one for me, as someone whose wife was a long time player of the World of Warcraft game, he has apparently been quoted as saying “I’d rather hire a high-end World of Warcraft raid leader than a Harvard graduate; the raid-leader  has the skills I need them to have.” The next statement was something I certainly agreed with, and I managed to get a quick picture of the slide.

Peggy next spoke about responses she had from teachers to the question “what do educational game designers need to know?”  There were a number of insightful and thought-provoking responses, but this particular response was the one which generated the most discussion at my table afterwards.

Peggy reminded us that game designers are the modern-day bards and storytellers and that we need to demand more from them. Her final point was that the Jenkins Report found that while youth video game was significantly up, youth violence rates were down. I have been unable to find this report online to link to. If you find it, please send me the link via the comments section or via a Tweet.

Peggy finished up here, fifteen minutes overtime, with a discontented murmur running through the crowd and with the next speaker anxiously waiting to begin his presentation. While I was frustrated at the talk being overtime despite having been given a two-minute warning, finding it rude and disrespectful to the subsequent speaker (who had to rush through his presentation as quickly as he could), I did find Peggy’s talk to be interesting and it generated some food for thought.

I will cover the following talk in tomorrow’s article. As always, thank you for reading, and please leave any comments, questions or concerns in the comments or contact me via Twitter.

Jump to Day Three session one part two.

The Morning Literacy Block

“Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a tool for daily life in modern society. It is a bulwark against poverty, and a building block of development, an essential complement to investments in roads, dams, clinics, and factories. Literacy is a platform for democratization, and a vehicle for the promotion of cultural and national identity. Especially for girls and women, it is an agent of family health and nutrition. For everyone, everywhere, literacy is, along with education in general, a basic human right…. Literacy is, finally, the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman, and child can realize his or her full potential.”
― Attributed to Kofi Annan

How do you structure your morning literacy block with your students? How do you choose your texts for guided reading, independent reading, and how do you choose the tasks to be completed by students while you are reading with the other groups?  Mrs. W. and I are going through a process of refinement as we work to find the balance between structure and student choice, between finding texts that are interesting and engaging, yet also have a purpose behind their selection, and tasks for our Must Do / Can Do list that engage whilst also serving the educational purpose that we want. as a side-note, as you read, be aware that I am writing this on Monday afternoon, and thus any references to yesterday, today or tomorrow are made within that context.

At this point, the literacy block on my days looks something like this:

  • Students enter and mark their name off on the roll, put any notes or monies on my desk, and immediately commence DEAR (silent reading) while I process the notes and monies, hand out any receipts etc.
  • On Monday morning, we conduct a spelling pre-test. I read out the words for the week, students write them down, we mark and any incorrect words then become the spelling list for the week, with blanks being back-filled by topic words or words from an alternate list.
  • We move into reading groups, where I spend ten minutes reading a text and we go through some comprehension questioning while the rest of the class focuses on their Must Do / Can Do list of tasks.
    • Must Do
      • Look-Cover-Say-Write-Check. There is an element of it’s always been done to this task though I would apply the same CLT thought process to this as I do to multiplication facts.
      • Word analysis: Students to break down the word to determine the number of syllables, consonants/vowels, phonemes, graphemes and any digraphs or trigraphs. Students also then form a Monster word (a word constructed using the same phonemes with different graphemes. E.g. phyti instead of fish (PHysics-pYramid-staTIon))
      • Definition, synonyms, antonyms: To encourage familiarity with the use and alternate vocabulary.
      • Prefixes and Suffixes: Can any alternate words be formed using prefixes and/or suffixes.
    • Can Do
      • Mrs. W has provided a spelling menu with a range of literacy activities that serve various purposes, from vocabulary expansion to etymology awareness.
      • Creative writing using visual prompts, including an editing process.

We are finding mixed standards across our class, both in regards to the quality and the quantity of what is being completed and handed in, and thus far, we have worked on finding a structure for the morning that provides independence to students to carry on with their tasks without needing our guidance every step of the way.

Initially, we provided a list of the tasks that must be completed and those that are then able to be worked through afterward, whilst we were with the guided reading group. This seemed to be too much independence, at this point in the year, as we found we were constantly having to answer questions from students about what they needed to do next, what they could do when they were finished etc. and it was completely ruining the flow of what we were looking to achieve with the reading group.

Following this, I had students decide in advance the order they were going to complete tasks in, thinking that having a plan of attack would allow them to focus on completing the tasks, give them confidence that they knew what they were doing, and allow me to focus on my reading group. This also failed, as some students spent far too long vacillating about the order in which they wished to complete tasks.

Last Wednesday I tried a different scenario and it worked very well, with students on task, engaged, and asking each other questions rather than disturb the reading group I was witrh. Today, I thought that I would use the same structure, given that it worked well last week, and discovered something that veteran teachers probably are well aware of:

Retrieved from tinyurl.com/zwqtban 29 February 201


Last week I structured reading groups loosely akin to reading groups that you would find in an infants classroom (indeed, they were very similar to how reading groups were structured in the Year One class in which I completed one of my professional experience placements). I put on the board the order in which I would see the reading groups, and the tasks that the other groups were to complete whilst I was with each group. I suspect that it failed today, whereas it worked last week, as today I attached group names to specific tasks, indicating what I wanted them to start on first.

This cause issues as some of the tasks required less time than I was with a reading group, and those students were left, apparently, floundering, not knowing what to do, and unable it seems to take the initiative to move on to the next tasks on the board. Having thought about it this afternoon, I know how I will structure things tomorrow to hopefully resolve that issue.

Tomorrow, when I indicate to students to move into reading groups, I will put on the screen the exact tasks and the order in which they are to be completed. In between each group, I will take a few minutes to quickly circulate and check students’ progress through the tasks (something I did not do today, which I think compounded the issue), signing off on each student so that I can track how they are progressing through the tasks, knowing that I am spending approximately ten minutes with each reading group. This will also help me gauge the appropriateness of the tasks they are being asked today in a certain timeframe.

I feel, upon reflection on the term thus far, that I was so frustrated by lost time early in the year due to a variety of factors (some of which I wrote about here) that I forgot to spend time bedding down good structures and process in the class in an effort to catch up to where I needed to be according to the scope and sequence documents, and am now paying the price, with structures still somewhat loose which is having repercussions in regards to what we are achieving.

I would very much like to hear how you structure your literacy block and reading groups, so please, leave a comment either here or on Twitter, and as always, thank you for reading. I am unlikely to post an article tomorrow (Wednesday) as I will be attending the FutureSchools expo and conference. If you are going, let me know. It would be great to catch up with some Tweeps. If you have not heard of FutureSchools before or are unable to make it this year, you can find my review of last year below, and this year’s reviews will appear over the week or two post-FutureSchools.

FutureSchools 2015 Review Articles

Temp Block Ahoy!

“dum loquimur, fugerit invida aetas: carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.”


“While we speak, envious time will have {already} fled: seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the next day.”

-The Horatian Odes 1.11

I would like to think that I have managed to impress my readers that I enjoyed and valued my time at the FutureSchools expo, ClassTech conference stream and the Masterclass with Jon Bergmann. I also was able to spend some time wandering around the exhibitors stalls, chatting with a few, and networking with other educators from around the country.

Whilst chatting with an e-learning Leader from Melbourne and an Assistant Principal from Brisbane, I received a text message from a Deputy Principal at one of the schools at which I do casual/supply/relief  teaching (I discovered during conversations at FutureSchools that the term ‘casual teacher’ is not universally used) with an offer for a temporary block at their school for term two. I would be acting as a teacher-librarian, and the role would be four days a week for the full term, with the remit to teach computer and research-skills as appropriate for the various age groups from K-6 within the school.

Naturally, I said yes, and have since spent much of my time plotting through what I want to achieve, how I can implement some of my learnings from FutureSchools to this block and how to go about setting the students up to achieve the skills and conceptual understanding I want for them, and also to be able to transfer those skills and concepts to other disciplines. I very much will be working to incorporate flipping, whether it be in-flipping or out-flipping, as well as leveraging student interests such as Minecraft, and trying to shift the locus of control to my students, away from myself, as recommended by Gary Stager when he said during his closing presentation for the ClassTech conference, “Every time you have to engage in an educational transaction, ask if there is more they can do and less you can do to give your students more agency.”

It is a rather exciting time, and at the moment I feel a little bit like this guy:


So it is time to switch off the modem, and take my own advice and start Planning for Learning so that I can provide a draft of my program to my supervisor for feedback asap.

I think the hardest part is going to be remembering all of my students’ names when I only have the classes once or twice a week. Wish me luck!

FutureSchools ClassTech Conference Review. Day 2 Session 2 – Stop! It’s roundtable time!

I have to be honest upfront. I have very mixed feelings about this particular session. There were some positives, and I did learn more than a few things, but overall, I have to say that the organisation and planning for this was abysmal and that it needs to be very differently next year. I attended two round tables and a breakout session, and whilst I did make some notes and there was some learning going on, for me, overall, and in conversation with a number of other people, many people are in agreement with me, I felt it was a shambles and close to being a waste of time.

You may be thinking at this point that that sounds a bit harsh, and you would be correct, it does sound harsh. Unfortunately though, it is true. There were seventeen tables spread throughout a portion of the unused space on the expo floor, each clearly signed as to what number round table it was which allowed delegates to check the back of their the name badge in their lanyard and know which round table to go to for each of the three sessions.

The two round tables that I went to, and from conversations with others, most of the other round tables were the same, were heavily oversubscribed. Consequently, when I arrived at my first roundtable (table ten, we have technology, now what? Using iPads for older students struggling with literacy, with Greg O’Connor), even though it was definitely the table I was supposed to be at, I was three rows from the back and struggled to hear anything. The expo hall is a cavernous, concrete floored, steel-beamed shed, and noise bounces around. That, combined with the large number of discussions going on, with all of the presenters trying to speak up so everyone at their table could hear, the susurrations of movements as people moved around the floor all combined to make it hard to hear.

That would have been ok, if there wasn’t approximately thirty people crowded around the table, all trying to see what Greg was doing, meaning those at the back again, either missed out, or missed a lot of what was covered. A few tips I caught were that the ‘reader’ function on iPads/iPhones is also available as an extension on Chrome, produced by Evernote, called Clearly which removes distractions such as advertisements and menus, which for students with poor literacy can help them focus on what they need to be reading without the distractions of advertisements or sidebar menus.

Greg also pointed out that we need to consider the reading age, not just of our students, but of the texts and materials that we are providing or recommending. He listed some tools to help with this including Simple Wikipedia, which takes Wikipedia pages and simplifies the language used. As an example, see the two screenshots below.

This first screenshot is a portion of the regular Wikipedia page on Wormholes.


This next screenshot is the entire entry for wormholes on the Simple Wikipedia site.


Utilisation of Simple Wikipedia, which I had never heard of before, could be highly beneficial, especially for those students with low literacy levels, or English as a Second language, or even for students with no literacy issues in primary schools to help them with complicated concepts or ideas.

Another app/extension recommend was the TL;DR extension for Chrome, which summarises web pages into more manageable paragraph sized chunks. He also recommended utilising image searches where possible to help with vocabulary instruction, particularly for ESL students, as the research shows (and this theme also came up in Ian Jukes’ Presentation) that comprehension is increased when we pair images with text. There is also a function within Google Search which allows you to search based on the reading age of the content. I’ve included a screenshot of this below.


Clicking on the search tools button brings up the options based on country, time, reading level, or to clear filters. By selecting reading level, as I have, it then displays the percentage of sources against basic, intermediate or advanced reading level, and clicking on those levels then filters the results accordingly (As a side-note, I was surprised there were no entries against the advance option, given that I searched wormholes). Greg also said that leveraging the capabilities of Siri and predictive text in iOs devices can be useful.

After the first round table, it was off to table number two, Minecraft: utilising student interests to empower accessibility to curriculum with Heath Wild. Heath spoke about the incorporation of Minecraft, as a common student interest, to foster engagement in learning and that the logical nature of Minecraft (I’m still trying to work out how to use it, so I can’t the logical nature at the moment) appeals to, and captures the attention of many students on the Autism spectrum. Heath spoke about needing to have obvious, verbal countdowns when it was approaching time to finish up, due to the immersive nature of the application and the flow that it generated. Minecraft can also be utilised to teach numeracy skills, particularly the four basic operations, and place value, due to the constant size of the various blocks that are used, and the range of different coloured blocks that can be used to represent the different place values.

Heath said they use Paper, an iOs app to allow students to draw on their iPads and then took those drawings and created them within the Minecraft space as a method of allowing students to demonstrate their comprehension of texts as they could take screenshots of the worlds they created, which could be used for assessment purposes. Heath also uses Brushstroke, an app allowing photos to be manipulated to appear as if they have been painted, and has used this for art studies, including the famous Ned Kelly artwork by Nolan.

nolan ned kelly

Students recreated this artwork in Minecraft, and then discussed how it’s feel and emotion would have been changed if Nolan had painted it as occurring at a different time of the day. Students put their Minecraft screenshot into Brushstrokes, manipulated it, and then imported them into Diptic to create class collages.Epic Zen Garden was leveraged to help students manage their emotions and to have strategies for dealing with stress and change. This concept was then taken into Minecraft, where students were encouraged to create their own Zen gardens, places where they could ‘go’ to feel calm when they are stressed, upset or angry.

I was fortunate to snag a seat next to Heath for this particular round table, however, it, like the first one I was part of, was massively oversubscribed, and so many people were unable to hear Heath, especially those on the fringes, This was a massive negative to the whole experience, and the organisation structure of the round table session needs to be better dealt with for next year.

The final session was labelled as a ‘breakout’ rather than a round table, and was actually in one of the rooms upstairs, and so was far more conducive to hearing the speaker. It was titled 40 students, 40 devices, one classroom, one teacher. How can a School make it work? and was lead by Philip Linscott. Having never been to a conference before, I committed a rookie error when deciding which events to go to during the roundtable session, and didn’t look to see who was presenting or where they were from. If I had, I would have realised that the session would not be, as I thought, a talk on strategies for leveraging devices in larger classrooms, but was in fact a sales pitch. Philip was from Lightspeed Systems, a company providing content-control systems to educational institutions. I have to admit, that a lot of what he said was rather interesting, but that it was not at all what I was expecting. It was, ultimately, a sales pitch, one which I could easily have received if I visited the company’s stall in the expo floor. Again, a lot of what he said was interesting, from the point of view of the level of control and accessibility their systems could provide to teachers, but it was not what I was looking for.

I gained a lot from the roundtable session, not the least of which was to check who was presenting and where they were from so as to avoid the sales pitches, but I was disappointed at the seeming lack of organisation. All the round tables that I could see were oversubscribed, by two or three times the number of spots actually at the table, this combined with the din created by the combination of the number of voices, having to speak loud to be heard, and the echo-y nature of the expo hall made it difficult to hear. And many presenters either started early, or ran late, with the only indicator that time was up for each roundtable, a handheld bell that was rung by one of the organising staff members (in their delightful orange shirts!) as they walked around the expo floor…further adding to the noise levels. Anyone with noise sensitivities would have struggled. There is a large amount of space available in the area that Future Schools was booked. Even holding a series of the round tables in the hall/foyer of Bay eight at the venue would have helped, as the carpeted floor would have reduced the amount of noise being carried. There were other conference rooms that could have been utilised, some of them being capable of holding four or more roundtable sessions inside, spread out, in carpeted environments that would have helped reduce the din and create a more enjoyable experience for everyone.

That session then took us to the lunch break, where I spent some time chatting with teachers from other schools, checking out various exhibitors’ stalls and, of course, having lunch. Tomorrow’s article will cover the presentations from session three of the day, Transmedia storytelling for education and  Robotics across the curriculum.

As always, thank you for reading, and please leave a comment. I’d love to hear from anyone who was either at FutureSchools, and your thoughts and suggestions on the roundtable session and how to improve it, or from anyone who has been to a conference with something similar, how it was organised there and what lessons FutureSchools may be able to learn from that.

FutureSchools Expo – ClassTech conference review. Day One, Session One continued

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”
– George Bernard Shaw

My key takeaway from Richard Byrne’s talk was that EduTech is not as scary as it seems, but that you need to dive in and test it out for yourself, and this sentiment flowed nicely into the next speakers presentation. Michael Beilharz, of Knox Grammar School, spoke under the presentation title Games for a creative curriculum, which was a presentation about how he has utilised Minecraft effectively in classrooms and the outcomes from this in regards to learning and engagement as well as the change in the organisation structures of group assignment tasks. This was a talk that I was excited about, having utilised Minecraft whilst on my internship, admittedly in a rather superficial way, to test out the impacts it would have on student engagement.

Michael related how he utilised Minecraft to teach his students about the Australian gold rush as part of a history course. Through the creation of an epoch-accurate replica of Bendigo within the Minecraft world, students were challenged to explore the world and build a goldmine. This required research about the tools available, and incorporated mathematics, geography, science and literacy skills.

Michael showed us two videos. The first video was the teaser video that was shown to the students prior to the learning to whet their appetite and generate some interest, and is available on Michael’s YouTube channel here. The second video that we were shown was a video of some of the student’s products, also available on Michael’s YouTube channel, Whilst showing us a video of what the Minecraft goldrush world looked like, Michael pointed out that we need to be willing to take risks, as teachers. We need to be able to ground our risks in pedagogical value, to justify their value to the learning process, and to the supervisory personnel that invariably want to know why we’re trying ‘that crazy new tech stuff.’

Michael pointed out, via a quote from Sir Ken Robinson that “Technology is not technology is it was invented before you were born,” a sentiment which seems to be often forgotten when teachers lay down methods of completing presentations – speeches, written compositions, posters etc. We need to encourage our students to be creative and take risks when they present the evidence of their learning, because just because speeches, written compositions etc work as methods of evidence of learning, does not mean that they are the best options, or are providing students with a skill that they will need. Encourage them to make a video as part of their evidence of learning, it could be a news report, a documentary-style video, or a skit, but it utilises other skillsets and will challenge them to create something that puts their understanding of the concept into a new application, which will help deepen their understanding and apply it to other disciplines.

Michael went on to talk about a range of functions available to create a safe environment within Minecraft, including the use of Bucket Servers which allow you to set up whitelists of approved users within a server to monitor conversations and deal with griefing more effectively, and how to set up zones within a world that allow students to view other and interact with other group’s zones, but not to be destructive. This allows groups to collaborate and share ideas, but forces groups to do their own work to put ideas into action, and prevents sabotaging of other groups efforts.

It is highly important, when looking to implement Minecraft as a teaching tool, to provide professional development opportunities to staff members, to allow them to explore the Minecraft world for themselves so that they are able to help their students, and this can be rather amusing to watch and listen to, as is demonstrated in this video, where a group of teachers are let loose inside the goldrush Minecraft world for the first time, with many of them never having played minecraft at all. If we weren’t told that it was a group of teacher, I would have assumed it was some students sharing the world with some friends.

Minecraft as a learning tool also provides opportunities for interscholastic collaboration. A group of students within Michael’s class were actually completing a different learning task within Minecraft, collaborating with students based in the US, which then brought about a different learning curve, inculding dealing with time differences, cultural differences such as language (e.g. year 5 as opposed to 5th grade), and units of measurement.

Michael found that Minecraft as learning tool promoted a lot of core life skills, including communication, conflict resolution, critical thinking, problem solving processes and collaborative skills. All of these are skill sets that will assist students across a multitude of disciplines as they grow.

Returning to professional development for a moment, MIchael snuck in a Star Trek reference (whether it was deliberate or not, I don’t know), when he said that designing learning experiences through Minecraft should based on the PRIME Directive: Problem, Research, Investigate, Make, Evaluate. The problem that students are to approach needs to be genuine and real, it should encourage research skills to determine what is known, what isn’t known etc, encourage investigation of the phenomenon to fill in knowledge and skill set gaps, provide an opportunity to make something that provides an authentic opportunity to demonstrate their new knowledge and understanding in a creative way, and then an opportunity to evaluate their production.

Minecraft as a learning tool is not just about building or making objects. Students should be required to justify decisions and this can be done through a portfolio approach instead of the traditional written report. There is nothing stopping students from screencasting a tour of their production, as these students have done, which affords them the opportunity to explain their thinking and reasoning behind their design decisions.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve attempted to use Minecraft as a learning tool in the past, once. It was excellent as far as the engagement side of things went, but it was done rather superficially, as a homework task, where students had to build a rocket ship. I feel much more confident in being able to utilise Minecraft in a learning situation now, than I did before, other than my own ability to actually build the environment in which my students would be learning, however, that is nothing that a lot of practice would not fix, or engagement of students with sufficient Minecraft skills.

That is all for session one, on day one of the ClassTech stream of the FutureSchools expo. Session two will be covered in the next post, and I will be endeavouring to make it a little shorter.