“Opportunities are like sunrises. If you wait too long, you miss them.”
– Attributed to William Arthur Ward

A new, exciting and potentially highly beneficial opportunity came to my attention recently. There is a research project that was trialed in some Central Coast high schools last year, that is about to trialed in some Central Coast primary schools. A presentation detailing the project was given today by the research coordinator, and it sounds like an excellent opportunity.

The project is called Central Coast Cloud School, and is aimed towards disengaged Stage Three students, in an attempt to reengage those students in mathematics and/or science and/or HSIE through flipped learning and game inspired learning. I am highly interested in submitting an Expression of Interest for one of the three teacher positions for this project, which is anticipated to consist of two days of intense professional development, five weeks of online classes and presumably some debrief and reflection time afterwards.

My only concern is that my proverbial plate is full enough, and I am not sure that I can put anything on my plate. That said, when I described the opportunity and what it involved to my wife, she was encouraging of me putting an application in. The project takes what I am doing in my current position a step further than what I had planned to attempt for this year, it ties in directly with my professional development plan, and it potentially will assist in my eventual academic career by providing me with experience in a funded educational research project.

I am very much leaning towards submitting an application, and am currently attempting to determine what competing time sinks I could divest myself of, to afford me with the time needed to participate in this project.

As always, thank you for reading. I would be interested to hear what process you go through to determine which activities you can disengage with to free up time to engage with alternative activities.

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 ClassTech Conference Review. Day 2 Session 1 – Game Inspired Learning and Augmented Reality

“Minecraft is not a game, it’s a toy.”
Bron Stuckey

My alarm went off at 5.30am Tuesday morning, and I rolled out of bed, ready for the ninety minute train ride back down to the Australian Technology Park in  Sydney. The structure of day two was slightly different. Session one was the same, with two presentations followed by a morning tea break. The session between morning tea and lunch, however, would consist of all the conference streams coming out from their conferences and taking part in a series of roundtables. Delegates had seventeen different roundtables to choose from, across three different thirty minutes slots. The round tables were followed by the lunch break, which led into session three consisting of two more presentations, the afternoon tea break, and then the final presentation of the conference.

After a welcome back for day from chairperson Sue Waters, the day began with the keynote presentation by Bron Stuckey titled Game Inspired Learning – how it offers us a chance to change the paradigm. Game inspired learning is a concept that I have heard discussed, under the banner of ‘gamification’ and I was curious to hear what it was all about, in more depth and from someone who has put the concept into practice.

Bron was very quick to break Game Infusions Learning down into three areas; game design, game-based and game inspired learning and to discuss the subtle difference between the three areas. Bron listed two distinct points for each of the types of game infusion learning.

Game design is about engagement through design, wherein students are involved in designing games as part of the curriculum. Game based learning is about engagement through game play, where games are brought into the curriculum. Game inspired learning, often termed gamification is about engagement that is guided by elements of, or as Bron termed them, ‘atoms’ of gaming being brought into the learning structures, where a gameful approach to the curriculum is mapped out.

Bron provided some examples of applying ‘game atoms’ (game-inspired learning) to non-game situations, which you can see below.Untitled

Bron also provided some examples of Game based learning, where game attributes are brought into the curriculum. Two of the examples Bron mentioned were Murder Under the Microscope and Atlantis Remixed, both of which feature a variety of game attributes (including narratives, avatars, levelling, economy, cascading information, feedback, prizes/badges/points, virtual goods, friending) and are game inspired ways of learning curriculum concepts and skills.

There were a number of other game inspired platforms mentioned, including Duolingo, Race to the White House, Undergrad Life run by the Rochester Institute of Technology, a degree that has been structured using game-inspired principles run by Concordia university, a game-inspired professional development platform and 3D GameLab. Bron also stressed that being game-inspired is not necessarily synonymous with being digital. If game attributes are applied to a learning context, then it does not matter whether it is being done in the digital environment, or in the real environment.

Bron then moved onto the question that I suspect most people were wanting the answer, or at least some insight, to; how to get started. Bron listed four signals types that may indicate a benefit from utilising a game infusion approach, which you can see below.


If any of those four signals are present, then utilising game-design, game-inspired or game-based learning may be a viable and productive option. There are, of course, some potential pitfalls to be aware of. At the end of the day, you are not building an actual game, you are creating a learning environment with some atoms or attributes of gaming, so it does not need to look and feel like a game necessarily. A few strategies that Bron has noticed increase the chances of successfully implementing game-inspired learning being a gamer yourself (I have that box ticked), leveraging your students current knowledge as to what they like in a game, and utilising platforms such as 3D GameLab to help build the learning structure.

My key learning from hearing Bron speak was that game inspired learning as not as daunting is it sounded or felt, and that in many ways, many of us are likely already utilising some elements of gaming in much of our pedagogical techniques.

“You don’t start the creation of a new amazing building with a tool. You start with a design. So why on earth would you start the creation of an amazing learning experience with an app?”
Paul Hamilton

Following on from Bron, was Paul Hamilton, with a presentation titled Augmented Reality in Education. I’d had no experience at all with AR prior to hearing Paul talk, but what he showed me left me somewhat curious. I think that AR holds some potential, but that you would need a significant amount of professional development to effectively implement it.

Paul was quick to differentiate AR and VR from each other. Where VR is  immersion in a different, a virtual world, AR is augmenting what we see, by adding an additional layer over the top. Paul showed us an example of what this can look like, via a video, which I have found on youtube and you can see below.

Afterwards, Paul discussed his first efforts to utilise AR, and that it was a complete flop. It had no impact because the lesson had been designed around the tool – the iPad and AR, rather than around the learning goal, and that Paul indicated that was something of a Eureka moment for him. Paul believes that we, as teachers, are creators and designers of learning and that when we design a learning experience around an app, that we negate all of our training.

Paul indicated that he also utilises QR codes as part of the AR process as these are easier for students to utilise than hyperlinks written on a board, but that anecdotal evidence indicates greater learning retention and application from utilising the AR as opposed to the QR codes. Paul also listed some of the apps that he recommends using for AR plannign and programming, including Aurasma, Daqri, Layar and Blippar, as well as plugged his book, Augmented Reality in Education, which is available, free, in the iBookstore.

The biggest key to success, according to Paul, was having a strong and genuine connection between the object of learning and the trigger. Paul believes that this is critical to a successful implementation of AR in education, and it does make sense. We say that learning must be genuine and authentic and significant to learners, and it is logical to apply this same thinking to the utilisation of any technologies in an educational setting.

The next article will cover the Breakout and Round table sessions, which went until lunch, and maybe some observations from the expo itself.

Thank you for reading, and as always, please leave a comment. I’d particularly love to hear if anyone has any experience with AR and/or Minecraft in the classroom.

FutureSchools ClassTech Conference Wrap Up – Day 1 Session 2

“Moving to BYOD as a financial choice, is a financial choice for the school, not the parents.”
-Simon Crook

At the end of session one, I was genuinely excited to go back home and test out some of the ideas that had been discussed, so knowing that Simon Crook was the first speaker for session two, with the presentation title BYOD, mobile devices and apps in K-12 schools had me champing at the bit to get back into the venue.

Simon started out by saying something that I’ve observed, that many implementations of BYOD, bring your own device, are in actual fact, implementations of BYODD, or bring your own designated device. Schools either give a list of acceptable devices, sometimes with one device listed, sometimes with multiple devices listed, or they give a list of minimum specifications that need to be met for the device to be acceptable. This came about due to the end of funding for the DER (Digital Education Revolution) program, and saw schools wanting to continue with the use of devices, but without the funds to do so. The choice to move to a BYO program is therefore a financial choice. A financial choice for the schools, that is, not the parents as Simon pointed out. Simon also discussed that the move to a BYO program as a drive for pedagogical change is a contentious factor for some people.

Simon posed the question to the audience “is BYOD for everyone?” Of course the answer is not quite as simple or straightforward as a yes or a no, but is a combination thereof. BYO programs are not for everyone if the teachers within a school are not ready for it. Teachers need significant professional development and support to move to a BYO program to facilitate high quality teaching in a different pedagogical framework and utilising a different infrastructure. It’s not enough to simply move everyone to devices, they need to be used appropriately. I’ve written previously about the SAMR model and its application for BYO programs and believe that it plays a significant factor in genuine use of devices in classrooms.

At the very least, Simon pointed out, teachers need to have devices of their own to utilise. I’ve known a school who rolled out a device to each teacher for twelve months to use as they were able to, with support, in the classroom before opening up the door to BYO programs. Only one class went ahead with a BYO program, and that teacher was highly engaged with using the provided device and worked to learn how to gain best results from the BYO program.

Three other questions were listed that need to be asked, to determine if a school is ready for a BYO program: Are the students ready (do they respect devices, will they have access to devices, do they know how to use the devices); Are families ready (has there been an ongoing dialogue with the community about the how, why and when BYO will be implemented, are parents supportive, are all or most parents able to provide a device) and finally is the infrastructure ready (sufficient coverage, sufficient density, cloud or physical storage, power/charging options, secure storage for devices when not in use etc). If you are wanting to know more about the coverage vs density/capacity distinction, I recommend reading pages two and three of this article on the Aerohive website.

“Using technology in school should be about using it to complement the already excellent pedagogy going on, not about the ‘keeper of the kingdom’ saying no to ‘protect’ the school systems. The pedagogical needs should inform the IT decisions, not the other way around.”
-Simon Crook

Buy in from the school leadership is critical, as those schools where the leadership is on board and directs the IT team to find the solution often see more success than those schools where the leadership are ambivalent and simply ask the IT team if it is doable. There are factors to be considered, such as coverage v capacity as previously mentioned, and a genuine need to consider the security and protection of the students from undesirable content on the internet, but it needs to be considered intelligently, rather than simply whitewashing the internet en masse. Additionally, part of the conversation should be about teaching digital citizenship, which may form part of the conversation around Communicating and interacting for health and well being  and  Contributing to healthy and active communities both of which are part of the Australian PDHPE curriculum, and which a variety of age targeted resources are available on the Cybersmart website.

Following on from this was the discussion of ‘equity’ which can often be a cause for consternation around BYO programs. Simon made his position clear – equity is not about the lowest common denominator, it is not about making one software suite dominant and that cloud computing is the way to go. Simon indicated that decisions about hardware and software are going to vary from family to family and that where possible, utilising cloud-based storage would facilitate engagement as it would remove the problems of “I forgot my flash drive” or the issues of “I don’t think that’s the right version, there’s a newer one on my computer at home” that teachers often hear, from both students and colleagues.

Ultimately, BYO programs are for everyone. Prices on the hardware continue to drop, and there are more and more options for those families who are price-point sensitive. The critical thing to remember, however, is that a dialogue needs to be opened up, early in the thinking about BYO programs to address concerns from parents, students and teachers, and that the dialogue needs to be ongoing.

If you are curious about implementing BYOD, there are a growing number of schools who have implemented it, and many of these schools are open to visitors to find out more about what it looks like in practice. Some online resources that Simon provided include the NSW DEC website BYOD Sandpit and the Sydney Boys High BYOD page.

We had a few minutes after Simon finished speaking to stand and stretch, while the second speaker for session two, Matt Richards, set himself up to present Makerspaces.

Matt Richards spoke about the phenomenon known as “Makerspaces” which are student centered spaces where students are able to utilise technology in various forms to create objects. Matt talked about how he took a disused space in his school and transformed it into a student-owned space through allowing groups of students to paint the walls with differing images, and the leveraging of the tech-savvy students who ordinarily hide away as mentors for others wanting to learn more about technology. His aim, he said, was “…to create a space where kids learn how stuff works.”

Makerspaces doe not require large amounts of cash to get started, and Matt related how he started simply with a number of old defunct computers, and the students were dismantling them and attempting to repair them and get them to work again. These achievements generated confidence and a buzz of accomplishment in the room which led to an increase in student self-efficacy as they experienced success, even if it was in the creation of ‘useless devices’ such as the one shown below.

A Useless Device. Image from geek.com

Beyond utilising defunct computers, Matt spoke about a range of low-priced resources including Goldieblox,Osmo, Littlebits, Raspberry Pi and Unity amongst a range of small kit computers. Matt said that the Makerspace movement changes teachers roles from content leaders, to relationship facilitators.

Matt’s final point was significant, and I believe ties his, Simon Crook’s and Richard Byrne’s talks together. “We need to evolve learning spaces from teacher-centric to student-centric, and getting there is going to see different paths taken for different schools.” This sentiment can be applied to BYO programs, as well as game inspired learning.

That is the end of day one, session two from my FutureSchools ClassTech wrap up. The next article will include the brief lunchtime session with Richard Byrne and Sue Waters which took place in the expo hall, as well as session three of the ClassTech conference Stream, covering 3D printing and the Connected Classroom