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 Day 1 Session 4 Review

“The smart phones and tablets that our students have now are the most primitive technology they will ever use.”
 Ian Jukes

The fourth and final session of the day began at 4pm, after the mid-afternoon break, and saw Ian Jukes speaking under the presentation title Strategies for teaching digital learners in today’s classrooms. I was looking forward to this, as based on the title, I was expecting some strategies for engaging students who were otherwise disengaged. I found Ian’s talk to be like a whirlwind; fast and furious with lots to be aware of and take in.

Ian started off by commenting that student expectations about learning are fundamentally changing the way in which we teach. There was little elucidation as to what, exactly, he meant by this, but it seems, intuitively, to be reasonably accurate when you take a cursory look at the way in which teachers are adopting, piecemeal, various technologies and new pedagogical techniques. Ian went on to comment that children are currently maturing, physically, at an earlier age, but that neurologically, they are maturing differently to how we, or any previous generation matured due to the constant digital bombardment to which children are now subjected, and that occurs mainly outside the school context.

My generation (according to this article, as a 1983 baby, I’m the tail end of Generation X, or The Baby Bust generation) and those that came before me, were textual learners, wherein we learnt from the text,whether it be on the blackboard, the textbook or our own writing. Any images used in the text, were used to compliment and provide some additional information or context to the information in the text. Those born since 2000 have grown up in an age where they are constantly bombarded by digital and visual stimuli, whether it be advertisements on tv, the internet, electronic signboards at sporting events or in the cities. These advertisements, being designed by marketers to capture attention and deliver a short and sharp message, are highly visual, with limited text. Ian posits, and I’ve read articles elsewhere to support the claim, that this has resulted in the brains of today’s students being wired differently; where they seek the bulk of the information or learning from the visual communication, and only then look to the text to get some complementary information.

This has an impact on teaching practices, wherein teachers now need to ‘rewire’ their pedagogical techniques to account for this. A Google search using the terms Literacy crisis yields over sixty-nine million hits, with some of the excerpts seeming to echo the shift from textual to visual, but without the realisation of what has occurred. Some of these excerpts include:

  • Literacy is not just a problem in Houston where four out of 10 ninth-graders in HISD struggle with reading…
  • Britain is facing a literacy crisis which will leave nearly 1.5 million 11-year-olds unable to read properly by 2025.
  • Until the cycle of low literacy is broken, the cycle of poverty will remain unbroken. The Facts. 1 in 5 Houston adults is functionally illiterate…
  • In Houston, a city known for its brilliant doctors and energy executives, adults are waiting in line for classes that teach basic literacy skills…

What the search results tell us is that as a society, we are yet to recognise the shift in our children’s communication preference, or understand why it has occurred. Ian talked about how the digital generation find it natural to communicate visually through images, as seen with the explosion of image-driven social media such as Facebook, tumblr, flickr, and snapchat, amongst others, and that this change is what is driving the shift to visual expression, away from textual expression. From this, and I must point out that this is my inference, not what Ian said, the shift to preferencing visual communication over textual may be a partial explanation for the apparent ‘literacy crisis.’


This shift is also seen in the way in which the generations read. Mine, and those before me, traditionally read, and learned to read, in what is termed a z-pattern whilst the digital generation it seems are reading in what is termed an f-pattern. This has significant connotations for teachers when they are creating lesson plans and setting texts for reading etc, as the f-pattern appears to be more conducive to skimming, which Ian commented is fast “…becoming the new normal.”

Ian provided us with some strategies for leveraging this knowledge. To get students to read the full text, he said, get a real image (a real photo, not a clipart or a stock photo) and put it in the bottom right-hand corner, and rotate it so that it ‘slingshots’ the reader back to the top of the information. This is a strategy commonly utilised in advertisements, particularly for tobacco or alcohol, where they are required to put disclaimers in the advertising. These disclaimers often appear in the bottom left or right-hand corner, above or next to which is an image that ‘slingshots’ you back to the top of the ad, wherein you’ll again be exposed to the brand name, brand logo, or brand slogan.

This can be seen in the advertisement below, where the brand name is in the middle of the image with the disclaimer, consisting of two words (live responsibly) is in small font in the bottom left-hand corner. A much larger block of text, in a large-size font sits in the right hand corner, to which the western-eye, (being that we read left to right) eye is naturally drawn, above which the rippling water catches and draws the eye in, taking you back to the image in the centre. I suspect that in those countries where reading is done right to left, that the contents of the bottom corners would be switched.


Ian then spoke about the benefits of using serif fonts, as the small embellishments on serif fonts are an unconscious prompt to continue reading, and then spoke about social media being to this generation what cigarettes were to his generation; a social tool that garnered you a level of acceptance by being seen to partake.

Ian also talked about the criticism that is often leveled against the digital generation around their need for instant gratification (as has been discussed in any number of locations on the internet such as here, here, here and here) and said that that claim is essentially nonsensical. I was a bit surprised by his casual dismissal of this, however, when he explained what he meant, it made perfect sense, as I’ve felt the same way when playing computer games.

Ian stated that gamers’ are required to make a decision every half to one second and are punished or rewarded for those choices every seven to ten seconds. Anecdotally, as a gamer on various platforms and of a range of different genres, this sounds about right. This is the immediacy of reward and punishment – the instant gratification/punishment system. But note that there is also a significant amount of choice involved.The drop in gaming platform prices has resulted in many children owning their own gaming platform, whether it be console, PC, or mobile device. Many of these games offer instant gratification or rewards for doing certain things, and you gain trophies/points/upgrades and feedback about the achievement along the way. Gaming is certainly a vehicle for instant gratification. I currently own an Xbox 360 and love seeing the little icon pop up when I hit an ‘achievement’ in a game. Additionally, as someone who plays Bioware’s Star Wars: The Old Republic, I love the instant nature of, again, seeing the icon pop up that I’ve hit an achievement, or leveled up – instant gratification.

Gaming also encourages delayed gratification and effort. One of the games I engage with is EA Sports FIFA, a football/soccer game. To win the various trophies and competitions within a football/soccer season takes a significant investment of time and effort, to not only play the individual matches, but to make choices about manage the team. It also requires constant decisions-making, for which I am instantly punished or rewarded (do I pass the ball this way or that, shoot or not shoot at goal, passes intercepted, or completed, shots made or saved etc). Playing Star Wars: The Old Republic also requires a massive investment in time and effort to work my way around the various worlds, complete individual missions, solve puzzles, find objects, and collaborate with other players to take on large-scale missions and high-level enemies.

All of this results in, over time, me gaining access to the highest level abilities, armour, weapons and missions. It provides delayed gratification, and finally getting to the highest level, or defeating a certain enemy that you’ve been struggling against over a period of time, and have attempted to defeat multiple times as you increase your abilities provides a huge sense of satisfaction, at finally after all this time and the choices made around tactics/weapons/abilities etc finally pay off.

So whilst yes, gaming does provide instant gratification, it also encourages effort and delayed gratification (amongst a range of other benefits, a topic which itself has been the source of much discussion. You can read one paper for gaming here) and as such digital learners are capable of, and display, delayed reward acceptance. The other aspect of gaming that is vastly different to current education systems is the feedback. Feedback in gaming is an ongoing affair, with continual feedback coming from the game as a result of choices that you make as a player. Currently, in education systems, feedback might consist of a tick, a stamp and/or a sticker in the student’s workbook, maybe a comment, maybe even a few sentences, and then the half-yearly and end of year school reports. It has been my experience, both as a student, and yes, I’ll own up to being guilty of this, as a teacher, that feedback is not often ongoing in a genuine and constructive manner, unless it is negative. A two-way dialogue is rarely engaged in, it seems.

Ian closed his presentation with a few final thoughts that tied everything together. He pointed out that students, outside of the school environment, are largely engaged and in charge of their own learning. Students then have to come to school where they have no control of influence over their learning, and that often when they ask, quite genuinely, “why do I need to know this?” the answer is “because it’s on the test,” which only serves to further disengage them. Ian pointed out that “…digital learners are highly developed critical thinking, social people and are driven learners, it is just that they are these things in ways different to that which is currently recognised and accepted,” which alludes back to his point about the need to ‘rewire’ our pedagogical techniques and teaching practices..

Ian’s final thought was a question, which struck me as being quite a meaningful, insightful challenge to the conference delegates: “If we keep trying to force students to do what we want them to do do, when it does not work, who has the learning problem?”

I’ll stop here, as this has been a much longer article than I anticipated. My next article will be around the first session of Day two of the FutureSchools ClassTech conference.

As always, thank you for reading, and please, leave a comment with your thoughts on the article.

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

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.

Planning for Learning Part Two

“He who fails to plan, is planning to fail” – Winston Churchill

First of all, I would like to apologise for such a large gap between posts. This last few months has been very hectic with the conclusion of my Honours research project, and the process of conducting the data analysis and writing my dissertation. It has now been submitted, and I am now awaiting the results to come back from the examiners, which I am hopeful of receiving prior to Christmas. I am feeling quietly confident about getting a strong result, and have plans for further research in mind already.

In my previous blog, Planning for Learning Part 1, I wrote about the first aspect of the Teaching Program, which is the Vision, encompassing the Teaching Philosophy, the Situation Analysis and the Explanation of Special Programs that are running in the class. This post will be focusing on the second component of the Teaching Program, which is the Planning segment, made up of the following sections:

  1. Overview of Curriculum
  2. Timetable
  3. Scope and Sequences
  4. Daybook / Weekly Plan

This post will work through what each of these consists of, how to create them, and why they are a vital part of the Teaching Program.

1. Overview of Curriculum

The Overview of Curriculum provides an opportunity to plan holistically, mapping out when outcomes will be covered within each KLA across the two years and linking the KLAs together conceptually, creating integrated units. When complete, you have a visual planning map, that enables anyone can pick up and utilise, either in its original form, or modified to suit the specific context.

What this looks like will depend on how you plan, and how you think, in as far as linking the concepts together. Below is an example of what one might look like, showing a portion of a Stage Three Overview of Curriculum.

overview of curric

2. Timetable

The timetable is simply your time-to-teach, or when you plan to teach what, but will include Release from Face to Face (RFF), scripture, assemblies, sport etc. What your timetable looks like will vary according to your school’s timetabling processes, priorities and the allocation of time to Sport, Physical Education, RFF, Library times etc.

This is an example of what it might look like:


The timetable will vary from school to school, according to how time is allocated to stage or whole-school sport, assemblies, scripture and other school specific programs, such as the fitness program you can see in this example. This is also where the utilisation of integrated units allows for multiple concepts/skills to be examined in the classroom, covering the required syllabus content in a significant way, allowing for transferal of skills and conceptual knowledge across learning and life domains.

3. Scope and Sequence

The scope and sequence for any KLA or unit of work will be utilised, usually, in one of two ways. The first will map out when skills, concepts and knowledge will be covered in the learning across a period of time, usually a term, as can be seen in the below example.

Scope and Seq

You can see the specific outcomes that are being drawn upon from the NSW Science and Technology syllabus (Board of Studies NSW, 2012), as well as the English outcomes that are being focused on each week for this unit. There is a key idea that drives the learning for the week, and then some suggested activities to provide a starting point. The numbers at the start of suggested activities are a reference to which piece of content that activity conforms to from the Science and Technology syllabus. This method of implementing a scope and sequence provides a Launchpad for the week, with the central focus and a suggested activity, leaving it to the teacher to make a professional judgement as to how they provide the learning for their class, based on their specific context.

The other form that is commonly used looks something like the below sample from a Stage Three Program. It utilises Bloom’s Taxonomy (Krathwohl, 2002; Tarlinton, 2003) to guide the framing of tasks across the KLAs or an integrated unit. You can see in this example that for the English KLA, based on a unit around social interactions and communication, the specific syllabus outcomes that will be targeted through the learning, the literacy concepts that are being incorporated, and the tasks that will be used to help facilitate learning across the different levels of thinking.

I have also seen this form of scope and sequence combined with Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences (Gardner & Hatch, 1989) to form a learning matrix. Anecdotally, I have seen this labelled as a Pirozzo Unit, named after Ralph Pirozzo from Promoting Learning International, however I must note that it is not a structure I have much familiarity with, though I can see how it has some potential to be useful.

scope 2

4. Daybook / Weekly Plan

The details of how a Teachers’ Daybook or Weekly Plan is implemented vary almost as much as the weather and with similar levels of vigorous discussion as to the benefits and disadvantages of various formats and structures. There are advocates and critics for every form of this process that I have come across in my short time in the profession. I am going to work with the assumption that most teachers are familiar with the standard diary format (which in itself contains significant variation depending on who you talk to). Personally, I believe a combination of different methods is the better way to go, as this allows you to cover the macro (school or stage wide events, professional development events etc.) with the micro (specific session objectives, materials required etc.).

The macro events should be addressed in a Teacher’s Planning Diary or calendar to allow for an overview of events, however the specific day to day learning activities and goals can be tracked in a fashion similar to the below planner.


This is a fairly simple planner and is quite versatile. Across the top row you can input some basic details including the term, the week number and the core outcome being targeted that week. The next row specifies the key concept/skill/idea being examined and may include both a long and short-form.

The remainder of the planner outlines the specifics of what is being done in such a way that it is succinct, but any teacher could walk into the class and take over from where you have left off. You will note in this screenshot that the columns are labelled not by day, but by the session number. This allows for the unpredictability and fluidity required of teachers due to disruptions. It is designed to be printed out and as each session is delivered, dated and signed to indicate that the specific session has been covered. This allow for disruptions as you are then able to work through the sessions, doubling them up, combining them or making other alterations as required due to interruptions.

This particular screenshot is from an English day-book, and is broken down into three different components; however the specific layout of the planner can be altered to suit the specific context. You can see, however, that the descriptions are quite brief, and that there is a liberal use of abbreviations in order to save space.

I have seen variations of this that include an equipment/materials list of either the week as a whole, or on a session by session basis, as well as an extra row that breaks down the overarching goal for the week into its constituent components, in this case, for reading, writing and spelling. This format lends itself well to Integrated Units of work, due to the nature of the layout.

This is of course only one of many options, and I would be very interested to hear what other formats people are using to help plan their teaching and their students’ learning.

The previous article in this series is available here.
The next article in this series is available here.

Reference List

Board of Studies NSW. (2012). Science K-10 Syllabus Volume 1: Science and Technology K-6 (Vol. 1). Sydney, NSW, Australia: Board of Studies NSW,.

Gardner, H., & Hatch, T. (1989). Multiple Intelligences Go to School: Educational Implications of the Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Educational Researcher, 18(8), 4-10. doi: 10.2307/1176460

Krathwohl, D. R. (2002). A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy: An Overview. Theory into Practice, 41(4), 212-218.

Tarlinton, D. (2003). Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy. Powerpoint presentation. Unpublished.

The SAMR model part two

In the last post, I wrote about the SAMR model, and how I’ve understood it so far, having only just discovered it myself earlier this year. If it is the first time you’ve heard of it, I hope that it made sense, and that it has inspired you to go and research authentic technology integration.

By way of a brief recap, the SAMR model is a way of thinking about the use of technology in the classroom that breaks technology use into four categories; substitution, augmentation, modification and redefinition. Previously, I wrote about the first two categories, and this post will complete the examination of the SAMR model.

The third category in the SAMR model is modification and it is the first of, continuing the Bloom’s Taxonomy analogy from the previous post, the higher order [technology uses], in the SAMR model. Modification allows for significant task redesign, such as recording a student’s presentation on a student’s iPad, and then using the playback of the recording to assist feedback delivery, providing the ability for the student to see themselves and see specific aspects that you are talking about. This use of technology, the iPad recording, modifies a typical teacher task, providing feedback, transforming the quality of the feedback and the way the students are able to process the feedback.

The use of technology in this way is the first where there is any real benefit to the students. Prior to modification, there has been, essentially, no change in pedagogy. All you have done is made things easier for the students. Modification can change your pedagogy, and can improve the students learning outcomes.
At the pinnacle of the transformation process, is redefinition, which is using technology to redefine the way a task is completed, in a new and previously not achievable method.

The example I would offer of redefinition is the way that my CT has been using iPads to redefine mathematics teaching. A traditional lesson involves some chalk-and-talk, some modelling, some independent work, and sessions of practicing with varying levels of achievement within a topic, followed by a summative assessment. It might be a week before you get a chance to mark it, identify that student x, though s/he seemed to get it, in fact, didn’t, but you’ve moved on to a new topic, and it’s too hard to go back.

The way that he/we are using the iPads redefines the task of maths teaching and learning. We utilise iTunes U to push out content to the students, including an overview of the topic, the learning goals and how the learning goals will be achieved. The content includes a video which contains the explicit teaching, which is made available for the students to watch back as often as they need. We either work through the video as a class, or deliver the explicit teaching through chalk and talk. The students then work through their Mathletics play list, and this is where we reap the real benefits, I believe.

The students complete two to four sets of ten-question activity, generated by Mathletics. As the students complete each set of activities, we are able to see their results populate, live, and then with a simple click, Mathletics provides us with groupings of <50%, 50-74%, 75-84% and 85%+. We demand mastery and Mathletics provides feedback to the students in terms of their results by way of showing not just the results at the end of the activity, but also allowing students to click on a question which will allow them to see the question, their answer and the correct answer. Students also see a bar next to the activity on the topic screen, which will either be red, blue, gold with “Good Work” or gold with “Perfect” on it, and the students want the Gold bar with perfect.

We use these live groupings to be able to identify those students who are struggling with the skills, and can straight away either work with them individually, or conduct small group sessions as needed to address the skill deficiencies and ensure deep understanding.

Technology is a great tool to have, but that is all that it is, a tool. Without an understanding of how to leverage its potential to change the pedagogy and redefine tasks to maximise student’s learning outcomes, the digital education revolution, whether its funded by governments or parents, will falter and stagnate, as a result of same old same old with more expensive tools.

Thank you for reading, and please leave some feedback and share amongst your PLN.

Why do you teach?

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”
– Attributed to William Arthur Ward

First of all, I apologise for being tardy with getting this blog entry up far, far later than I said I would. I spent the second week of the school holidays at a football (soccer) tournament as a referee coach, mentoring and coaching young referees, and as much fun as it was, I came home on the Saturday before Term started, and was asleep by 8.30 that night, and didn’t wake until 10 the next morning. Then it was headlong into my Internship in a Year 5/6 class. This coming week is my third week, and I absolutely love it so far. I’ve got an excellent CT (classroom teacher), who is incredibly supportive and challenges me to justify what I want to do in a lesson, not to discourage me, but to help me focus on what the specific purpose of that lesson is.

Moving along.

As you read this post, I’d like you to consider why it is you teach. What makes you get up every morning, get to school at 7 am for a 9 am start, and leave the grounds at 5 pm, when the students all left at 3 pm? For what reason do you do this?

I promised last time that I would post my teaching philosophy, which was partly about making myself accountable for actually writing it, and partly about opening up dialogue on this topic. We were told that we had to write a teaching philosophy for our internship portfolio for university, and that it should reflect why we teach and what we believe about teaching, but beyond that, there was no guidance. I have never seen any practicing teacher’s philosophy, and so had no benchmark or starting point and so asked my CT about his. This led to a long conversation about the purpose of a teaching philosophy how to write it, how to structure it, and what it should be about.

From that conversation came the realisation that it is an incredibly personal document, that should be revisited regularly (my CT said he goes back to his at the beginning of each year) as our lives, and therefore our reasons for teaching, change regularly.  I have adopted the same structure for my teaching philosophy as that used by my CT as it makes sense, and helps to make it a real document to me, as opposed to a useless of piece of academia, submitted for an assignment and then consigned to the dustbin.

It is based on three questions, which form the document structure. The first section is headed “Why” and is an answer to the question “why do I teach?” The second is informed by the first, and is headed “How” and outlines how I will teach. The third section, “What” is what I will teach, and is mandated by the syllabus documents we are all required to work within.

I thought I knew why I teach. However, when I sat down to write my philosophy, I found myself writing a series of clichés such as “I like working with children, all children should have the opportunity to succeed, I want to make a difference in the world” etc. Although I do agree with those statements, they are not what compels me to teach, and makes me excited to be going down this career path and they felt hollow when I put them on paper. I knew inside myself what the real reason for my desire to teach was, but have always felt that it was not right/rigorous/academic enough, and so have always shied away from using it on those occasions when the question of why I want to teach comes up.

When I made that comment to my CT, he nodded and said that that is the reason why it’s a personal teaching philosophy, and not an academic assignment. It has to be something that we as teachers can look at on those days when we want to headbutt a brick wall and that will make us smile and remember why we do this. It should be personal to each of us, and so will be different for each of us and it will then influence how we teach. S/He who teaches for money teaches differently than s/he who teaches for a desire to create change in the world.

This, then, is my first draft of part one of my teaching philosophy. I am still working on translating the why into the how in such a way that it makes sense on paper.

Why Do I Teach?

I teach for two reasons. I had two amazing male teachers in my own primary education. Both were strong men whom I looked up to, as both had a strong presence, as they were encouraging of my strengths and chiding of my weaknesses, pushing me to work on them. They were men who were able to work with all of my peers, challenging each of us at our own academic level.

My three younger siblings on the other hand, across their combined eighteen years of primary education, had a total of one year with a male teacher, and the difference that that year of a strong male influence every day at school made on my sister and her self-confidence in dealing with her brothers and in talking to other male, non-immediate family members, was tremendous.

My youngest brother needed a strong male role-model as a steadying influence and to provide guidance on interpersonal skills in the day-to-day situations at school that a father does not have access to. I teach because I want to be the positive male role model for those students who otherwise may not have one.

The second reason that I teach is due to a love of learning and discovery, a love that was instilled by my family, but nurtured by my primary school teachers. It is that love of learning, the desire to know more about areas of interest, and the excitement of the moment when the dots are joined between prior knowledge and new understanding that provides the second reason why I teach.

I would love to hear from other teachers as to how you set out your teaching philosophy, how you utilise it, and even just why it is you get out of bed to teach every morning. This is my first draft, and I’m still working on cleaning it up to make it more academic sounding, but at the same time, if it’s a personal document, do I need to?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

To Infinity…and beyond!

“To infinity…and beyond!”
                          -Buzz Lightyear, Toy Story.

As I mentioned in my previous entry, I’m undertaking the Honours stream as part of my degree. My research, after funnelling it down from “Is the degree worth doing?” has become an investigation into the beliefs of pre-service teachers about the Arts in education and how those beliefs have been shaped by discourse and experiences, both personally and through the initial teacher education program and the positions taken-up by pre-service teachers as a result. The literature that I’ve read thus far indicates that the benefits of the Arts in education are well-known and acknowledged, however there is a gap in what is understood about the beneficence of the Arts in education, and the take up of the Arts in pedagogical practice.

The broader area of ‘is the degree worth doing’ is something that I plan to return to/continue examining in the future, though I suspect that the focus area will change, and it seems prudent to stay in touch with what is happening in education research through an online professional learning network combining social media and the longer form of blog articles.

I also intend to use the blog as a platform for professional reflection as my practice evolves through the combination of continued pedagogical practice, professional development, educational research – both my own and others’- and hopefully I will receive critical feedback from other educators through this medium.

I will be considered a ‘new scheme’ teacher here in Australia, and accordingly will be required to conform to the AITSL accreditation process, part of which will inherently involve, I believe, remaining up to date with 21st century teaching practices, including challenge/problem based learning, ICT integration, KLA curriculum integration, flipped classrooms, self-directed learning and the like.
The school at which I am undertaking my final prac has a class trialling 1:1 iPads, and the Executive have advised other teachers in the school that they can take part in the trial if they present an action research project that it will be trialled under, as that was one of the parameters for the trial already underway. I’m incredibly excited about what I’ve seen so far, as it represents my understanding of what education should be, based on what I’ve been hearing about twenty-first century learning for the last few years over the course of my degree.

The plan is to excel during my internship (I certainly don’t plan to fail or be mediocre…no “ps get degrees for me” thankyou very much. (That’s the (unjustified) snob in me coming through)) and sit down with my cooperating teacher and the principal, who I’ve formed a strong working relationship with, and put forward an action research project indicating how I would utilise and track usage of and the results of 1:1 iPads and the ‘anywhere, anytime learning environment that it would create, so that if there are any full time teaching positions coming up, that my name is at the very least, towards the top of the list of contenders they have in their minds. Ambitious, I realise, likely naively so given that I’ll also be in the process of conducting my Honours research, but I’ve found that I do my best work under a bit of pressure. Also, if a career in educational research is part of my future, then from what I understand, it’s quite common to have multiple ‘pans on the stove’ at any one time.

So that is where my focus will be moving to next; the flipped classroom, associated pedagogical practices, and the ‘anytime, anywhere’ teaching mindset and the challenges of changing planning/programming/teaching practices accordingly, and it very much like going down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland, or diving into infinity and beyond, as Buzz Lightyear likes to say, as I suspect that no matter how much reading I do, there will always be more to learn.

Some names that I’ve come across in my own readings, or had recommended to me as being highly relevant, insightful, challenging or futuristic in their thinking, include Sir Ken Robinson, Seymour Papert, Sugata Mitra and Ralph Pirozzo. There are of course many others at the forefront of education research who are helping to pull the education system kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century, but those are the ones that come to mind at the moment. Feel free to recommend others.

I’ll be aiming for weekly blogs during this ‘introductory’ phase, and accordingly my next post will be next weekend, and aim is for it to be an elucidation of my teaching philosophy.

Thank you for reading.

There, but not back again.

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” he used to say. “You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.” – Frodo, quoting Bilbo.

                                                                                                                                     -J.R.R Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, ch.3.


As this is my first blog post, it seems prudent to write about who I am, and why I’ve started this blog. I’m currently in my fourth and final year of a Bachelor of Teaching (Primary) / Bachelor of Arts program at the University of Newcastle, and as part of that, am undertaking the Honours stream. I will be commencing my final fifty day professional experience placement (‘prac’) in during term three of the NSW school year in a stage three classroom.

Teaching for me was a career change, and at times, I have been able to relate to Bilbo when he described stepping out the door as being a dangerous business, except that for me, it was changing careers that was and is dangerous business. Like many people, I didn’t know what I wanted to do after I graduated from Year Twelve, and over the ensuing ten years worked in a variety of industries including different sectors of the fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) industry, and also within the electrical industry where I worked for a commercial and industrial firm. It was a good friend who was five years younger than myself graduating from university with a degree in Forensic Science, that made me realise that if I didn’t get over my fear of taking that first step into the unknown, that I would be stuck in a job and working environment that I had grown to dislike.

I had considered teaching for some time, but had been afraid to give up my reasonably-paying job for the ‘uni student lifestyle.’ I am something of a (completely unjustified) snob at heart. I took steps to change my situation, and the cards, metaphorically speaking, were exceedingly kind to me, and so began the journey of a lifetime.

In the ten years since high school, I had found myself numerous times, being responsible for either designing, teaching/training or a combination thereof, new systems, processes, skills, methods and structures for various aspects of some of the different occupations I had held and had quite enjoyed the role. I was also fortunate enough that during my own primary and secondary education I had some male teachers who were both excellent teachers, but strong role models as men. As the eldest of four children, I had watched my siblings go through their own education, and realised that there was a dearth of strong male teachers in the education system. I put the two together, enjoying teaching roles I had taken on in the past, and the apparent lack of male teachers, and decided to enter the teaching profession.

Having family members and friends who are in the education system already, my eyes are wide open to the trials and tribulations that will come over the next forty-plus years of my teaching career, but it for those moments when you see a child’s eyes light up as they ‘get it’ that I have become a teacher. Out of everything that I’ve ever done, nothing comes close (so far) the feeling of satisfaction that ensues having witnessed that moment all the jigsaw pieces form a coherent picture for a child.

That’s a little bit about who I am. I daresay that more will come out over the course of my teaching journey as it is expressed through this blog, and I did say that I’d write about why I’ve started this blog. This has become somewhat wordy, so I will leave the ‘why’ for tomorrow.

Thanks for reading.