It is all about the why

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
– Simon Sinek

Last year I wrote two articles examining the SAMR model (part one, part two) where I wrote, rather naively, about what I understood the SAMR model to be and how it could be implemented within schools. Yesterday I received a tweet from a fellow teacher and Twitterer, Aaron Davis (@mrkrndvs) with a link to an article that he had written, Did someone say…SAMR. The article prompted a proverbial dive down the rabbit hole, as I read through a few additional articles linked within his original article, and also watched a very interesting TEDTalk by Simon Sinek.

I would rather you read through Aaron’s article yourself, and I will not be posting a recap here of it, as I believe it to be an important article for anyone who considers themselves au fait with technology in the classroom as it may change the way you think about the way it is used, and more importantly, the why of its use. Also within Aaron’s article are a number of other variations on SAMR and models for thinking about why technology is used in the classroom, which are well worth examining in their own right.

In addition to the article, I would encourage you to read the article that Aaron wrote regarding Simon Sinek’s TEDTalk, which can be found here.. The video included the video of Simon Sinek’s TEDTalk here.

An interesting article to read in tandem with Aaron’s is An End to “21st Century” Learning Tools by Richard Wells, a secondary teacher in New Zealand, which discusses the separation of digital learning and learning. Richard challenges us to stop thinking about twenty-first century learning tools and to think simply about learning tools, and to stop thinking about digital learning tools with modern learning technologies and instead to think about learning tools with learning technologies.

Delivering Professional Development to Colleagues

“Part of the problem, we argue, has been a tendency to only look at the technology and not how it is used. Merely introducing technology to the educational process is not enough.”
-Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2006). Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A Framework for Teacher Knowledge. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017-1054


Today was the first of a series of professional development sessions that I will be delivering to my colleagues over the course of this term, and potentially further, depending on interest. The purpose of today’s session was to introduce TPCK and SAMR as frameworks for thinking about the use of technology in the classroom.

The first activity that I had my colleagues undertake was a formative assessment task using Google Forms, to gain an understanding of what my colleagues thought and felt in relation to the term twenty-first century learning, in relation to the use of technology both as a consumer and as a teacher, and then in relation to what technologies my colleagues wanted to learn about.

The responses were very interesting. To the question what do you think of when you hear the phrase twenty-first century learning, the responses varied, from simply help, to computers, to concerns about those with additional learning needs being left behind and finally to the increase in the requirement for students to learn and use critical thinking skills as teachers increasingly become facilitators of learning; the guide on the side, not the sage on the stage.

We moved from that to an introduction and explanation of both the TPCK and SAMR frameworks, and discussed some examples of each of the levels of the SAMR model through the use of well known examples and video demonstrations sourced from YouTube. I have attached a copy of the presentation, for anyone who is interested in viewing it, to this article (Rethinking EdTech Presentation), and links to the videos that were used are embedded within that document.

Today was an introduction to these concepts, and next week, we will begin to delve into practical examples of technology utilised at the various levels of the SAMR model. On that note, I would be very appreciative to anyone who can offer examples of how they have used technology in the classroom at the four levels of the SAMR model.

As always, thank you for reading.

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.

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.

SAMR what?

Teachers need to integrate technology seamlessly into the curriculum instead of viewing it as an add-on, an afterthought, or an event.
                                                                                        – Heidi-Hayes Jacobs

Initial teacher education (ITE) does give you a lot. I certainly feel like it’s given me more than some of my peers indicate that it’s given them. But one thing that I don’t feel like it prepared me for was meaningful deployment of technology. Oh, certainly, we were told about SMART Notebooks, and to use ICT meaningfully, but we weren’t told what this actually meant in different contexts or how to ensure we were doing it.

Then, this year (2014), I walked into my Internship classroom; a Stage Three combined year five and six class with a trial 1:1 iPad BYOD system in place. Awesome I thought to myself, iPads! But then I realised that I had no framework for actually enacting pedagogical strategies through an iPad, no point of reference for how it would work in practice, or what could actually be done on iPads other than what I do on my iPhone.

I’ve written previously about why I teach, but why I teach does not prepare or assist me to make technology integration meaningful in and of itself. Fortunately, my classroom teacher (CT) is rather progressive, and very much driven by research-based best practice. He introduced me to the SAMR model, developed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura and a way of thinking about EdTech that had never occurred to me before.

The SAMR model outlines four ways in which technology can be used in an educational context, with two tiers of use which can be likened to lower and higher order thinking  tiers in Bloom’s Taxonomy. The first two ways of utilising technology in the classroom are akin to Bloom’s lower order thinking skills, and are where technology is used only as a substitution to traditional pedagogies, or to augment traditional pedagogies. The second tier of the SAMR model is where technology is used to modify or to redefine the learning activity. This blog post will deal with the first half of the SAMR model, substitution and augmentation, which my CT likened to the lower order thinking components of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

The way that my CT described SAMR to me was in comparison to the recent laptop program Australian high schools, formally known as the Digital Education Revolution which, amonsgt other things, saw every year nine to twelve public high school student provided with a laptop. Whether it was a success or failure seems to depend on who you talk to (I know some teachers and administrators who are completely against laptops and tablets on the back of the laptop program).

My CT said to me that if you ask parents buy a tablet/laptop as part of a BYOD program, such as is being trialed in his classroom, and all you do is used it as a substitution for a writing book or a textbook, that you won’t necessarily have improved the learning outcomes, but you will have made the learning outcomes more expensive for the parents.

That made perfect sense to me, and I can see that using them with no added value, substitutionally, would annoy parents. I see using interactive whiteboards (IWBs) purely for their projector as a substitution for an overhead projector/tv and VCR or DVD player, and yes, this does happen.

Substitution is an easy trap to fall into. You feel that you are using ICT, so you feel like you are contributing to 21st Century Teaching. But you are not actually changing anything, other than the medium being utilised. Changing the medium is in itself not necessarily a bad thing, but if that is all you are doing, then it is not enough.

The next stage after Substitution is Augmentation. This is where the deployment of the technology only utilises a small portion of its potential. The technology is acting as a direct substitution with some functional improvement. An example of augmentation, I believe, would be using the often built-in functions of many e-textbooks available on digital devices, such as dictionary definitions, bookmarking, chapter hyperlinks etc. You have gained some functional improvement, but not really any pedagogical or learning outcome improvement.

I have already mentioned that CT likened substitution and augmentation deployment of technologies as being akin to the Lower Order Thinking phases of Bloom’s Taxonomy because they serve a purpose are useful, but you will fail to challenge students much by doing so.

Next weekend, I will examine the top half, or to continue the Bloom’s Taxonomy analogy, the ‘higher order thinking’ components of the SAMR model; modification and redefinition. I’d appreciate any feedback on this or my previous blog posts, but thank you for reading.

EDIT: The next article in this series is available here.