Christmas Bauble #1

I teach a lot of lessons in a year. Most of them are very pedestrian. Some of them are better than average. These are the ones with clear learning intentions and success criteria and a solid activity in between that links them. Among this fairly average teaching, however, is the odd exceptional lesson. So, my teaching is a bit like a Christmas tree. Most of it is pretty ordinary, but there’s the odd shining moment. Don’t get me wrong; it’s solid, like a good little tree, but I wouldn’t generally bother to blog about a particular lesson, and I certainly don’t want anyone to get the idea that every lesson I teach is as fun as the one I’m about to describe. So, this lesson is like a shiny bauble on an ordinary tree.

This lesson was inspired by Mark O’Meara’s session at the ICTEV conference in 2013. In this session Mark had us hard at it for the entire 45 minutes collaborating on a podcast. You can find it here. It was a really inspiring session and I swore that one day I’d run the same session with one of my Media classes. Today, in a double period, pretty much on the spur of the moment, we did it.

I had set my year 11s the task of researching and recording a podcast, which I like to do to because it gives them the chance to play to their strengths (talking). When one of them asked how to “do” a podcast I knew the moment to pull Mark’s lesson out had come. So today I walked into class, got them to volunteer for their production roles and then stood back and let them create a podcast.

My highlights were:

  • Refusing to answer questions with anything other than “It’s your show”.
  • The serious looks on their faces in the production meeting that they called half an hour into the session.
  • Looking around the room at 50 minutes in and seeing everyone on-task, even though I hadn’t given any instruction for about 45 minutes.
  • The look of combined terror and exhilaration when I told them that it would really be put online.
  • The audience managing to stay (almost) silent while the recording happened. Something that never happens in my actual class.

So, here’s the podcast. It’s rough, and the facts expressed are questionable at best, but it was a great learning experience for all of us and I’m looking forward to the reflections they write tomorrow.

Big thanks to Mark O’Meara for running the session last year. It was seriously inspirational.

The girls would love it if you could give it a like on Soundcloud or even better if you could leave them an encouraging comment (even if you can’t be bothered listening to it).

Blog on Blog #2

What is our responsibility as bloggers?

I’m reading a few blogs now, ranging from very brief reflections on classroom practice to academic papers that just happen to be posted on a blog. I hope that my own humble offering sits somewhere in between. My question is, how much responsibility to we have to cite sources or to base what we write on research?

My lovely sister is a naturopath*. She’s very careful to only work with treatments that are supported by serious scientific data. So, for example, she won’t touch homeopathy. There is no hard evidence for its effectiveness, so why use it? I’m sure her job is made harder by people who have read blogs that happily state that dipping your nose in a bucket of cat’s urine is a sure-fire cure for warts with no evidence or liability for the ill-effects of cat’s wee up the nostrils.

I like to think that I’m a professional. So, what is my responsibility here? I don’t think that everything I write should have to be peer-reviewed and backed up with hard data, but nor do I think that I should be able to bang out blatant untruths without regard to the possible consequences.

So where’s the line? What lines do you have for your own blogging?


* I have two sisters. They’re both lovely.

Beyond the Best App For…

I’m learning a lot this year. Actually, it’s thanks to the TL21C PD program that I’ve realised that there’s a whole world of professional discourse going on out there that I can tap into. The latest epiphany I’ve had is almost completely thanks to this article by Mal Lee*. I found it so compelling that I thought it was worth summarizing my understanding of it, and what I see as its implications for my job.

There is no significant linear connection between the use of digital technologies and enhanced student attainment.

Mal Lee, 2014

An excellent painting app hasn’t improved my illustrations.

I must admit that I’ve often had trouble articulating how I think digital technologies improve student outcomes. I have no doubt that they do, I just haven’t been able to clearly say exactly how they do this. When there has been talk of evaluating the 1:1 program at work I have been quite worried that we are not getting “bang for our buck” even when the NSSCF funding is taken into account. What I’ve been wanting, and I suspect many people would like, is a Hattiesque “effect size” for the 1:1 program. Mal’s opening statement, above, seems to express what I fear: That we could remove the computers from almost any class in the college with no obvious adverse effect on outcomes.

I was therefore relieved to read on. Mal states that while there is no “significant linear connection between… digital technologies and … student attainment” there is a significant, positive, non-linear impact of a school ecology where the use of digital technologies is infused into “all facets of their operations”. So, although we could remove computers from any individual class and not notice the difference for that particular class, as soon as digital technologies aren’t being used consistently across the school, results across the board would deteriorate. The question is, why?

The answer isn’t simple, and I’m not going to try to simplify it. I strongly suggest that you read Mal’s article as it goes into detail about the mechanics of the relationship. However, I will suggest that the positive impact is partly due to connections; connections between students, teachers and course content, connections between home and school, connections between schools, and connections between course content and the rest of the world.

So how does this effect my job? As an elearning coordinator my discussions with other teachers often revolve around what programs or tools they can or should be using. It is a part of my role at school to know and understand the different software that each learning area uses or should use. This aspect of my role often troubles me. Why should I understand Geogebra if I don’t understand geometry? (The fact is that I don’t.)  And can I understand a piece of software or a web tool if I don’t understand the subject area in which it is being used?

Mal’s article suggests that this shouldn’t be my role. At least, it shouldn’t be something that I’m too worried about. In the long term it’s certainly not something that should take up too much time for anyone. As teachers’ expertise and familiarity with edtech improves, my role should change. What my focus should be is on changing the “ecology” of the school so that digital technologies are “infused” into all aspects of our work. Obviously the role of ICT in teaching and learning is a huge part of this, but it is still only a part.

Mal suggests that the same things that make teachers and lessons effective are unchanged, however the integration of ICT across the school amplifies them. So my role should be to look at how technology can do this. For example, there are obvious ways that technology can be used to improve feedback loops between teachers and students.

So, the next time someone asks me “What’s the best app for…” I’ll tell them what I know. But I’m not going to be staying up late into the night trying to keep up with the latest, best apps, or learning geometry. I’ll be looking at a much bigger picture.

I’m not certain if this has made my life easier or harder. Thanks, Mal.


*Mal taught for some years with my aunt. He lives just up the road from my parents, and I played with his daughters as a youngster, so I’m going to feel free to call him Mal from now on. I hope that’s okay, Mr Lee.