Awe and Wonder

I’d like to share a personal reflection with you. That’s sometimes frowned upon in this sort of forum, but it’s a topic that I keep coming back to.


This is a photo of my son, Oliver (then 8). It’s taken during a rainy walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The whole way across, he was totally engaged with the experience: counting steps and calculating distances (as only a 8 year old can!), taking photos and gazing open-mouthed at the wonder of the amazing construction. As a teacher, I saw this look a few times on my students’ faces. And quite a lot of the time I didn’t. At home, I see it a lot, when Oliver is building stuff out of Lego, drawing, creating crazy contraptions and imaginative storylines in the backyard, writing songs (oh my goodness, so cute!), on Minecraft or just noodling around the net on his iPad.

Just a couple of days earlier, I’d attended the EduTech conference where the very passionate and interesting Roger Pryor had spoken of the need for ‘awe and wonder’ in the classroom. That students should be excited to come to school every day. That they should be exploring and creating and analysing an talking and all those wonderful things. Actually, engagement, ownership of the learning and the changing classroom were themes of the conference. That diversity is normal. That technology use is normal everywhere (except school). That we can’t afford not to personalise education. That if mainstream education was like ‘alternative’ education, we wouldn’t need alternative education, because people wouldn’t be dropping out.

Luckily, Oliver is generally happy to go to school, and he has a fantastic teacher that makes the day interesting. And I know that there are many teachers in Canberra that strive to create fantastic learning experiences for their students (a few of them contribute to this blog!), but there always seem to be ‘bits’ that are boring or irrelevant. I know I’m guilty of providing them. Why is this? Is it the structure of schools? Is it the curriculum? Is it our teaching practice? Is it the technology? Is it the expectations placed upon us by the community and society? Is it the kids? Do they need to be 100% engaged all day, every day?

I don’t know the answers, but I’d love to know your thoughts.


5 Cool Things We Found on Twitter

This week, many of the stuff coming out of Twitter has been good food for thought. So today, I’m offering five articles, found through Twitter, that will hopefully give you something to think about as you close up the year and look to 2013.

What is Personalised Learning? by Josh Griffith

It’s getting a lot of press at the moment, but just what is personalised learning? Josh Griffith outlines a few different learning approaches that are emerging in classrooms: Adaptive Learning, Blended Learning, Differentiated Instruction, Flipped Classrooms, 1:1 Technology, Project Based Learning, Individual Learning Plans and Learning Labs. Have a look and think about how this applies to your school. How do we actually personalise learning? Is your school doing any of them? We’d love your feedback.

Save or Save As? by Tina Barseghian

As adults, we know a bit about the way computers work and how we should manage the information on them (some would argue that there are many that are not so good at that!). This article asks whether we should teach students these skills, along side all the other ‘stuff’ they’re learning to do. What do you think?

The iPony by Alice Leung

Alice Leung is a head teacher at Sydney’s Merrylands High School. In this article, Alice compares the ‘resistance’ that teachers have to using technology in the classroom to the experience that iPhone users have when presented with a new phone option. Interesting analogy, but it might strike a chord. I’m an iPhone user and I totally get what she’s talking about. Perhaps it’s a good way to start the discussion with the teachers in our schools that aren’t quite ready to adopt new practices. 

How about you?  Do you switch from phone to phone without too much angst, or do you set up everything ‘just right’ and leave it that way?

Innovative Technology Doesn’t Mean Instructionally Innovative by Frank LaBanca

A school finds out about a cool new technology, buys a class set of it, then struggles to figure out what to do with it. Sound familiar? Luckily we’ve got a lot of very innovative people in our system, so it’s not especially common, but it’s definitely something to think about. The purchase of any technology should always be prefaced by some thorough reflection and planning: what exactly do we want our students to learn? What do our students want to learn?

This article argues that innovative technology doesn’t mean there’s innovative teaching going on. That the technology must be used in a meaningful and transformative way. We would love to hear of some examples where this is happening. Please comment below and let us know.

12 Principles of Mobile Learning by Kevin Corbett

Access. Metrics. Cloud. Transparent. Play. Asychronous. Self-Actuated. Diverse. Curation. Blending. Always-On. Authentic. Have a look and see what you think.

“Aspiring to Inspired Teaching and Learning”

The Inspire Associates project is a ground breaking pilot being delivered in partnership with the University of Canberra and ACT Education and Training Directorate

This project allows a diverse team of classroom practitioners one day a week out of our school environment to promote and develop innovation  within best practice teaching and learning.

We are particularly focussed on exploring and promoting student action oriented initiatives in order to empower  student engagement, voice and participation throughout schooling in the ACT.

Each of us contributes a unique and diverse set of skills and experience to the team. I am Tiffany Mahon, a curriculum, pedagogy specialist and Arts Executive Teacher at Melrose High School.  Ian Thomson is a multi-media specialist and Pastoral Care Executive Teacher at Kingsford Smith School.  Trish Ghirardello is an ICT co-ordinator, Executive Teacher and year 5/6 classroom teacher at Mawson Primary School and Peter Smythe is a Science and Mathematics teacher who has developed an innovative personalised learning program at Gungahlin College.

All of us are passionate and dedicated classroom teachers who are striving for learning environments that engage and empower our students as active participants and leaders in the learning process.  We are excited to have the opportunity of engaging our colleagues across the system in a substantive conversation about what the innovative teaching  can contribute to the creation of truly personalised learning for every student, every day in our classrooms.

On a collegiate level, we are keen to foster and promote a shared language and culture of contemporary teaching and learning across the system and to move further towards a culture that embraces then Quality Teaching Model as a normal part of our daily teaching practice.

 A central question for us has been, “What can ICT contribute to ensuring sustained and transformative conversations are taking place across the whole system as opposed to isolated pockets of excellence within schools and school clusters”, and “How can ICT help us to share our specialist abilities and expertise with a wider range of colleagues to the benefit of all?

We have worked on piloting and testing MyLearning, the collaborative learning platform designed for school communities that will replace the clc. And we  are each also engaged in making films, podcasts and webcasts in partnership with our students,  about the extraordinary student voice, participation and engagement activities  occurring in ACT schools.  We plan share these with a system wide audience.

 In addition to these team projects each of us will undertake individual projects aimed at applying research, in action oriented projects that utilise best practice use of ICT. We will each tell you more about these projects as they evolve over the next six months.

Placing pedagogy front and centre if and when ICT is involved and innovating and promoting student voice, participation, engagement and leadership is what inspires us.

We are keen to hear about and share what inspires you and your students every day in your own classrooms across the ACT.

Magazine Production and School Promotion in One Fell Swoop

“Magazine is different from any other class.  I have been part of many opportunities and experiences, which normally I would not usually be involved.  I feel privileged to take photos and work in a team creating this keep sake for us all… To remember the memories we have created here at Melrose High School in 2012.”

 (Year 10 Student, Melrose High School)

Two years ago I introduced a new electives class entitled “Magazine Production”, into Melrose High School.   We had never had a school magazine at the school before and the Year book production was always a costly, time consuming exercise done almost entirely by staff. 

I wanted to create a genuinely student centered school magazine that catered to individualised learning in its truest form and offered outstanding student leadership and peer collaboration opportunities.  I also wanted to create a magazine that reflects the incredibly diverse and fabulous learning that happens at Melrose High school across the year and to develop a class whose whole focus is on promoting, publicizing and creating a positive community view of our fabulous high school.

I designed the Magazine class to be a year 9 and 10 elective that allows full creative control of the Magazine to go to students and to maximise individual choice and control over the work they produce.  I don’t “teach” the class in a traditional or formal sense.  Instead I have created a real world, rich task based course that allows students flexibility, choice and control over their work. 

The class mirrors real and productive work places with students choosing work titles for themselves like “Science Reporter” “Sports Reporter” “Entertainment Correspondent”, Magazine Editor, Technical support etc.   Students must complete at least two highly polished articles each term that involve interviewing people, covering events, taking photos and completing background research, they also make at least one other magazine based or school wide community contribution.  

Each article goes through the full editing process. I sit down and edit at least one article per term with each student individually. I spend the whole lesson with the student engaged in a substantive and sustained conversation about the article they have produced. The student makes corrections themselves as we go and has the opportunity to ask questions and discuss their spelling, syntax and writing style. I can offer this individualised assistance because I am not the focal point in the class and the students assign each other tasks and help each other within their various roles.

This method has made a significant difference to the written language skills of students in the class as well as building their understanding and confidence of the process involved in creating high quality work for publication.  I have received feedback from parents and English colleagues that they have seen a real improvement in the writing abilities of students in the Magazine class.  The students themselves also recognise and refer to this.

It is incredibly important to provide students with genuine leadership opportunities and real world experiences that explicitly connect to the school based curriculum. The Magazine class provides this: 

A year 10 student in the class is the Magazine Editor.  He has led the magazine team, created the final InDesign book for publication, written briefs for students outside the class to contribute to the final magazine product, made all the printing decisions and liaised with the publishers to create the final product.

Another year 10 student as the Sub-Editor has led student teams to produce the yearbook supplement and a year 9 student took on the job of Science Reporter, covering ACE Science activities and interviewing Senator Kate Lundy on the Melrose High School Seismometer Launch day.

The magazine class also  encourages students to utilise a broad range of technical and social media skills that they are constantly using in their lives outside school and bring these into the classroom.  We all need to see ourselves as experts in something and students have the opportunity to bring a range of IT, literary, creative and social networking skills to the class and to get credit for these.  They also learn to work in a team based real world environment that prepares them for the challenges ahead.

Importantly, from a school perspective we also now have a dedicated class of students highly engaged in promoting a positive image of our school in the community.

What more could you ask for?

Teaching and Learning with Twitter

It was just week shy of their final exams, students were in the ‘maths zone’ and were firing questions as rapidly as machine gun fire in the height of battle.  Nearing the end of one day, I decided to take the maths to twitter.

I debated for a number of hours about whether to use my existing twitter handle @ezka29, or whether to create a new one.

Here is the debate as it wagered in my head…Well one twitter handle would be much easier to deal with, that I don’t have anything to hide or gain personally from keeping them separate.  I am me and am professional always.  Whilst for me personally one account would be more manageable there is a slight benefit to be gained by keeping them separate.  Firstly, that it would be easier for my students to not be bombarded with all my other tweeting interests, whilst some could be interesting and beneficial to them even, keeping a separate account that is targeted towards a specific goal seemed far more purposeful. Secondly, the other 300+ followers on my normal handle probably didn’t need to be bombarded with random maths questions, tips and reminders specific to our units.  And so @erin_hc was born!

I created a twitter profile, shared it with the students and started tweeting lots of mathy goodness.

A quick search yielded 6 of my students and told them to spread the word, including the creation of two specific hash tags for our units.

#mm2_hc and #sm2_hc

And so it began, a wonderful story about learning maths with a teacher at hand almost 24/7.

Working into the first night, it was quick and simple for me to answer questions as they arose from my students, I didn’t find it an imposition at all, in fact using tweetdeck, it made it really simple for me to engage with both my professional conversations about quality teaching, blended learning or apps for mathematics whilst still answering questions of my students.  The students seemed to like the idea as well,

and our previous principal even got in on the action to wish them luck for their exams.  

Eventually the real maths started, I threw out some questions via twitter (through instagram), and students responded via twitter


Then they started asking me their questions…


I even started producing very quick little videos to answer questions that I couldn’t explain in 140 characters.

At the same time I was also marking their assignments, how about this for a quick way to give feedback.

All in all, I think I have started something that I will pick up again next year.  Students responded well, and within 2 weeks I had nearly half a class following me.  I imagine if I started at the beginning of a year it could be a fantastic avenue for immediate feedback, recognition, questions and answers (via text, photo or video).  I loved the fact that students could ask in that moment when they were studying, and could get answers nearly immediately – whether from me or from their peers or a broader twitter network.

And… not to mention the students liked it, and appreciated it.

Is twitter right for your teaching and learning?  It seems to be right for mine.

@ezka29  (Personal blog,

5 Cool Things We Found on Twitter

One of the great things about Twitter is that it is constantly introducing us to really cool stuff: new blogs, interesting people, technological developments, and some really cool web 2.0 tools.

The trouble with Twitter is that sometimes it goes by too fast and we miss it! So, we thought we’d bring together some cool stuff once (or maybe twice) a week. That way, you might at least catch some of it!

Inklewriter – Creating Interactive Stories

Doug Peterson (from the blog Doug – Off the Record) has written a post about this cool (and free!) website that lets you create ‘choose your own adventure’ type stories. If you’re anything like me, you’ll remember the (paper) books quite well. I think students might get a kick out of creating this kind of story – fairly quickly and easily – and it looks like they are very easily shared. Because that’s what makes these technologies awesome. The sharing part!

Doug’s post includes an example to check out, but you can also go straight to the Inklewriter website and have a go. Let us know how you do.

Teaching with Smartphones

While we’re probably not quite there yet, there are many schools around the world embracing the technology that their students bring to school in their pocket. This blog article discusses the use of smartphones (which many students – even ours – own) in the classroom. We’re hoping to have a bit of a discussion about the whole BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) thing in future blogs, but this one might get you thinking. Let us know what you think.

11 Videos About Using Twitter

Yep, we’re probably going to keep banging on about it for a while, but Twitter really is a cool tool. Try it, you’ll be glad you did!

But don’t take our word for it, Amy has posted a playlist of 11 videos that take you through why you need to use it in the first  place, how to use it well, and how it’s working in some classrooms. Check it out and let us know if you decide to join in (via Twitter of course!).

Hands On Homework

The Ins & Outs is a very cool classroom blog from New Zealand (thanks Jenny for referring us to it!). I (Mel) particularly like the ‘Hands On Homework‘ posts, because I really struggle  with the concept of homework, both as a teacher and as a parent. What are your thoughts about homework?

Warning: deliberately provocative content follows:

Are You Behind?

Emily shared this blog post via Twitter and we think it’s at least something to ponder. Of course, there are many issues to consider when creating digital learning spaces, but it’s important to think about what’s happening out there already, and where we stand in relation to that. The conversation about how to best meet the needs of all of our students in our complex teaching and learning environment is one we’re still having. But this might provide some food for thought. Are you behind?

It goes without saying (but we’ll say it anyway) that the content provided in this post does not represent the views of the ACT Education and Training Directorate. The links here are gathered from Twitter and are provided for you to explore, to hopefully start conversations with us or with your colleagues, and of course to support you in your innovations.

The Kingo Project

In Year 9 media this semester students have continued making the award winning show “The Kingo Project”. The show is a current affairs talk show that includes local guests and news, and broadcasts live all around the school.

Kingo Project Studio

The process begins with students scripting all the shows content in the two lessons prior, and entering it all on the teleprompter.

On Tuesday Morning the show goes live to every electronic whiteboard and video screen in the school. Students have to set up all the equipment, operate the cameras, the video mixer, the sound and the lights, and then pack it all up afterwards. All in a 90 minute lesson!  The show was recently featured on WIN News and the local newsreaders commented on the professionalism and quality of our show.

Mixing Desk

The show has also been visited by a number of other schools looking for inspiration, even playing host to an international delegation. The Kingo project has featured a number of local guests, including sporting stars, politicians, health professionals and even local bands! The student produced show continues to be a whole lot of fun, and the kids have all learnt industry skills in a school based environment. Some of our members have also begun mentoring some of our younger Year 5 students creating a show of their own…so stay tuned to the Kingo Project!

The Kingo Project is based at Kingsford Smith School.


The Twitter

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