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iLearn – Digital Technology at Calwell Primary School

Engaging all learners through the use of digital technology at Calwell Primary School

Throughout 2012, Calwell Primary School Executive, Teachers and Learning Assistants worked together to investigate the use of iPads in engaging students in their learning and in improving outcomes. Renee Berry (Executive), Warren Brompton (Teacher) and Belinda Scargill (Learning Support Assistant) worked collaboratively to utilise iPads in the classroom with a focus on working with students with identified learning difficulties (Integration Support students) and engaging year 6 students in Mathematics.

Students were encouraged to be active participants when investigating the effectiveness of iPads in the classroom. Teachers utilised student surveys, visual checklists, assessment data, daily journal reflections and discussions to gather information around the use of iPads and make adaptations accordingly.

The iPads were integrated into everyday learning and teaching rather than seen as an extra add on. They were used to support students with a range of learning needs to access the curriculum, understand difficult and challenging tasks and as a ‘calm and cool down’ resource for Integration Support. Teachers and students worked together to support each other to apply the technology effectively – with a focus on students owning and understanding their own learning.

The use of iPads in the year 6 classrooms resulted in improved learning outcomes. In particular, student’s improvement was evident in their willingness to attempt and engage in mathematical tasks. Results also indicated that Integration Support student’s engagement in curriculum tasks increased when an iPad was utilised.

As a result of the projects more iPads will be purchased with financial support from the P&C and further work in utilising iPads across the school will continue. The work in 2012 has provided teachers with an effective model in engaging all learners through the use of digital technology at Calwell Primary School.calwell image

How we used iPads to support student engagement…

Calendar/ Reminders/Camera:

The ‘general features’ that are already installed on all iPads are easily accessed by students and teachers and were used on a daily basis at Calwell. The reminders, calendars and cameras were integrated into daily use to support students who required an overview of class routine, a list of tasks for the day and visuals of activities or experiences that they will be involved in. Students could organise their own work quickly and easily and ‘mark off’ when they had completed tasks. Teachers could further support students by providing additional information in the notes section e.g today you will be in the group with… or use ‘pop’ up reminders when a change of routine is approaching.

Speaking, Recording and Playback Apps

Speaking, playback and recording apps are a fantastic way to engage students and support a range of learning abilities and needs. Explicit teaching lessons can be recorded by the teacher and played back to students. These apps allowed students to watch the lesson as many times as needed. This was particularly supportive when teaching concepts in mathematics. There are many apps available that do this.  We used Educreations and Showme.

Problem Solving and Strategy Games (Jenga)

Problem solving games were utilised to explicitly teach social skills and guide positive interactions with others including turn taking, winning and losing and listening and responding appropriately. Apps like Jenga were used by the LSA to guide conversation, encourage students to work in small groups and as a ‘brain break’ when students required some ‘time out’.

 Curriculum and Calming Apps

We found a range of apps that supported students when accessing the curriculum. Apps that appeared ‘game or comic like’ were the most popular with year 6 students. We used both curriculum and calming apps to support student engagement in classroom tasks and for a ‘break’ if students were feeling anxious or unsettled. This also supported re-engagement and we found that students were willingly to ‘give work a go’ following the use of iPads.

 Notes App

The notes app was used for written tasks. Students felt confident to write without the fear of ‘getting it wrong’. The notes page also supported students with fine motor difficulties and allowed them to get their ideas down on paper. Students were confident and comfortable to take risks when writing.

This post was submitted by Calwell Primary School. If you'd like to share your school's story with us, get in touch!

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.

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, antisame.wordpress.com)

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.


Performing Arts Puts Quality Teaching Model into Action

 “The class related to almost every aspect of my day to day life. As I was taking chances and trying new things on stage, I began taking chances and trying new things on the soccer pitch. This actually improved my game. I also learnt time-management this semester. I had to do at least half an hour of Drama a day, at home, then do my other assignments…this should help me quite a bit in the future years of  school”

An excellent performing arts education is one of the most empowering opportunities that can be offered to young people.  Dance Drama and Music offer students the chance to transform themselves and their lives through self-exploration and expression, relationship, self-esteem and confidence building and personal resilience.

This class had meaning and connectedness for me beyond the classroom. I have taken in what I have learnt and will apply them to future productions if I participate in them, as well as outside of drama, life in general. The main thing I will take away from this is that if I strive to do the best I can I have the best opportunity to achieve the goals I set.”

This is something that is generally quite well known in education circles. However, beyond this the Performing Arts also develops students into community minded, high achieving, goal oriented community members who are willing to take risks, learn from their mistakes and work effectively as leaders and team members alike.

“ACE Drama has been very challenging this semester… I now know …I have to put a lot of focus into what I do… I have shown myself that if I do put focus and concentration into what I am doing I can achieve what I want.”

An excellent performing arts education in a school builds rich task, real world scenarios into every day classroom learning.  Students learn the skills and techniques of Drama, Dance and Music, but they also take part in school and community showcases where their learning and achievements are on display to the entire community.

“Everyone in the class is always there for each other and willing to help out others if they need it. I felt like I could go to almost anyone in this class if I felt like I needed help with lines, blocking or anything else. At times I did go to people and they helped me a lot. I’m glad that our class work so well together and get along so well.”

Sets are built, programmes and posters researched and produced, media contacted, costumes and props made, lines learned, numbers choreographed and songs written, all within specific and tight deadlines in which there are real and immediate consequences if the work is not ready.  “

“The support that ACE Drama gives each other is tremendous. Every student in the class is willing to help one another, even if it doesn’t concern them. We would always help our partners from the other cast with lines and blocking and if they were acting and did not know what to do we would get up and show them what they should be doing.”

After all, there is nothing quite like the immediate feedback of a live audience to make a summative judgement on the quality of your work!

“Self-discipline, leadership and creativity were probably needed the most. Self-discipline was needed in order to learn lines and blocking, and to develop a character. If we didn’t have self-discipline, especially in the last week or so, the show probably wouldn’t have been a success.”

Supporting students to become engaged, autonomous and self-directed learners is the goal of excellent teachers. 

“Whenever someone had a question on blocking, or how they could improve their performance, the class would usually brain storm ideas. It got really competitive at one stage, but once we realised we were ALL a team, we were very supportive and up lifting towards one another.”

We want our students to see themselves as supportive classmates, engaged community members and as responsible and committed leaders. Performing Arts showcases embody this philosophy and encourage students to learn, grow and adapt to the highest possible expectations of themselves as learners and as people.

“However I realise now, what I thought was commitment before, is nothing compared to the commitment the class needed to have this semester.”

“I felt like screaming at Ms Mahon for expecting so much of us!”

An excellent performing arts education provides a seamless learning experience inside and outside of formal classes as afternoon and weekend rehearsals and a disciplined approach to individual study is required.

“It involved a lot of afterschool work and catching up. If I had a choice though, I would do it again.”

So at the beginning of each school performance, concert or theatre production try to be explicit with the audience in terms of what they are about to see. Yes they are about to watch and enjoy a play or a concert, but they are also witnessing an educational showcase that demonstrates and celebrates quality teacher practice and genuine academic excellence.

“Drama this term took a lot of teamwork and cooperation for it to work. Everyone worked well together in the team and that is one of the reasons the play went so well.  This was one of the most difficult but also one of the most rewarding things that I have ever done.” 

Note: All of the quotes used in this article have been taken from the Year 10 CLC Performance Drama Forum of Melrose High School.