Posts Tagged ‘Classroom’

My reason for writing this is to highlight how PLANE, the online Professional Learning Program for teachers, has been affected as a viable Online Learning Community (OLC) and to draw attention to those who might be unaware of this.

PLANE's landing page

PLANE’s landing page

For the uninitiated, PLANE stands for Pathways for Learning, Anywhere anytime – A Network for Educators. It offers a series of resources and professional learning in ICT for teachers. Learning comes in the form of short skill snacks that take a matter of minutes, to lengthier and more involved quests and courses. There are forum boards, a twitter feed, an activity stream, a virtual world based on Second Life to name but a small number of interactive content. Overarching all of this is the user’s Passport, which sees you accrue points as you journey about the site and take part in a range of activities. Simply, it is an engaging form of stamp or badge collecting. Here is a shot of my Dashboard from late August 2013:

I first came to PLANE earlier this year, during my first trimester of a Masters of Education, specialising in eLearning. A colleague had made a passing mention that I should check it out, and having signed up, I spent about an hour having a click around at this enticing site. This was in March and, having made a comment about it on a Forum panel to my university cohort, my subject lecturer mentioned in a Reply post that it was worth a look, but perhaps after the looming assignment had been completed.

As a result, I did not get back to have a look at PLANE until several months later, in July. It seems that, during this time, substantial changes were taking place that would see this OLC in a very different realm. The first thing I noticed was that the Twitter login seemed broken, so having sent an email from within itself (having managed to connect ‘again’ via Facebook), I heard nothing back from Admin. Later I managed to locate a comment to this effect – and that the Twitter Login would soon be fixed; as yet it hasn’t.

Having logged on, one arrives at the News Page. Here the warning bells start to ring. Firstly there is the current statement, that has been up for many weeks now:

PLANE will cease to validate professional learning or issue certificates for completion of PLANE courses after Friday 27 September 2013. Any registered PLANE professional development completed before 27 September will remain on a teacher’s Institute of Teachers record for the purposes of maintaining accreditation. PLANE will continue to offer the current range of professional learning experiences. Teachers will be able to use this professional learning as Teacher Identified Professional Development only, which is logged by the teacher on the NSW Institute of Teachers website and validated by the school principal or their delegate. Teachers can export evidence pages from PLANE as a standalone HTML website to show their school principal or delegate to have the learning validated on the NSW Institute of Teachers website. For more information regarding Teacher Identified Professional Development, please go to

Adding to this concern, the Twitter Feed (#planePL) seems stagnant, with no content from PLANE itself since late June and the Educator spotlight has remained the same during this time (this might be intended). By a sad contrast, the Activity Stream that occupies the right of the screen is scrolling continuously. A quick glance indicates that, for the most part, those “scoring” the achievements are probably new to the site, based on the types of activities that they are being credited with.

Going further and exploring the site in detail only appears to confirm one’s concerns. The events calendar has nothing coming up (the last event was June), the Virtual World is empty when I’ve visited, apart from the three virtual characters at Boot Camp (again, with no events scheduled), the Ask an Expert is similarly stalled in June. Other areas such as the Groups (which boasts a striking 162 groups) reflects stagnation through the lack of activity in Forum posts and outdated page information. One area which seems to buck the trend is the Share Club, where participants have managed to keep the content up-to-date.

In trying to study PLANE for my university assignment as an Online Learning Community, I attempted to do some research as to its status. My Google skills might not be the best, but even I found it difficult to find much in terms of what was going on. What I did manage to locate, in a Forum post inside of the site, was a Google Doc that raised worries about the future of the PLANE website and ongoing viability. Additionally, it highlights particular concern about the loss of accreditation for new scheme teachers, which PLANE offered. There were a number of other concerns raised in a detailed and thoughtfully constructed letter.

The pertinent parts to the response is printed below.

As part of my Masters coursework, participants are asked to take part in Forum Discussions. One exercise asked students to explore the for/against of the statement If you build it, they will come. In writing this post, this seems apt. Perhaps more pertinently is that “they” might well come, but will they stay, or even come back? Are they expected to take on the maintenance of the site thereafter?

It would be nice to know if this last observation is the case. Perhaps this might go some way to helping maintain and foster PLANE’s base. I understand that many of the “pilots” who helped administer the site have gone and that it resembles more of an empty shell today. A lot of money has been put into this and it would be unconscionable to see this drift,  rudderless, towards oblivion.

In closing, take a look at this photo. It is from PLANE’s Facebook page (also with last post in June). For me it captures everything PLANE can and should stand for – the energy of a range of dedicated practitioners who have come together to create a fantastic OLC. Please feel free to forward and disseminate this post in your own social and educative circles. Perhaps it can be steered to a more appropriate course for all users.

Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 10.15.26 PM

The development in student-centred learning is certainly gaining pace in the last few years. Each day, further strategies utilising BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies are highlighted, classes are flipped (where students are able to view and review brief videos created by teachers at home) and the role of the teacher continues to be refined. Certainly, the concept of the teacher as the authoritative dispenser of information via chalk and talk is being challenged.

In light of this, what developments are there with the process of interviewing teachers for positions? Currently, it is not uncommon for prospective teachers to be asked to teach a lesson or take a class. It’s not something that I’ve had to do, but I’ve often wondered about this. Does it lead to the potential for a “crackerjack” lesson to be delivered by a candidate – perhaps the best that they can do? Or is it designed more to weed out those who might handle the interview itself successfully enough, but give little indication of the fact that they would be flounder if put in front of a more ‘colourful’ Year 9 class? Certainly it has probably had its value over time and, as a general litmus test, one can determine a degree of rapport (or not) between a teacher and a group of students.

So, do schools need to visit how they interview teachers? If we are looking at dynamic and innovative ways of interacting with students and delivering content, does this stand at odds with more traditional methods of demonstrating your classroom credentials? Perhaps the criteria need to be considered as part of the application process, looking at a wider range of skills such as:

  • examples of a teacher’s ICT skill base and how this directly correlates to classroom activities
  • a teacher’s ability to facilitate and mentor, rather than be the arbiter of instruction
  • a demonstration of a teacher’s connection to the need for lifelong learners in society (and with the ability to be taught by the students as well)
  • the place of content and creation in the classroom
  • the need to teach the value (or otherwise) of the ICT tools as part of the learning process

Would love to hear about “different” experiences in the selection process that you have witnessed or experienced.

On Monday I will start my first degree since the early 90s. I’m undertaking a Masters in Education, specialising in eLearning. The differences in the two approaches couldn’t be more pronounced. On the one hand, my first English lecture had 800 odd sitting listening to a lecture from a professor with decades of tenure, discuss (I think) the novel, Joseph Andrews. At the time (1989), I was in awe of the University itself – the oldest in Australia – with the size of its place, all of the buildings and the 1000s of students. So this wonderment transferred quite happily to sitting and (trying) to take notes in an A4 Lecture pad while the one-way delivery of performance was given. There were  “tutes” of about ten people, where we would break down the lecture in a more informal and social fashion. Then there was the social side – of clubs and societies, the cafes and bars and growing friendships. There were no mobile phones, the internet didn’t exist and, as I recall from a Psychology I lecture, “my presentations are copyright, so you are not permitted to make audio recordings of these lectures”.

Sydney University Quadrangle 2

Sydney University Quadrangle 2 (Photo credit: iansand)

How much things have changed. Now my University is 700km away and I am studying “by distance”. Ironically, “distance” can actually be measured in metres; the distance to my nearest computing device. Thus I was checking my (required) university email account as I lay in bed last night via my iPad. I can access all the online readings, the library database, the course notes… even the course participants who I will be discussing ideas and working with, without requiring any form of travel outside of my home. There are Facebook pages specific to the course and a Twitter hashtag to follow. I’ve already started using Notability to turn my required readings from PDFs into annotatable documents that automatically sync to Dropbox. I’ve started to use “e-highlighters” in a range of colours without unzipping a pencil case!

I’m excited with what’s about to follow. Most of my work will occur via a Moodlewhere I’ll be able to take part in discussion bulletin boards, use the class Forum and receive and submit my work. I am conscious of the self paced learning which recommends 12-15 hours per subject per week. It is self paced to a degree as I still need to complete those readings and submit those pieces of work. So while I might not need to sit down for a lecture at 9am on a Monday any more, I am conscious that I need to sit down some time and do that work. My education has, until now, been predicated on a timetable and while it still exists, the goalposts are being excavated ready for the subsequent shift. The irony is that I still play field hockey for my alma mater and fondly recollect that learning that I did in those days.

University of New England (Australia)

University of New England (Australia) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, if you ever pop by in the future, feel free to give me an e-kick… up the back side, to keep me on course and get me back to my studies!

iBlog – uBlog – we… Blog  luring

This post might seem to preach a little to the converted, and for that I apologise from the outset. If you are already writing a blog, what I am about to say may well be obvious. For those who are considering starting one, or want to know more about the aspects that you might not even be aware of, this will have pertinence to you.
Firstly, I should mention that I have been running a mini-unit in my Year 9 & 10 English classes in the wind down towards the end of the year. It has been the first time I have run something like this and many of the students, with the “post exam afterglow” were initially resistant to doing something “on blogging”. For those in Year 10, who started this first, the word blogging equated to some journal writing; something they had no interest in. Step one in amending-as-you-go-teaching saw me do away with the word blog and look to use site more generally. This (Year 10) is not a highly graded class, but there are a lot of students with specific interests and abilities. Some of them hope to play higher level/professional sport. Suddenly, the nomenclature changed, a few souls could see the worth of such an enterprise. The Year 9s, following a week later in the process, were far more amenable from the outset. For many of them, the ‘hook’ took quickly.
So what is the lure?
For them (and me), the hook to addiction comes in several parts. The first comes in determining your site name. The bit that will come after the old “www” part. Because it is what I have worked with, I have used WordPress as our key format. I am sure that other blogging sites use similar systems, but for now, bear with me.
Seeing students assume that (and at this point, I didn’t know how many sites there are hosted by WordPress – now I am aware that, as I type, there are over 58 million worldwide) they can walk in to “” because basketball is their thing and (because WordPress is in the title, so it’s not like “”) no one else will have thought of it as a title, is amusing. What they thought would take 1 minute to do, ends up taking half a lesson or more, as they want to get the website title just right… not settling for something that’s too obscure. And why not? Wouldn’t you rather stumble upon something memorable and feel like you’ve staked your claim to that title? They certainly did.
The next two things came in quick succession. Before I could get round the room in the case of the Year 10s, most had already put up their first post. It was only after this that I was able to steer them back to considering why their “About” page might be worth a little bit of thought. This, along with working out what the site title would be (and the summary subheading that sits underneath this) made sense, when they had got past the excitement of setting the whole thing up. Helping me to ‘sell’ this idea, was the concept that this might well be the start of their ‘digital’ identity – one that they would like to develop and promote. Suddenly, students weren’t that keen to link their site to Facebook. It wasn’t about their friends seeing their efforts, it was more about creating something that went beyond the quick here-and-now that FB offers. As one student in Year 9 also offered, Even if we did connect our first post to FB, we all have so many ‘friends’ that the feed goes by so fast and no one would necessarily see it. 

Suddenly, substance took priority over immediacy.
While this was going on, the real hook was about to catch. I had been showing the class my own site (this one) in the form of its Dashboard. This has some compelling pieces of information embedded into it. Amongst them are the “site stats”. I’ve copied the scene that you would see, were you to have access to my Stats page.

The snapshot for the last week

The snapshot for the last week

Jokes aside regarding the (relatively) small breadth of my readership from the boys, they soon made some striking realisations. The most telling of these is that, for whatever reason, someone in Venezuela, came across my site. This came to prominence when, after several days, a few students realised that they only had ‘stats’ from Australia and, to be frank, these probably came from friends in the class who were ‘clicking’ on their site. A few boys had managed to get some views, mostly from the United States and these were held in high regard. However, even these were ‘trumped’ in days to come, as a couple of students managed to establish their first “followers” – mostly linked to the blogs that were sport based and had a broad appeal. But the seed had been planted in many minds. How and why would someone in Venezuela be in a position to be clicking (by the way, hello there in Venezuela!) “on Sir’s site!!”. I was reminded of an excellent blog by Daniel Edwards on The 10 Stages of Twitter – as the students  “Sit waiting for a response – feel unloved.” – highlighted in Stage 3!!

And so, the hook ‘takes’. For those not new to blogging, I wonder how accurate the following is: how often do you log on to see if you have ‘more hits’ and, perhaps even more compelling, whether you have new countries in your Stats? Isn’t it both satisfying and addictive, in equal part, to discover that there IS an audience out there for your efforts? For those contemplating starting a blog, this (and so much more, such as how people type phrases and questions into search engines and, by doing so, end up ‘clicking’ on your site) is a fascinating side to the form that you might not be aware of.

It certainly makes the process and the thought behind what I do, all the more considered. Even if I know that many coming to my site might be there by accident, and so, not hang around for long. Who doesn’t appreciate an audience?

Anyone else got any blogging lures?

A possible start of year address from a few hundred years ago…

Good morning students, and welcome back for the new school year. We certainly have an exciting year ahead of us. I have called this assembly to go over how the new iSlate devices will operate.
By now you should all have received your devices and, looking around, I can see many of you have brought them here today. Well done.
You will already know that the school has moved to implement these devices across all years. My aim this morning is to go over the process of this implementation.
Firstly, I want to thank your parents. They have outlaid a not inconsiderable sum of money to ensure that you have access to the latest technology. If you haven’t done so, you should thank them for their selfless act in putting you at the forefront of their thoughts. It is also beholden upon you to respect and care for your device. These slate pieces are quite robust but, as Worthington major found out this morning, tend to come off second best if dropped on the cobbled paving. We have asked you to get the wooden cork backing, but this will only provide a small level of protection. I encourage you and your parents to consider having specific insurance to cover possible damage to your device.

iSlate 1.0 From four shillings & sixpence. Available now.

Once at school, there are some expectations that we have with how you will use your device. I wish to go over some of these here with you now:
1. In starting, it is important to see your iSlate as a tool and not a toy. Certainly, you have the potential to use it for its novelty value, for its newness. However, we hope that we will see you use this as a device that aids in your education, as a content creation device and method of storing your invaluable notes. Social media, such as doodling is fine in itself; just contemplate where and when you should consider its use. Leaving your iSlate lying around with inappropriate observations about staff and students could lead to serious long-term repercussions for you and for others.
2. Practical considerations are important with using your iSlate. You will need to supply your own chalk and be attentive to how you manage it. It should be kept sharpened to make the most of your iSlate. You should not fritter away this resource with pointless doodling and, I need not say, borrowing the chalk of others will be regarded in the same light as stealing.
3. iSlates are to be kept in locker areas for safe keeping when not in use. As mentioned before, think carefully about how you intend to transport your devices to and from school. Again I remind you of their monetary value and the need for care. You should think carefully about ‘wiping’ your iSlate each day and what erasing this information will mean for your revision. Back-ups are, obviously, prohibitively expensive at this time.
4. In class, it is important to realise that the iSlate may not be used all the time. There will be times when its use is inappropriate, and your teacher may request that you put your iSlate ‘face down’ on the desk. The expectations regarding respect for all, and especially staff, remains unchanged.
5. Finally, it is important to realise that, all things considered, your iSlate device is only another tool to help you learn. It does not replace the most important tool that you possess in your arsenal, namely, your brain. It cannot do the thinking, the questioning, for you. Only you can do that. In addition to this, it will not make you a better person. Your values and what you stand for come from within. It may help your productivity, but will not replace your personality.

Certainly there are exciting times ahead and the staff and I are looking forward to some striking work as always. Rest assured, we will all be reviewing the use of these devices in coming months. Students dismissed.


iSlate 1.0 replaces the A-book as the new “device to have”

Following on from the positive feedback from my ROBOT Drama post, I’ve decided to put up another game that works well over an English (or Drama) class. Once again, it is one that I recall from the out-of-print When Are We Going to Have More Drama by Peter Moore. It provides for some good follow-up work covering communication and prejudice, which I’ll come back to at the end of the post.

Premise: Students are, in groups of three, to make a party hat.

Procedure: The fiddly, time consuming bit comes in the set up for this lesson, which is the only real downside. You will need to get 8 bags (for a class of 24 – for numbers less than this, just remove a bag per three students), 8 “lots” (2-3 big broadsheets work well) of newspaper, 7 lots of scissors, 7 lots of stick tape and various smaller items that are self-explanatory from the instructions that are found in each bag. I also look to put a piece of coloured paper in the bag (like an A4 sheet size of one colour) that can be used to help highlight the hat’s “beauty”.

When your students enter the class and are in groups of three, one member can select a bag that, to all intents, appear the ‘same’. There are no ‘returns’ on the bag – it is a lucky dip that you commit to.

Here are the 8 sets of instructions that you split,  putting one in each bag. You will see that the instructions are simple and outline the task very effectively:


*You are to make a party hat. *You have 25 minutes to make it. *You have no handicap.


*You are to make a party hat. *You have 25 minutes to make it. *Two of your members are blindfolded. *Only these two are able to use the materials.

Paper hat

From the basic… (Photo credit: shufgy)


*You are to make a party hat.

*You have 25 minutes to make it.

*Each member will have masking tape placed over the mouth to stop talking.


*You are to make a party hat.

*You have 25 minutes to make it.

*You are not allowed to use your writing hand. This must be placed behind your back at all times.


*You are to make a party hat. *You have 25 minutes to make it. *You must use your tie to bind your wrists together (separately) and must work in this fashion.


*You are to make a party hat.

*You have 25 minutes to make it.


To the unlikley… (Photo credit: George Eastman House)

*You must use your tie to bind your left wrist to the right wrist of one of your team members (and theirs to yours).


*You are to make a party hat.

*You have 25 minutes to make it.

*You have no scissors.


*You are to make a party hat.

*You have 25 minutes to make it.

*You have no tape.

Run Through and Follow Up: Reading through the above will probably prove self-explanatory as to how the game would run. While the task is running you are likely to find: that the group without sticky tape finds the process the most challenging, that students may use their initiative and may use any and all (including the scissors!) products – and the bag – in making their hat, that you will need to monitor some groups more than others to see that they “stick” to their challenge.

At the end, students model their hats at a hat parade. From this point, some follow up activities that extend the drama  in a number of directions can include:

  • students create a one minute ‘pitch‘ to accompany the launch of the hat – this can be used to promote (and perhaps explain!) the hat and its features
  • having an outsider ‘judge‘ the hats. One aspect to this is to not tell about the handicaps, or perhaps to amend this by mentioning that there are handicaps but not which ones are which
  • once the judging has been done (and the clean up!), a debrief on the task is useful. This includes the students’ reaction (especially when the judge knew nothing of the handicaps) to not winning. Stimulus points for discussion are useful, such as how wider society views individuals and groups (e.g. judging us on our handicaps and not our potential) as well as how both communication and handicapping can affect group and individual dynamics.

Overall, this can be a messy, noisy and enjoyable lesson and can act as an effective ‘one off’, or a good segue to units dealing with underprivileged groups, ‘able’ society and its responsibilities, and communication and values more generally. Let me know if you’d like further Drama ideas and suggestions like this and the ROBOT game.

Looking to do some drama in your English class – perhaps something more developed than a warm up game? Then I present the Robot Game – which I originally saw in Peter Moore’s When Are We Going To Have More Drama, now out of print.
This is probably the most requested (long) drama activity that I have done with students. The ‘performance’, which takes most of a lesson, can often be hilarious, as students who have not prepared sufficient ‘actions’ realise that there may be some tasks that their ‘robot’ will struggle with.
In doubling in this post, I have also decided to upload my first Explain Everything video, created to introduce the task to the students – so I am looking to explore the practicalities of this app (part one) in the English/Drama classroom.
So, before any embedded videos, here is the ‘print’ form of the task, aimed at teachers:

Premise: You are captured in a prison on an alien world. Your only resource to help you escape is a ‘robot’ that does not speak English. You must learn its language in order to guide it through a ‘maze’ in order to retrieve a set of keys.
Procedure: DAY ONE: Divide students into groups. At first, the students work together to create a fake ‘language’ of about 5-15 commands (you don’t need to tell them this) in order to pilot the robot. Foreign languages are out, or other simplifications of English (eg Left = L). In the past, things like Simpsons characters, car brands and jibberish have been popular. Students then rehearse/test the language with the robot (the robot will NOT have the commands on the final run).
DAY TWO: While you set up the course with the course planners, drivers have a final practice run. Robots sit outside until called. Drivers are brought in and the course is demonstrated to them. Then each robot is brought in and the drivers have to pilot the robot around the course.
THE RUN THROUGH: A robot (that is, a student) is brought in and sits down on a chair. The two drivers (the other two students) ‘sit’ on their hands, with the instructions in front of them and can only offer the rehearsed “commands” (i.e. no eye contact ‘offers’, no pointing etc). Any use of English (e.g. accidental calls of “NO!” or “Stop!”, incur a 5 second penalty. The total amount of time is (usually) 5 minutes. A robot may get ‘stuck’ at a point and you may offer the drivers the option of a one-off, 30 second penalty to ‘advance’ past this procedure. The total time having expired, may see robots finish while still on the course, so keep tabs of where they finish (plus penalties).
Other Observations: The only ‘caveat’ is that robots will need to be outside, for up to (in the case of the last robot), the bulk of the period. This has never been a problem for me, but could be an issue, depending on your class. The lesson is usually hilarious, based on the absence of necessary commands, with students walking “into” tables because they haven’t thought about climb over or crawl under in their set up. You can make it as hard or as easy for your class as you need. I’ve usually run this with year 7 but it would work up to year 9 potentially. You will need to keep the changeover of robots tight, otherwise you’ll easily run over time.
Possible Marks/Extension: You can use this as a group mark, based on their ability to work in a group (esp in period 1) effectively. A reflection task can be to have the boys discuss ideas of communication and how they were challenged by expectation and what happened.

Explain Everything – a reflection

Below you will find my first ‘attempt’ at Explain Everything. All up, it probably took about an hour of solid work to get it done, and I beg your indulgence at my efforts! There were a few issues with crashes (and some odd slide clashes) that probably made the process a little more frustrating than one would hope and expect. My aim was to create this solely using my iPad – so that the idea of lightweight, portable content creation became the focus.
Here are some other observations about the app from my first go:
1. Ensure that you have your ‘script’ created beforehand. I did this, which worked well. Having all of the images, photos and the like set up (my son drew the rocket ship) before, rather than stopping and sourcing/creating them as you go, would also be advisable.
2. Overall, the feel and use of the app is great. It is easy (the help ‘manual’ is good, although perhaps not as extensive as one might like) to use and mostly intuitive. I would liked to have seen the ability to copy images from one slide to the next (unless I’ve missed how to do this), as this is a common trait that makes the iPad a boon in most areas. Instead, I sometimes tried to duplicate the slide and erase elements that I did not want. The only downside from this was that (for some reason), some of the erased elements would magically re-insert themselves later on – frustrating. I’m sure this is a glitch that will soon be fixed.
3. Consider how you are going to ‘animate’ it ahead of time. I found trying to make it look ‘smooth’ while doing any voiceover (again, apologies for the tone that suggests “I’m concentrating here!”) at the same time. However, it is relatively easy to pause and break the animation and thus the voiceover.
4. Practical uses for the English Class. Thus far I can see two main uses. The first is for something like this, where you can make it a story tied to a series of instructions. Students could look at this the night before (reflecting possible ‘Flipped’ class models), work online together to come up with their “list” of commands, and come in ready to go with the rehearsal/performance the next day. The second would be as an explanatory tool. At present at my school, Year 9 are working on a unit studying a range of sonnets. Explain Everything would work quite well as a ‘study guide’, that covers the structural elements that make up a sonnet. The advantages would be that, despite some time investment (several hours), you would have a resource that you could use again and, perhaps more importantly, a guide that students can visit more than once in order to help with their study of the form.
I think I’ll see how I go with that as my ‘second attempt’. In the meantime, the first attempt is below. Let me know if you need any clarification with the task, or wish to make suggestions about other ways Explain Everything might work in the English (Drama?) classroom.