Friday, December 10, 2010

The science of motivation: implications for learning

In this very interesting video, Daniel Pink presents a surprising fact about the effect of incentives on human behaviour.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

One day at the VITTA 2010 conference

Yesterday, I attended the second day of the conference of the Victorian Information Technology Teachers' Association - VITTA. I could not attend both days because of other commitments I had at school. My impression was beyond good! Here are some details:

  1. Keynote: Tim Costello, CEO of World Vision Australia. Reverend Costello (he's an ordained minister) spoke about leadership. He spoke about leaders, and by extension teachers, tapping into people's needs and curiosities. He gave examples from the story of Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Clinton and others. Leaders, he argued, knew how to honour people's negative energies and then reframe them to create a positive outcome. One of the things he said was that a great force in the world is parents making sacrifices for their children. He wondered why our leaders didn't tap into that to make education, and the status of teachers, their highest priority.
  2. Give GameMaking a Go. Three students from Mount Waverley Primary school, accompanied by their inspirational teacher, Leeanne King, gave us a tutorial in GameMaker. They were bright, confident and unbelievable articulate. I was so impressed I tweeted: "I would definitely replace me with that grade 4 boy".
  3. 1:1 program in Sandhurst Catholic Schools: The presentation was very informative and would have been very revealing had my school not gone through what it did in the last year. The speakers went through costing, choice of laptops and curriculum considerations. They were very thorough.
  4. Prizes for videos of different categories. Although I haven't done it yet, I intend to check them out on
  5. Afternoon keynotes: Adam Brice and Paul Callaghan. An inspirational deputy principal of a primary school and a freelance game developer. Wow is all I will say about these guys' presentations. Check out what the students in Adam's school on the website: Paul made his slides available on his own blog:
  6. Free session. I had a free session somehow! I used it to go around the trade show and talk to people 
  7. Edmodo. This was a hands on workshop by John Pearce. Check out his blog. He keeps many helpful links and tutorials.
All in all, I was very glad to attend. The networking was great. I learned a few surprising facts about some university offerings which may help us extend some of our students. Thanks VITTA for a great event.

I hope to go again next year and to see many more innovative educators.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Gaining perspective: The children not in our classroom

Today, I was feeling rotten about many things. It is the busiest time of year and many other things are going on at and outside of school. I was tired and generally miserable. The thought that dominated all others was: I am being unfair to my own children. 

When I came home, two things happened that helped me put things into perspective and feel grateful again.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

What have you created at school today?

The schooling I received as a child was truly remarkable considering I grew up in a time of civil war. I finished school reasonably fluent in three languages and with enough Maths and Physics behind me to apply for Science and Engineering degrees. One thing I don't remember doing at school was create things.  My art teacher tried but all I could do was reproduce basic drawings or water colours that earned the grades F (Faible - Weak) and AB (Assez Bien - Good Enough!).

This year I experimented with Scratch, an MIT Media Labs environment for building interactive animations and games. Scratch allows students to create, regardless of their level of artistic talent. Given how little time they spent with tutorials and the fact that they only had about 4x60 minutes of class time, a week apart, to create their final product, the results were outstanding.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

What do you think Apple stands for?

In a really good TED Talk, Simon Sinek tell us to "start with why". In a nutshell, he says that successful companies like Apple sell their products by selling us what they stand for: "People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it." For the life of me, I cannot think of any slogan associated with Apple and what I thought they stood for was very different from what Sinek states in the video.

So here's my question: What do you think Apple stands for? Please leave me an answer in the comments.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Giving valuable feedback to students

Feedback to students can come from different sources: peers, teachers and the student's own reflection. In this post, I will concentrate on feedback given by teachers and how it can contribute to student learning. Having written a minor thesis on formative assessment, I have found the literature on feedback quite prolific. I submit the following practical thoughts for your consideration:
Give feedback often: It is important that the students not be left wondering about their level of understanding or performance until an assessment is administered. Feedback needs to be timely. Good questioning practices, about which I hope to write soon, can be a great source of information about "gaps" we would like the students to fill.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Teaching as story telling (updated post)

This is a reworked post:

Three years ago, we held a function at the school for retiring teachers. One of them, a fan of the classics, said: "teaching is about story telling. I believe even Maths teachers should be story tellers."

That day was also the last day of school for our students. My year 7s started quoting back to me stories and jokes I had told them about Mathematics.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Why -Not- Teach Programming at School

Those of us who believe in teaching programming at school level are often asked to give a rationale for it. This is especially the case in Girls' schools where elective courses in programming have a hard time getting the necessary numbers. The following is not a list of reasons to teach programming. Rather, it is an argument for starting the discussion with the question: "why not teach programming?"

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Teaching patient problem-solving

If you're a Mathematics teacher, please watch this. I am fascinated in reading your reactions to this:

Friday, September 17, 2010

What to make of the NAPLAN results?

This week, The National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) results have come out and will soon be in the hands of parents' with a child in grades 3, 5, 7 or 9. I have blogged before about the political nature of national testing in a broad post. Here, I would like to offer some thoughts on the good and bad of this testing regime:

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Myth of the "Digital Native"

We often hear that our students are "digital natives". The usual connotation is that they know how to use the technology and we simply need to provide the context for them to apply this knowledge. Of course, this assumption is true for many students.

In my experience, there are just as many students whose ICT skills are not up to scratch. Here are a few general skills I wish students had picked up in their primary education (grades prep to 6 in Victoria):

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Tips for mentoring preservice teachers

Having posted 7 tips for preservice teachers, I thought I would turn my attention to the supervising teacher.  Most of what I will say here comes from the great work that four teachers did with me when I was a preservice teacher. Other things I will say come from my own, limited, experience as a supervisor.
My four supervisors, to whom I am very grateful, gave me two things: freedom and support. 

Friday, September 10, 2010

7 Tips from a Preservice Teacher to Others

Following my post 7 Tips for Preservice Teachers, I am pleased to present the following tips from the same preservice teacher who inspired my post:
  1. Think of your teaching round as a once in a lifetime opportunity for on-the-job training. There is no industry out there that offers this opportunity to learn the ropes and be mentored by an experienced professional. Take this opportunity to learn as much as you can.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

7 Tips for preservice teachers (aka student teachers)

I am currently supervising a very competent student-teacher. I decided to reflect on what it is that Josie is doing well. To those who are about to go out to schools, here are some tips:

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Tired but grateful

Feeling tired
Of late, I have been feeling very tired. The demands of the job and the few other things I try to do in life seem unrelenting. I catch myself thinking of alternative careers, ones where one can leave work at work. I am probably averaging 11 hours a day with a few hours extra on the weekends. The holidays will arrive soon, but there is a lot of work awaiting me.

On the other hand!
On the other hand, I am so fortunate to have the students that I do. Of the five different groups that I teach, I have 3 or 4 students whom I would classify as "somewhat difficult". They're all in the one class, which is a blessing. It is one class that I brace myself before entering. The others are bliss. A student teacher who has observed some of my classes of late has remarked on the good rapport I have with my classes. The kids I teach are really really remarkable. For them, I am grateful.

If you are grateful for the students you teach, let me know in the comments. It is good for us teachers to look past the difficult students and remember the ones who are good to deal with.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

What in the Amazon? Your Kindle highlights monitored

One of my RSS feeds, GTD Times, had a post telling us that Getting Things Done was the 5th most highlighted book on the Kindle. I took a look at the list of the 25 most highlighted books and asked myself, is Amazon cataloguing Kindle highlights?

The answer is: Yes, Amazon knows what you're highlighting and what notes you're writing!

According to the Amazon website:
If you have a Kindle device, you can turn off having your highlights in popular highlights by turning off Annotations Backup in Settings on your device. If you have a Kindle App, we will be adding this capability soon. Annotations BackUp backs up your annotations and last page read and syncs them across devices. 
So, here's the deal:
  • Those of us who have a Kindle device can avoid our reading habits being tracked, only if we have no way of synchronising our reads or recovering them in case our reader crashes.
  • Those of us reading Kindle books on our iPad or smartphone have no choice but to "share". 
Who was it that coined the term "lose, lose"?

Friday, August 20, 2010

The little things our students notice

I had a gratifying moment at the end of two tiring days. I thought I would share this with my readers: 

After returning to school from a sporting excursion, a colleague informed me that he had met with the  mother of a current student of his (and former student of mine), Dorothy. During that meeting, the mother mentioned my name as a "mentor" and a "father figure" to her daughter. Apparently, young Dorothy used to go home and tell about Mr B who "said hello" to her.

This episode struck me by the fact that it was both simple and profound at the same time. How many little things do teachers do that touch their students in ways they are not even aware of?

I wanted to share this gratifying moment with you and I hope that you would do the same. Please share any such moments you have had in the comments.