Modern learning spaces & collaboration

Albany Senior High School (1)

I read this blog post from the CORE Education blog Modern Learning Environments: Not ‘any colour as long as it’s black’ and the second part of it headed up Teacher learning really got me thinking.

Firstly, a disclaimer: I have never taught in a modern learning space. These are simply my thoughts and observations from what I have seen, read and heard.

I imagine, although I cannot be certain that probably 95% or more of schools in New Zealand do not have modern learning spaces (I would love someone to tell me that I’m very wrong about this!). There could be a number of reasons for this, but I imagine that the most likely is that most of our schools are aging, and the funding that they receive for building and maintenance does not enable them to modernise across the school very quickly – they either have to do one or two classrooms or a block at a time, or try to do a little bit across all/many classrooms. I have a little bit of experience as a Board of Trustees member and when it comes to buildings there seems to be a balancing act between these classrooms must be replaced now and let’s be fair across everyone and upgrade a part of every classroom so that it’s consistent across the school. I believe many of our schools simply haven’t been given a real opportunity to update themselves, so unless you’re in a brand new school, chances are high that you’re teaching or learning in silos – in individual classrooms separated from one another by four walls.

It has been my observation that sometimes (certainly not always the case) these classrooms become a certain teachers domain, and although some are willing to collaborate, often collaboration does not occur at the level perhaps needed/desired.

Interestingly, I have also observed in online “classrooms”, in what could be considered a modern learning space, that we talk a lot about how collaboration and interaction can occur with students but seem to do little of it with teachers. The technology we are using to run these online classes is set up for communication and interaction but it appears often that only goes as far as our students. Yes, I am generalising, and I’m sure those that are reading this blog are collaborating with other teachers in a variety of ways, however I know this is not always the case.

I strongly believe that if we have these expectations of our students, then we as teachers need to be doing it too. We need to collaborate with teachers in our schools and build professional networks to learn, to grow and to inspire us. We need to do what we can to move out of the comfortable silos that we we have grown accustomed to and share our experiences with our colleagues.

This year I have started team-teaching online with two other teachers. It’s going to be an interesting journey as we bare all in how we teach and interact online. I think it will be good for all of us because we are having to be open and because we are able to learn from each other. We have no choice but to work together.


BTW: The CORE Ed blog is well worth following if you don’t already.

Image: Albany Senior High School By 4nitsirkKristina D.C. Hoeppner –

E-learning or learning?

I’ve heard quite a few people say that there is, or should not be, e-learning. It is just learning. While I agree with them in principle I believe it is important at this stage that we keep the ‘e’. Yes, while our job as educators is to teach / facilitate / guide (whatever term you prefer) students in their learning, and no, it’s not – or shouldn’t be – about the tools that we use, I believe that technology should be integrated into teaching and learning. The problem I see, is that although there are some teachers and schools doing this well, there are many others that have not even begun this journey.

There are probably many reasons why some have not taken up integrating technology into their teaching. Perhaps they are scared of it, or scared of doing something wrong/breaking it. Perhaps they don’t have time to learn it. Maybe they don’t believe it is necessary. It could be that getting through ‘the curriculum’ is most important to them. Personally, I believe (and I mentioned this in a recent post) if we don’t integrate technology, we’re disadvantaging our students.

Until it’s the norm for teachers to integrate technology into their teaching, then the ‘e’ needs to stay there. We need to show teachers that integrating e-learning/technology into their teaching is just a standard part of the job now. I think we also need to demonstrate to our wider school communities that e-learning does not mean our students, our children will be sitting in front of a screen all day, effectively cut off from the rest of the world. I believe this is a common misconception about e-learning (although it’s possibly legitimate in some circumstances). It’s about using technology to enhance the learning experience. It’s about using the tools we now have to expand our students creativity, their imagination. It’s about showing our students that with some of these tools that can do and be things they never imagined.

Yes, we need to drop the ‘e’ from e-learning. But not yet. For a while longer it needs to be separated to show what can be done with technology and to encourage more to jump in.

Angry Birds & Education – it doesn’t have to be about Math!

This is going to be short and sweet. Angry Birds is often discussed in terms of mathematics and projectile motion, however in this blog post Dan Meyer takes a different view. This post is well worth a read if you want some good, quick and simple tips about teaching and instructional design.

Check it out: Five Lessons On Teaching From Angry Birds That Have Nothing Whatsoever To Do With Parabolas

Keeping our kids safe online

I was privileged enough to go to a short talk from ex Australian detective, Brett Lee, last week talk about cyber safety. Brett spent a lot of his time as an online detective in the search for cyber criminals – particularly paedophiles. He was once asked if he would see one cyber criminal online when he went online. He said that he would see 30.

Brett had a very simple message – we need to educate our kids about the dangers of the internet. He said that they are the same dangers that you face by walking down the street. We teach our kids about stranger danger – not to get in someone’s car, not to talk to strangers etc, but we aren’t so good when it comes to the internet. The same applies when talking to strangers on the internet. People (children/teens in particular) have a strong sense of anonymity on the internet that they feel safe. But these criminals know what our children need or want to hear. They know how to ‘groom’ a child.

Brett showed one of the chats he had with a ‘stranger’. Within moments he knew he was dealing with a paedophile, however a teenage boy or girl may not be aware. They do not have the life experience and the adult instincts that adults have. They cannot know the dangers unless we teach them.

Brett normally runs a two day workshop, and I imagine this would be excellent. I only attended an hour-long talk and was really impressed.

Brett’s website is

Christchurch earthquake – a teaching resource

My colleagues and I have set up a WikiEducator page about the recent Christchurch earthquake (February 22, 2011). We are collaborating with scientists, teachers and students from around New Zealand and the world. It is only in it’s very beginning stages, however the plan is that this resource will help lead students towards achieving the New Zealand NCEA Achievement Standard 90955 Investigate and astronomical or Earth science event. There is of course no reason why this resource could not work towards other qualifications around the world.

A big aim of the resource is that it will answer some of the questions that people have about the earthquake. A common question for example is, “What is liquefaction?” Hopefully, also, a resource like this might help people to be prepared for another disaster of this kind (if you can ever be fully prepared).

If you have something you are able to add to this resource, please do so. It is exciting to think we can collaborate on a project like this. Like I said before, it’s only in it’s beginning stages. It needs to have some structure given to it, but the hope is to have something prepared as quickly as possible – within the next 2-3 weeks.

Looking forward to the collaboration and the opportunity to work with a variety of different people!

Here’s the link:


Our thoughts continue to go out to those affected by this tragic event.

“Don’t force it … it will break!”

Pulling the Legs Off a Spider

Growing up I often heard the phrase from my parents, “Don’t force it … it will break”. I was reminded of this recently while reading the book, “Making the Move to eLearning” by Kay Lehmann and Lisa Chamberlain. In it they discuss the problems of pushing teachers into facilitating online classes. Often if a person does not want to become an online teacher/facilitator they have good reasons – usually they are just not comfortable enough with technology. Lehmann and Chamberlain point out that those who vocally speak out against teaching online probably should not be pushed into the role. Forcing them into the role of online teacher/facilitator could make them more upset causing destruction to the teaching/learning or further drag them down or their students down.

Teaching online is not for everyone. We need to ensure that we don’t force teachers into teaching this way. They may be very comfortable and good teaching in front of a class, face-to-face, but this may not be the case through technology. I think they can be encouraged to use it, but we don’t want to force them into a position where they break, or their students break in whatever way this might be.

2011 – What’s in store?

Resolutions and goals2011 is upon us and the new school year begins in just over a week. I’ve enjoyed a good holiday and am beginning to think about school and teaching again.

This year brings the revised NCEA Level 1 Achievement Standards. This requires new learning for teachers and students. As a result it brings with it a whole lot of new teaching and learning resources in my school which I (and my colleagues) will need to become familiar with.

With a new year for many people come resolutions and goals.

One of my goals this year is to help develop online teaching and learning materials for distance learners at NCEA Level 1 in particular. This is easier said than done. Most of the e-learning papers/articles that have been written are for higher education. This is an area that has been working in one way or another in online learning for a while. Some of it has been quite effective, and others have not. Of course the advantage in higher education is that the teachers/facilitators can assume that their students are able to read and write and that their students will cope with a lot of text. This is not necessarily the case for secondary students. Some secondary students can barely read. They require a lot of motivation to read text in order to learn, therefore images/diagrams/videos are very important. One could argue they are important at higher levels also, however there is a different motivation for students who are choosing to study rather than those who have to study due to legal requirement.

So, to develop online teaching and learning materials for distance secondary students will be (and has been) a challenge. They need to be interesting, motivating and demonstrate good pedagogy.

I am continuing with my post-graduate study in e-learning, so hopefully this will help. I found the study interesting and motivating last year and am looking forward to that beginning again near the end of February. Of course it means I’m giving myself extra to do along with raising a family of 5 kids, but I think it’s worth it!

One thing I’m interested in this year is what new technology is to come. With the iPad last year has meant that a lot of companies have been developing their own similar tablets. I wonder what the introduction of a greater range of tablets (some very cheap) can offer education.

Well, let’s wait and see and enjoy the year!