Monday Mentions–19 November 2012

It’s been a while, but I thought I’d try out getting some Monday Mentions going again. These are my favourite blog posts and articles from the past week in no particular order. Enjoy.

Skills for Learning 2.0 – by Steve Wheeler (@timbuckteeth) from Learning with e’s.
In this post Steve discusses the shift from the 3 R’s, to the 4 C’s – Connection, Context, Complexity and Connotation.

8 Tips to remember what you read  by Ross Crockett from the committed sardine blog.
As the title suggests, this post gives 8 tips to remember what you read. It starts off stating that many people don’t read particularly well, possibly due to all the screen time and then continues into 8 tips.

Great Teaching in Preschool – by Josh Stumpenhorst from Stump the teacher.

Josh outlines some great lessons all teachers can learn from the early childhood sector. Early childhood educators are fantastic!

Principles of the tweeting Principals – by Ainslie MacGibbon from The Sydney Morning Herald.
This is an article about how Australian Principals are using Twitter to continue learning and to collaborate.

Are you really engaging your students? –  by Cherra-Lynne Olthof from Teaching on Purpose.
In this post Cherra-Lynne explains what engagement is. This is a topic I’m quite passionate about as I don’t believe student engagement is well understood by educators. Many people have different views as to what student engagement is. It’s more complex than you might think!

“Label the parts of a microscope…” – by Doyle from Science teacher.
This is a very good blog post that makes you question why we’ve always done certain things. Why do we get students to label the parts of a microscope
Is it time to drop the Digital? – by Chris Betcher from Betchablog.
Chris suggests we can drop the word ‘digital’ from a number of terms in our vocabulary. What do you think?

Has twitter killed the art of blog commenting? – by Stephanie (@traintheteacher) from Teaching the teacher.
Stephanie discusses how commenting on blog posts seems to be changing.

Ocular albinism & BLENNZ

Me and Miss2On Wednesday my wife and I found out that our youngest child (girl – nearly 3) has ocular albinism – a genetic eye condition where there is a reduced amount of pigment in the retina. Apparently my wife is a carrier of the condition, but she has no issues with her sight. It’s not new for our family however, as our eldest son (7) also has it and we have known he had vision difficulties since he was only a few weeks old.

So what does it mean for them? Well, for our son (who vision is worse than our daughter) it means that he has difficulty focusing on things. It takes quite a lot of effort for him to focus. Glasses help, but do not fully overcome the problem. At school he gets tired relatively quickly as a lot of his energy is going in to focusing on what he needs to see. He has no depth perception. A good indication of his vision is when his Mum was standing on one side of the road with someone else and he was on the photo (3)other side, he knew there were two people there but could not make out who was who.

Right from the time our son was 9 months old however, we have had the support of BLENNZ and their RTVs. BLENNZ is the Blind and Low Vision Education Network New Zealand – they are a school in their own right, but they have RTVs (Resource Teacher of Vision) who go and work with and support children with vision difficulties (not just ocular albinism) from before school age and right through school. They work with and support their teachers and help in getting any assistive technology that will support the children in their learning.

BLENNZ learning libraryOur son since being at school has had the use of a few different pieces of technology. Firstly he has a dome magnifier that he can move over a page that he’s reading and it will magnify the text for him. Yes – it’s a magnifying glass, but in the shape of a dome. One advantage of this is that he doesn’t have to get right above it to see. Secondly he had the use of a CCTV. You can read more about that in this article from the BLENNZ Learning Library in which he stars! The CCTV, I think, made a big impact on his learning. It certainly made it easier to keep up with others in his class. He is quite bright, but his vision slows him down. When he has the technology to assist him, he is able to keep up.

(Here is a video about the BLENNZ Learning Library if you are interested – well worth a watch)

This year his awesome RTV helped get him an iPad, along with a Bluetooth keyboard and a airprint enabled printer/scanner. Now he can have class reading books made available to him as ebooks in which he can enlarge the print as much as he needs to. He can have any worksheets scanned and emailed to his iPad. He can take photos of work on the board and enlarge it (he struggles to see the board). He can do his written work on the iPad without having to try to see the faint lines in an exercise book.

Not only do BLENNZ work in the classrooms, but they organise curriculum days where they can get together with other students of low vision and learn with them. Earlier this year my son and I went up to Auckland for a zoo trip with several other children – it was fantastic! BLENNZ support the parents also with tips and guidance on what will help the children. Yesterday his new RTV took him (and me) fishing to teach him some new skills! He caught 7 fish!

My wife and I are really grateful for the excellent work that BLENNZ do. They are making such a difference for our son, and we look forward to the awesome work continuing with our daughter.

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.

Is technology important in a classroom?

I firstly need to clear something up… Technology has always been used as a teaching tool. Eg. papyrus, slates, blackboards, overhead projectors (remember those? – Many teachers still use them!). Technology is dependent on what we know and understand at the time. Just because we have access to laptops, iPads, interactive whiteboards/projectors, mobile phones etc now, does not mean that technology in the classroom is a new idea. We’re just using different technology that has been used in the past.

Of course I’m specifically talking about computers, tablets, mobile phones and any other modern device you might be able to think of.

If we are not allowing/using at least some of these devices in the classroom as a part of learning then I think we’re disadvantaging our students.

Perhaps that’s a big statement to make, as there are many excellent teachers in schools teaching without using this technology, however I struggle to think of any jobs that does not require the use of this type of technology at some point.

I’m not talking about using these devices for word processing or simply publishing their work. We are beyond the age of typewriters. Teachers and students need to use these devices to be creative! Rather than sitting at a desk and writing by pen a draft story to then be edited before being typed up on a computer, our students could be writing and editing on the computer (that’s what they’re for). Or the student might not ‘publish it’ as a written story at all. Perhaps they will video themselves reading their story and share it on YouTube? Or maybe they will share it through an animation site?

When used to the full potential, our students are able to be creative and innovative and share their ideas they’ve come up with or created using technology, with a wide audience via the internet. They can receive feedback from this wide audience on their ideas/compositions/whatever they’ve done – both positive and negative – and can use that to learn and to improve on what they have done. It’s not just limited to feedback from one teacher, or their classmates.

There are so many tools available for students to show off their creativity, their innovation, their brilliance – both online or through apps and other software. Many of these tools are free! Yes, teachers will need to learn about some of them, but perhaps once some carefully thought through transfer of skills has occurred, our students will firstly learn to find new tools that suit their needs, and some of our students will create tools that suit their needs for others to also use!

If schools and teachers do not allow technology into their classrooms, we’re going to remain stuck in an age that the rest of the world is well beyond.

I know there are many many things that teachers and students can do using these devices that I have not mentioned – enjoy discovering them! And yes – many schools are embracing technology in teaching and learning. I think you’ve taken an exciting and needed step. Will it take time, patience and effort? For sure! But I truly believe it will be worth it.

WHAT?! Don’t worry about unqualified teachers??

There is something about 2012, education and the National Party that has had me thinking a lot more about politics this year. Right now I think that the National Party should be quite concerned about the apparent double standards of Prime Minister John Key.

On the one hand, the PM has stated that those people who want to become teachers will need to have a degree already and then go on to complete postgraduate study in education. However, on the other hand, he has said today that unqualified, unregistered teachers will be able to teach in charter schools. So he’s made it more difficult to get teachers qualified, but made it easier for anyone to teach if they choose to teach in a charter school.

Link to news article

I notice also that the PM has stated that they will close down charter schools that are not successful as quickly as they’re setting them up. Surely this statement alone means that we should focus on what we’re currently doing instead of trying something new – essentially having our children as guinea pigs in something that the government itself is unsure whether it will work.

I still wonder why the Prime Minister is not the Minister for Education, as he seems to be the main spokesperson for anything to do with it at the moment and was during the first year of National Standards also!

NZ Mission to Mars – KiwiMars

Today’s blog post is a guest post from my good friend and colleague, Bruce Ngataierua (@bruceyn). It outlines his recent ‘mission to Mars’.

IHi my name is Bruce Ngataierua and I was involved in a analogue simulation mission called KiwiMars 2012. The mission was to send 6 people to live in a simulated environment that would be analogous to living on the surface of Mars.

We travelled to the USA and stayed in a place called the Mars Desert Research Station (M.D.R.S) in the middle of the Utah desert. We undertook many activities that simulated what it would be like to actually live on Mars like eating dried packaged food like astronauts eat, walking around in simulated space suits and conserving our resources like water.


The landscape was an awesome sight and it was like nothing I had experienced before. It was a strange “alien” world of hills and rocks and walking around in a space suit was a bit strange as it made you aware of all your senses. You could hear your breath and you could only communicate to others effectively through your radio link.



The mission went from 23 April to 5 May 2012 and the main objective was an education and outreach programme where students from New Zealand would interact with the crew on how they found their experiences during the mission

The other objective was to produce resources in the Planet Earth and Beyond (PEB) strand of the Science curriculum to help teachers and students in the teaching, learning and engagement of space sciences in New Zealand E

Lesson Plans were planned under a range of topics including:

We communicated with mission control in NZ at Carter Observatory everyday during the mission dates and I spoke with over 500 students either at mission control or online inquiring about the how the mission was going.

Common questions asked included…

  • The environment and living conditions
  • Food
  • What we saw and did

Resources are still being developed post mission and the possibility of being involved with another project called “Spaceward Bound”. This is a possible “Space Camp” idea here in NZ with the help of NASA personnel to train our students.




Overall the mission was a great success and we had an awesome time. It was certainly a unique experience that could have “far reaching” possibilities for the future of space exploration in our future.

KiwiMars website

Bruce let me know that if you want to ask any questions about his time away, please feel free to contact him through twitter or leave a comment below. Also if you want Bruce (or another crew member) to visit your school then please get in touch with him.

Pedagogy – what is this thing?

Ever since I started my teacher training back in 2000, I’ve wondered what this pedagogy word really was. Everyone I was studying with appeared to have a good understanding of this word, but I didn’t. I was too shy to say so, and just kept on as if nothing was wrong.

Over the past 2 years I’ve been studying towards my PGDipEd while teaching. And this word that get’s bandied around by teachers, academics and the like, kept coming up. It wasn’t until I had to write something about pedagogy in an assignment that I actually stopped and asked my online class and lecturer what this word actually means. I had Googled it (like any studious person) and had come up with a range of definitions! After reading quite a few I decided on a definition:

Pedagogy is the art and science of teaching

I had a few responses from my online class, but was still a bit unsure. Actually I still am unsure!

Last week I attended an eLearning Futures conference and this word pedagogy was thrown around some more. Interestingly, most people attending this conference were from tertiary institutions. The reason I say this is interesting is that my Dad (also a teacher) pointed out to me that the ‘ped’ actually relates to a child! Pedagogy is about teaching children.

The Online Etymology Dictionary states that a Pedagogue is a teacher of children. Pedagogy relates to teaching children. So many people seem to mention pedagogy when they are referring to teaching adults!

I still don’t have a good definition of this word. I’m going to stick with mine for now and add a little bit:

Pedagogy is the art and science of teaching children.

I would really like to know how many people use this term without really understanding what it means. I have asked others what they think it means and I’ve struggled to get a good, straight, clear answer. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments. I would love to hear from you to help expand my understanding of this well used educational term!

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

Creativity is important in teaching…

This is not a new idea by a long shot! Creativity helps teachers stay fresh. Creativity helps motivate students and keep them on their toes – they won’t know what’s coming next. Creativity could be the difference between a student engaging in a lesson or becoming (staying?) disengaged through boredom.

The problem is… I’m not creative.

A colleague said to me the other day that I’m good at starting with someone else’s work and editing it – making it better… but if I start with a blank page, I don’t know what to do.

She was right. I couldn’t write about a topic like the original author had, but I could work with something that had already been started.

Does being creative make a great teacher? – I would say that it definitely could (if the creativity is focused in on teaching and learning).

Does not being creative make a poor teacher? – I would argue that, no, it doesn’t have to.

There are many creative teachers in the world. Many! Teaching is about sharing knowledge, skills, understandings, character and more. Many of these creative teachers also share their ideas, resources and skills with other teachers. And so they should! We all know that we shouldn’t ‘reinvent the wheel’.

One thing that makes a good teacher (there are many!), is that they don’t give up. If they try something and it doesn’t work, they might try it again after tweaking it, or they will try something else. They find what works for them and their students.

My advice (for what it’s worth), is that if you’re like me, and don’t feel particularly creative in your teaching, then do more of what you’re doing now! Find education/teaching blogs and read them. Learn from them. Be like a sponge and soak up everything they’ve got to offer. Jump onto twitter and follow some of the 1000s of teachers that are sharing and reflecting on what they’ve tried with their students. Get along to education conferences and soak it all up as well as getting to know others who just want to learn so that they can be a better teacher too!

Now, for those of us who don’t feel creative – we’ve got other things to offer! Figure out what they are (if you don’t already know) and give back!

What do parents want their children to know when they leave school?

My wife and I have 5 children and I asked her this question late last night. Do you know what she didn’t say? She didn’t say, “I want them to know lots of stuff”.

Why am I telling you what she didn’t say? Because the ‘stuff’ is still what our curriculum seems to be full of. The ‘stuff’ is what I still feel like I need to get into my students’ heads so that they can achieve this standard or that standard. At the end of the day, in order for our students/children to succeed by gaining a qualification, they need to know ‘stuff’. Yes, I realise they need to be able to apply it in different situations, but ultimately, we as teachers have all these things we need to teach our students before they finish the year or sit the final assessment/examination.

So what did she say that she wants our children to know when they leave school? Here is some of what she (and I – since we happen to fortunately be in agreement on this!) said:

  • we want our children to be confident and competent in basic literacy and numeracy
  • we want our children to be able to think for themselves
  • we want them to be able to work successfully both independently and collaboratively
  • we want them to be able to communicate confidently, clearly and effectively (this could be orally, or by pen or technology – text message, IM, facebook or similar etc)
  • we want our children to know how to learn
  • we want our children to be critical thinkers and to be able to ask effective questions
  • we want them to know how to search for answers to their questions

There was probably more and if I’ve missed anything crucial my wife will add to this list I’m sure.

I guess, if I was going to put it in one sentence:

When our children leave school we want them to be prepared for their future, having the skills to survive and succeed, and knowing how to think and learn in order to overcome challenges that may come their way.
What do you think? If you have any views or opinions on this, it would be great to hear from you. Just leave a comment below.