Why #EdTech and I are changing our brand

I have to be honest with you.

For more than a year, my blogging as iPadwells on the now extinct iPad4Schools.org has focused on education and leadership whilst I’ve struggled to add a weak connection to the use of iPads. As you can see from this site’s new look, I’ve given up and rebranded my work to match the material and professional development I now provide. [Img Cred]

Woman on iPad questionmark

I’m not the only one with this issue. 

Did you attend iPadpalooza or EttiPad or MiamiDevice this year? At all these events, teachers and speakers are expelling a lot of energy and words in highlighting that “it’s NOT about the device.” But like my old Twitter handle and blog, our names suggest otherwise. What’s happened?

“Ignore my name, it’s NOT about the device.”

Stop Go1It all started in 2011, the iPad was still either new or just a dream to most schools and we were all REALLY excited by its potential. I started my blog to help just 12 teachers in my school, who’d been bought them to trial. (Classic! Buy the teachers iPads but not the students). But they weren’t the only ones in need and soon iPad4Schools.org had 1000 readers a day.

Over the last 4 years, using social media, the connected educators of this world have been on a collaborative journey with a very steep learning curve. The more we have worked with device equipped students, the more we have moved our attention away from the technology and towards our change in expectations. The emphasis now is on the impact and extended reach that technology brings and not which specific device, app or workflow any individual might be using.

whiteboard on iPadMy current opening line to any student task is “find yourself a solution for …” I find the students are always capable and are used to searching for and sharing solutions with each other, even in the personal lives. They are also used to a fully personalised approach to life and have multiple solutions that achieve the same goals. I no longer discuss apps, except when a student highlights one to me. Some apps are really impressive but my primary goal is to cultivate independence and confidence within each student. This comes from the empowerment of personal choice and the collaborative approach.

When planning my rebranding and this post, It was great to see my friend Rabbi Michael Cohen writing about the exact same issue. Read his excellent thoughts here. The connected edu community are sharing and thus experiencing a simultaneous ride into 21st century education. Social media has provided a cheap platform from which to rebuild a global education profession and move everyone along at a similar pace. The great Mark Anderson in the UK has also just published the free iBook: “More Ed less Tech“. Can you see a trend emerging?

The issue we now face is the divide between the leaders and the followers. The change has been rapid and as the edtech community moves on from discussing technology, the majority of world education just starts to get their round how it functions in the classroom. Many yet to make a start with BYOD or any one device per student initiative.

“Like Uber, It hasn’t replaced the need for a driver, it’s only changed who’s driving the system” – Richard Wells

The Uber app has angered thousands of taxi drivers. It hasn’t replaced the need for a driver, it’s only changed who’s driving the system. This is exactly what technology is doing to teachers in education. We just have to wait for the mindset of the average teacher to learn and appreciate what’s happening in front of their eyes. A teacher’s faith in their students is what everything hangs on.


Hey teacher, would YOU be a student?

If you ask me, the elephant in the classroom, especially high school classrooms has always been the fact that teachers would rarely choose for themselves, the daily experience they inflict on their students.  [Img Cred]

bored student

If you ask a high school teacher if they’d be happy with a daily experience such as:

  • an hour of trigonometry;
  • an hour of Macbeth;
  • an hour of plate tectonics;
  • an hour of tennis, followed by
  • an hour of chemical reactions
  • with no attempt to relate any of the learning.
  • oh, and do you want to sit in the middle of 300 teenagers for an hour long assembly?

Nearly all teachers say NO! (I’ve asked many)

So, two questions for schools:

1. What excuses do we have for creating a learning experience we wouldn’t choose for ourselves?

2. Why are we surprised at an increasing dropout rate and general switching off from school in a connected and active world of Facebook and Youtube?

An alternative with positive outcomes.

21C Classroom Layout


This year a visited a school that had re-purposed their existing physical classroom / corridor spaces, and redesigned their timetable to create a whole new learning experience. I could see within 10 minutes that the students were more driven and positive about school than in most schools I’ve been to. It did this by dividing itself into a mini-schools within the site. Rather than confine each student to a particular room from which learning would be ‘received’, every student had permission to design their own school day (every day) and had free access to up to 4 differently purposed rooms depending on what their needs were at any particular moment.

New use of school space

The 4 rooms that each child had free access to would include:

  1. a “Cave” (silent room),
  2. a pairs room (for peer tutoring),
  3. a group room (for project/teamwork)
  4. a tutorial room (They had to book into tutorials that the teachers ran on a rotation).

It was up to the children to use these spaces according to needs and be responsible for productive time management. Something that was very evident during my visit, where I could see that through practice and extensive experience in self-driven learning, the average student was more confident, organised and keen to discuss their progress.

New use of School time

Students are free to organised their own day. They had to book in to a certain amount of tutoring in a week but by choice could tailor the tuition to their needs. They negotiated injury projects at the beginning of terms and worked on them in teams. They were encouraged to work together and solve their own problems. They also booked out technology from a central hub when required, rather than assume that technology was a must all day, like some schools suggest.

New use of Teachers

Teachers rotate between giving tutorials and roaming as mentors. A nice touch is for the principal to be signing off the final projects. Teachers have more time to talk to students and guide teams in their negotiated inquiries. Teachers were happier through working with students who were intrinsically motivated to learn on projects designed by themselves. All the national curriculum and regular content was still covered and any direct teaching needed was available, just never in a one-size-fits-all approach.

Question the old, not the new

One simple piece of advice is to spend more energy challenging your school’s status quo, than any alternative that might be suggested. Turn around and challenge that “elephant” that so many teachers and even more students are talking about.

Classroom Gaming can help all learners

7439512656_04f88d7461_zHow about this for an idea? Your learners can game when they want at any moment during class. I know it sounds a bit crazy, so let’s put some structure and reasoning around it. Here are some ideas around gaming and how it relates to and can help 21st century classrooms better reflect the times we live in.


iPadwells Pofile Pic 2015Author: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12 – Head of Technology at NZ High School
Top 40 in edublog awards 2013
Top 12 Blogger – The Global Search for Education
Known for Educational Infographics (see Posters above)
Presenter and also a father to 2 beautiful girls. Twitter :  @iPadwells

This post is written as part of The Huffington Post’s The Global Search for Education: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs: A series of questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers. I’ll be sharing the link to her post that collects all of the responses. I’m excited to be part of this group of edu-bloggers.


I’ve outlined in a previous post, my findings that quite obviously, the moment that any individual learner is ready to listen, read, watch or even learn will vary. To expect any class to turn up at a scheduled hour and fully engage in the same learning activity is literally treating them like products on a factory line and not the humans they enjoy being. Photo Credit.

I have 2 daughters, both brought up by the same parents who approach everything in life very differently. Why would we expect 30 young people form different life situations to behave and have the same needs for an hour?

e1yeaWhen I regularly divide my classes into groups, I often notice that a number of the groups have a member who seems distant or unengaged and I wonder how I can energise these kids to engage with the group or task during the short time that I’ve got them? (I teach in a high school still restricted by segregated, hourly subject lessons) Most of my class activities involve an element of problem solving. Examples might be, How are we going to reduce cyber-bullying in the school? What do the students need in a school app? Or even, How can I start my music career in New Zealand? It is the problem-solving part of the brain I want to activate in my students who are not in that frame of mind when I need it.

The other day, I noticed one of my daughters playing a puzzle type game on my iPad. It was obviously challenging and often frustrating but she kept at it regardless. The game was direct problem solving and my girl was deeply engaged. It was then I had an idea. If any learner who found themselves disengaged from a school task had permission to select from a list of problem-solving, “brain igniting” games, it might mean they return to the task more energised to tackle it or suggest other solutions.

Initial Trial.

e1ybfTo carry out an initial trial, I projected a problem-solving game on my board and invited individuals to have a single turn to complete the puzzle/level. After 2 minutes, pairs were coming up to have a shared turn. This turned into small groups and after 10 minutes had 8 people competing to make suggestions for the next move. What I noticed was that these 8 were not a normal grouping within the class but had selected themselves to share an experience. This had an immediate effect on the dynamics in the class. I have found that after this exercise, new pairings started appearing in the class and it definitely made it easier for me to suggest new groupings without any backlash.

Class gaming rules
  1. Time Limit: A set amount of game play per hour or per week might be allowed but there would be freedom to select when that time was used.
  2. The games would be form the endorsed “Brain-igniting” list.
  3. All games would be Problem-solving
  4. Gaming progress (levels) could be reported to class to encourage collaboration between students that might not otherwise connect.
  5. New Game teams are organised around individual’s favourite games
Class management
  1. e1yl0Ads: “The Games have too many Adverts!” Airplane mode (in the control centre) will remove most, if not all the ads that pop up.
  2. 2. Student suggestions – Students should be free to make suggestions for adding to the approved list. I think keeping it to about 10 will encourage more discussion in the class about solving certain levels. With too many games, the classes attention can become fragmented. Suggesting games for the list will give them ownership over their problem solving world.
  3. Students are allowed to connect over a game to discuss strategies to beat levels. This builds strong relationships which spill over into class tasks.
Brain igniting Games

So I set about searching and inquiring after entertaining puzzle games I could issue as an endorsed game list. These are just suggestions but will give you a starting point.

    VeryBadCubeiconThis game builds in complexity from the most basic of starts. Join all the cubes of the same colour. Sounds easy but had my classes connecting into larger and larger groups trying desperately to beat a level.
  2. 2048
    2048iconhis game is challenging and demands a little math. Same number blocks collide and merge into a single doubled number block. Trick is to not fill the board. Even my senior students play this by choice.
    Lduolingiconearn another language in a personalised, fun and accessible way. With an account, each student is automatically tracked and reminded to return to their 10 minutes a day if they forget. I’m learning Spanish along with the rest of my family!
  4. 2 DOTS
    This game does not have a single solution for each level. This means it is less likely to bring students together but does quickly get an individual’s brain working. This too nicely grows in complexity and is good for the quieter students to work on alone.
    TThinkRollsiconhis is good for younger students but fun for all. A constant rolling screen of quick problems to solve before the character can continue on. My7 year-old daughter  played this game for much more than 10 minutes!
    This challenges with simple puzzles whilst teaching the fundamentals of programming. There are programming iPad apps but most allow kids to play games already made and Move the Turtle is the game itself and so is on my list.
    popwordsiconThis is a great twist on the game Boggle. It has a individual time-pressure game where you try to find words on the grid before your timer runs out. It also has a great puzzle mode where the letter tiles disappear when used to see how many tiles you can score with just one grid. This is great for building literacy skills and again naturally draws students together to find new words.
    memneonIconThis is a bit different. At first you think it’s just a very simple memory game where you only have to remember which neon lights lit up for 5 seconds on a grid to complete a circuit. It seems quite tricky so you find yourself developing your own strategies for remembering which lit up. I even started remembering shape names to jog my memory. This really gets the brain working hard.
    minecraftMinecraft is one of the most popular games in history and has been used by many schools as an educational tool. The key is the collaborative nature of building worlds and objects together. The planning and teamwork required to accurately build a specific thing is something that naturally develops but can be planned by teachers. How about this incredible example of Classroom Minecraft Authentic learning where students worked with the city museum to build an 1st World War experience exhibit.

Team building

Sometimes we consider the term team-building as only something employers organise. I’ve found this to be powerful in my classes, especially with boys, who are often less social and likely to work well in new teams. You may have heard of Google 20% time, well this is an endorsed form of team-building / brain ignition time. Give it a try!

EXTRA LINK: Games are good for you

I’ve modified and added to this from a previous post.

Time is Gold for Teachers

IMG_5351Hey teacher, wouldn’t it be nice to have a little more time to do things properly? Teachers around the world are expected to somehow fit professional growth in-between planning, teaching, marking and parent communication, and so I understand why many don’t get round to much professional development or reading. So it was especially exciting for me to be awarded a 2015 research fellowship by Core Education (NZ). This “eFellowship” is given each year to a small group of innovative teachers to allow them to connect, visit schools and work with Core’s phenomenal team of education experts to carry out a personal inquiry into an aspect of their teaching.

The team for 2015 were from both elementary and high schools, which itself made for more enriched conversations. Our inquiries covered a wide range of topics including professional networking, design thinking, community engagement and children’s curiosity & identity development, and deaf education. The team were (Follow these people):

CRD1YfbUYAAFUAlSteve Mouldey 

Camilla Brotherton

Philippa N Antipas

Vivita Rabo

Mel Wiersma

Steph Kitto

… and ME!

Inspiring experiences

1. School visits

2014-03-04 09.21.01Many aspects of the year were inspiring. The first of these was visiting schools. We were lucky to visit early childhood centres, Elementary, Middle and High schools. No matter where we were based personally as teachers all of this visits offered something significant and inspiring. Visiting other types of schools will always offer a teacher new perspectives in regards to what demands are placed on children at other stages. This can lead to a high school teacher realising that younger children are more capable than previously considered, but also an elementary teacher realising they need to do more to prepare their students for high school. What was particularly inspiring was that from ages 4 to 18, we witnessed examples of independent self management of both time and learning. All the schools we saw proved that young people can manage their own learning with successful outcomes at any age. School visiting should be a permanent fixture in all teacher’s professional lives and governments need to fund accordingly.

2. Mind-blowing minds!

Screen Shot 2015-10-24 at 2.45.06 PMAt Core Education (NZ), their team are very well experienced and do tremendous amounts of research in to education in New Zealand. This country is already a world leader in education and so working at the forefront here makes Core Education a force to be reckoned with! We covered EVERYTHING! Be it education’s need for research and social justice (Louise Taylor), cultural awareness (Deanne Thomas), cultural identity (Manu Faaea-Semeatu), future trends (Derek Wenmoth), learning space design (Mark Osborne), learning as play (Keryn Davis) the importance of universal design for learning (UDL) (Chrissie Butler), or research in education (Ann Hatherly), the team challenged us to rethink more deeply many issues faced by education today.

3. Inspired by peers

Screen Shot 2015-10-24 at 2.48.36 PMThe primary benefit of the fellowship was working so closely with the other 6 educators. Their significantly differing backgrounds brought so much depth to the team. Having the time to discuss all our specific challenges made for the type and depth of conversation educators rarely get to experience. I’m now roughly 5.74 times the teacher I was in 2014!

Why eFellowship?

Screen Shot 2015-10-24 at 2.49.01 PMIf you’re teaching and  don’t know of available fellowships / teacher grants near you, then hunt them out. I’m sure there are initiatives and funding in your country or state, they’re not always loudly advertised. 2015 has proved to me that getting your hands on some funding that means you have more time to connect with educators and properly dig deep into some professional reading and thinking will have a profound and positive impact on your future professional life. It will also give you confidence as a professional to seek further opportunities.

Through this experience, I am now permanently connected with a team of top educators spread across the country. We will now follow each others progress and continue to learn from each other in the future. We’ve become great friends – I’m getting more daily messages from these people than my family! 😀

Finally I want to thank the people at Core Education for organising a fabulous and inspirational year. I’d like to especially thank Louise Taylor and Ann Hatherly for looking after us and our research so expertly and with so much care! Here’s my post about my Research project.

If you teach in New Zealand then whatever you do, apply for the 2017 Dr Vince Ham eFellowship!

Can social media help manage a successful classroom?

Humans are all about relationships. This is why learning is all about relationships but that’s also why social media has both taken over the world and will have a huge impact on education and learning.

Social Media wallsNotice there, where I split the education and learning into two distinct topics. I do this because the term education implies the familiar formalisation of learning that we are all accustomed to. “Education” makes people think of buildings and classrooms, testing and grades and not necessarily learning. Just as social media has challenged and transformed the business world over the last decade, it will increasingly challenge the education institutions built on the 20th century’s model of one-size fits all and their view of what successful learning is.

Whether schools like it or not…

The tools and features within social media that allow individuals to make connections, build networks, share learning, receive feedback from peers and grow one’s own learning are already challenging the purpose and even need for a classroom, as we’ve known it in the past. Social media, be it school based, such as Edmodo, or public like Youtube, is itself teaching young people that networks that share a common goal often prove more powerful than the sum of their parts.

Connected generation

“I’m currently working with a group in Iran” – Grade 7 New Zealand student.

Clash-of-ClansYou might think that the quote above that came from one of my students this year is unusual but what was more unusual was that he didn’t think anything of the statement! It was me, his teacher, who had to point out how special his circumstance was. The context was that we were doing a project on world connections and he was an avid player of “Clash of clans” on his iPad.

Only when I ran through some comparisons and highlighted how the world had changed so quickly did he become inspired by his collaborations and how those very real experiences might impact on his perceptions and future interactions with people from other parts of the world. He went on to include in his project his meeting with an Iranian employee of his father who he’d made a special request to meet.

Authentic and relevant audience

I hear many frustrated teachers bemoan the lack of writing quality amongst even their senior students even after they’ve experienced over a decade of education. I like to highlight that developing an intrinsic desire to takes one’s writing seriously when your audience is one teacher and the reward is an abstract grade has always been hard for most students. This is where, I’ve always liked the concept of Quad-blogging founded by David Mitchell. A class of student bloggers, team up with 3 other classrooms elsewhere in the world (arranged by the website) . One format is that each week or month, one class’ blogs become the focus for the other 3 classes to feedback on. This system then rotates. For me, the ‘unknown’ audience of peers makes students take much more care over what and how they present their writing and projects. They now see their work as much more an extension of themselves exposed to the world outside the classroom.

The world is now layered with thousands of online networks and it’s time for classrooms to allow these networks to make learning a relational and authentic experience. It’s online networks that can stretch learning beyond the four walls that until now have only isolated young people from the world they might become a key players in.

David Mitchell explains his Quad-blogging story:


iPadwells Pofile Pic 2015Author: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12 – Head of Technology at NZ High School
Top 40 in edublog awards 2013
Top 12 Blogger – The Global Search for Education
Known for Educational Infographics (see Posters above)
Presenter and also a father to 2 beautiful girls. Twitter :  @iPadwells

This post is written as part of The Huffington Post’s The Global Search for Education: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs: A series of questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers. I’ll be sharing the link to her post that collects all of the responses. I’m excited to be part of this group of edu-bloggers.


Why #EdChat is NOT just Resources and Ideas

What keeps so many teachers from professionally engaging  online? I’ve found it’s possibly not their confidence with tech, social media or educational debate.

This year, I’ve been privileged to be part of a research team put together and funded by Core Education in New Zealand. I’ve run a research project around teacher engagement with social media and to what extent it has real impact on classroom practice. My original plan was to monitor how 10 volunteer teachers would join and engage with the networks and how marvellous it would be to see it filter through to their students! Well, that plan lasted for about 11 minutes! My opening explanation to the volunteers centred on acquiring new ideas and resources and that it was social media that offered teachers cheap and convenient access to these new ideas.

After a couple of months, we had held lunchtime and evening Twitter chats and met for face-to-face discussions and I was disappointed by the majority of volunteers who hadn’t found an incentive to network at all outside these scheduled research meetings. So, our discussion turned to why people weren’t engaging in the online edchat.

What’s stopping you?

FINAL EFELLOW KEYNOTE4bSome felt the issue was time, but this was countered by the more engaged teachers definitely having more commitments in their life. Was it a lack of interest in pedagogical debate? No. Many of these teachers were in cluster groups around Auckland and even providing professional development to other teachers in the school. Was it a dislike for social media? Of course not! All the volunteers used social media on a daily basis in their private life. In fact, one participant who had not engaged in edchat used 4 social media sites a day!  I realised we had to refocus our discussions on something deeper.

“You have to know the network is a supportive group” – Teacher (NZ)

Half way thorough the year I held interviews with each individual. From these, strong themes developed around teachers felling isolated in their classroom and being uncertain about their own practice and where it would sit within a sharing network. This started the 2nd of three phases in this project where I focused on confidence in one’s own teaching as a decider for joining the edchat conversation or not.

“I would share but I’d have to be confident that what I was doing was ok.” – Teacher A

“I had a bit of self-doubt about what what to contribute” – Teacher B

“I don’t think I was well rehearsed with scripting the conversation around learning.” – Teacher C

The discussion around isolation highlighted the issue of not knowing how to position one’s teaching or attribute a value to it and this led to ambiguity about how and what one would contribute to a wider, especially worldwide, discussion online. This led me into a 3rd phase where I considered how teachers build an individual identity as a teacher rather than viewing the job as a single destination that all teachers are heading towards.

What teacher am I?

What Teacher am ISince 2007, New Zealand has had teaching inquiry and formal experimentation into one’s teaching practice built into our national curriculum document but for many teachers this has become a personal and not shared experience. So, they again have no real comparison with which to judge the value of their inquiries against other teaching. The discussions I was now having with the participants indicated that it was positioning oneself amongst the teaching profession within these online networks that caused them to pause, reflect and delay their input.

“I’m trying to articulate what my niche is. I spend hours thinking while I’m out walking, running, about my identity and I know I wont arrive at it now and I might be working towards it but it’s got me thinking exactly what I want to be identified by.” – Teacher C

Inspired by the work of  Manu Faaea-Semeatu, who’s been researching how people connect with people from other cultures and recognise the gaps in their knowledge about the different situations and priorities others might have. An inspiring talk with her led me to realise that recognising one’s own gaps in teaching knowledge is a starting point to look for ways to address those gaps. Where Manu asks questions about one’s individual cultural identity, connecting online asks questions about one’s teaching identity.

This is the deeper reason I think social media will and is impacting on teaching. Considering to join these networks is to consider where your teaching would sit within the conversation. These thoughts about values and practice and what we would present / give to others is what strengthens the profession. It is so much more than accessing and promoting resources and ideas.

A question for teachers: Are you teaching a classroom or your classroom?

There’s no denying that a teacher influences the form and style of their classroom. Teaching is not a job that develops towards a destination predetermined by the profession. I now wonder if many of the teachers not finding an incentive to join and share in the conversation haven’t yet viewed their teaching role as a personal and unique product that should really be evaluated against other teaching and developed through sharing it. They may have reduced their view of the role to something already fixed and known that they can slowly work towards on their own. Joining networks through social media helps teachers consider and develop their personal set of values and interests and build a better classroom environment based on their own reciprocal edchat discussions.

Joining the online edchat through social media is to start to consider and develop your professional persona and find your place within the network that expresses your own values and triumphs.

Five reasons your school’s NOT transforming

5 reasons your school isnt changingSo, maybe you’re on Twitter, your colleagues are on Twitter, you’re excited about ideas around new learning and your Principal might mention these themes in staff meetings. So why’s no real change happening in your school?

All this 21st century learning talk is happening but you’re still performing standardised tests, teachers are still teaching from the front of class and most are still predominantly isolated in their own classrooms. There’s probably a small group of “new learning” types who you know are trying the “Project-based-design-thinking-SAMR” type stuff but the school as a whole isn’t following their lead.

I recently came across a talk by Michael Fullan on making change. I thought this would be useful to share but it also reminded me of a TED talk by Linda Hill, which then led me to dig up 3 more TED talks which when combined might give schools and their leadership teams some real incentive and instruction for change. They also combine to indicate that progress will not be made with either top-down or bottom-up approaches but from a developing a new school culture towards shared, networked collaboration at all levels.

Here are the 5 videos:

  1. Michael Fullan: Leading quality change
  2. Linda Hill: How to manage for collective creativity
  3. Eddie Obeng: Smart failure for a fast-changing world
  4. Manuel Lima: A Visual History of Human Knowledge
  5. Barry Schwartz: The way we think about work is broken

Inspired by these talks, here are my …

Five reasons your school’s NOT transforming

  1. Your Principal is NOT seen by the teachers as an equal participant in learning.
    This I got from Fullan in his talk he gave in New Zealand about transforming the Canadian school system. He highlights that a principal behaving as an active learner was a surprise key indicator in his research into schools making significant and positive change.
  2. The teachers are unaware of the impact of 21C opportunities and challenges
    Eddie Obeng’s talk is both fun and powerful in explaining how so many people didn’t notice when all the rules changed regarding how success happens, how organisations are run, how work gets done and what skills & knowledge are required to survive in a world where the new scale people of all ages operate under is global. If we want to say we are preparing young people for the world, we need to wake up and take note that many of them are already making use of this new interconnected world that many schools are yet to accept exists.
  3. The school still operates as a hierarchy 
    Manuel Lima indicates how one of the changes that’s taken place without most schools noticing is that, after 2000 years, we’ve moved from seeing everything as a hierarchy and now view and operate everything in networks. This is also backed up in the Fullan talk. Lima’s talk will make your school consider if it operates as a 20th century hierarchy or a 21st century network. This is key to preparing both staff and students for the next 50 years. It also connects with Fullan’s theme about “social capital” or the quality of the group work and connections used by the teachers and with Obeng’s thought on everything now operating at a global scale, due to new online networks.
  4. Schools assume they must pay students to work with grades
    Complementing Obeng’s need for a new look at learning, Barry Schwartz introduces his concept of Idea Technology. He explains that one simple assumption introduced by Industrial Revolution removed all non-material incentives to work on a premise all people were inherently lazy and you wouldn’t get them to work without incentivising with pay. It made me think that schools adopted the factory model and it seemed only natural that you would need grades as payment for work without considering what work environment might be created to have people genuinely satisfied at school. A wonderful quote is : “The very shape of the institution within which people work, creates people who are fitted to the demands of that institution and denies people from the kind of satisfactions from their work that we take for granted.” If students work for tests and grades they are only prepared for exactly that environment. An environment that doesn’t exist outside academia.
  5. School leaders should NOT build a vision and inspire people to follow it
    Linda Hill says “Innovation is not about solo genius but collective genius.” She goes on to outline how the most successful organisations build organisational structures and cultures that are “iterative, inter-related and quite frankly messy.” She also highlights that investing in all the people to give them time to develop and collaborate around new challenges and ideas. It is also critical to build a culture where everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, feels they might have something to offer in improving the operation of or output from the the organisation.
    This is a huge issue for schools, where many teachers never bring problems to the leadership team because they don’t think it’s there place to suggest change. Schools are often not flexible or iterative enough to adapt to changes as they arise. A fixed-time vision for learning in a school issued from top-down can kill excellent ideas that surface during the period of time in question. What I took from Linda’s talk was that schools need to develop a staff culture for collaborative problem solving, discovery driven learning (and that’s the teachers we’re talking about) but run integrated decision making where everyone is confident to express ideas.

Adapt or loose your students

Schools lag further and further behind the pace of world change year-on-year and we need bold, aware, flexible leaders who know how to work with their community to collectively build a new culture of adapting to change to remain relevant. More children every year are finding alternative paths to early success and careers because their school was unable to adapt to their needs. Let’s stop wasting the potential of what might take place during a person’s school years and start operating the way the world does already.

Teaching a Room of Nerds and Noobs

What was my most challenging classroom and how did I turn it around?

This story wont be new to everyone but it’s an important one all the same. A common discussion amongst teachers is differentiation and how to allow for faster and slower learners and/or catering for different styles of learning. This was a key problem for me in 2012 when I had to introduce an advanced Computer Science course to a class of students with very differing levels of experience.


iPadwells Pofile Pic 2015Author: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12 – Head of Technology at NZ High School
Top 40 in edublog awards 2013
Top 12 Blogger – The Global Search for Education
Known for Educational Infographics (see Posters above)
Presenter and also a father to 2 beautiful girls. Twitter :  @iPadwells

This post is written as part of The Huffington Post’s The Global Search for Education: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs: A series of questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers. I’ll be sharing the link to her post that collects all of the responses. I’m excited to be part of this group of edu-bloggers.


Some students had no experience of the terms or concepts, where as some were keen computer nerds chomping at the bit to discuss the most advanced computing technical aspects they could get their hands on. There were visible tensions in the room regarding advanced students being held up by the inexperienced. So how do you plan lessons for a class you know will be at vastly different levels of understanding after just 5 minutes? Answer: Flip it !

DifferentiationI started the year by announcing I would not be teaching the class once that year. That is, there would be no teaching of any concept to the class as a whole. Students then set about personal, subject-related project work, whilst I recorded 5 minute videos of the usual content I’d normally be covering in the following week. I found that before we got half way through the year, I’d already recorded all content, diagrams, animations and videos and arranged them into playlists. Some students had watched the videos as I made them and arrived at class with specific questions, some were confident enough to leave many of the videos unwatched until the exams drew closer. The personal projects I mentored in the classroom were also significantly more in-depth then we’d managed in previous years.

Important fact: When I did this for 6 senior high school courses, the total video delivery for any individual course never exceeded 4 hours! That’s right folks, no high school course’s entire year’s content takes more than 4 hours to deliver. If it’s condensed with clean, edited, uninterrupted delivery of all information all students need to know.

Grades that year were over 20% high than previous years and 2013 became a year of tweaking videos I’d already made allowing me to dedicate my time to full project based learning in class. I was able to focus on developing team skills and project management because the content delivery worked for all. Some students reported watching each video more than 10 times, some said they hadn’t bothered watching some topics. In  over 80% of cases, Computer Science was the top grade for any particular student in the class.

If you haven’t considered it, try flipping your content into videos, but NOT as fixed, timetabled homework.


School Transitions – Kings and Queens reduced to Pawns

Leaders become followers: I spent last week visiting and discussing a range of schools in New Zealand from early childhood (ages 2-4) to high school. A theme arose around the expectations teachers had of their students in each school and how it seemed less dependent on age or ability and more on a year level’s seniority in the particular school.

Kings & Queens reduced to pawns

Let me explain …

In the final year of early childhood, elementary, middle school and high school the teachers’ expectations of students were always set high, often dealing with leadership & independent learning opportunities, even in early childhood centres! This is due to them being the most senior year in their current context. The problem was that when those same children switched to the next school they were treated in relation to their new context, as the babies, and had lower expectations placed on them. This was happening at each stage of school transition and expectations on the new arrivals were often set lower than in their previous year.

A major problem

This is a serious issue with the various divisions in education systems and that a lack of communication between the schools leads to damaging transitions. Students spend their education switching from treatment as leader to treatment as baby at least 3 times.

Just imagine if we were to build on the self-esteem of the previous schools expectations and allow the students to reach their true potential? At the moment, we are dragging them back on a number of occasions making it hard for more to succeed over the first two decades of their life

Examples from last week:

  • Leading 4 year-olds by the end of kindergarten discussing what leaders do and say. A design zone to improve the layouts of public buildings in the city.
  • Baby 5 year-olds as new entrants in elementary school sat in lines on the mat and asked to all follow teacher.
    • Leading 10 year-olds at end of elementary asked to man the reception for half a day every week and act as the face of the school and create a short documentary on a social issue in New Zealand for a national competition. Plan a 1 hour assembly from beginning to end.
  • Baby 11 year-olds at the beginning of middle school taught by a teacher who said “I don’t share class activity online because at only 11, what is there to share?”
  • Leading 14 year olds, pre-high school assessment, running community projects to look at developing new approaches to clean waterways and their impact on the local environment
  • Baby 15 year-olds starting high school exams told to listen to teacher and get ready for tests
  • Leading 18 year-olds told to aide the running of the school and organise school events.
  • Baby 19 year-olds jokingly told by college lecturers to “forget everything you learnt at schools!”

Request to all teachers

Make sure you have in-depth conversations with your new students regarding their previous experiences and have them consider their pre-existing strengths. As senior students in their last school, they might have been treated like adults. Let’s stop dragging them backwards and loosing out on the potential they might have achieved if they ever got to control their own learning programme.

It takes a village to educate a child

What are the best ways parents can help teachers and that teachers can help parents?

The key secret to education is building and maintaining relationships. Here I mean all relationships between students, teachers, parents, administration, and both the local and world communities. Strong relationships give all parties status and recognition. Being recognised for anything is what drives most people to aim higher and do more. (Here’s 3 people who agree: 1,  2, 3)


iPadwells Pofile Pic 2015Author: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12 – Head of Technology at NZ High School
Top 40 in edublog awards 2013
Top 12 Blogger – The Global Search for Education
Known for Educational Infographics (see Posters above)
Presenter and also a father to 2 beautiful girls. Twitter :  @iPadwells

This post is written as part of The Huffington Post’s The Global Search for Education: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs: A series of questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers. I’ll be sharing the link to her post that collects all of the responses. I’m excited to be part of this group of edu-bloggers.


In this context, I want to keep things simple and effective. What teachers must do for parents is instigate student learning logs (in any format) and raise the incentives for parents to be involved in them. Documenting learning allows parents and teachers to recognise it and this raises learning’s status in the mind of the child. Parents need to be made aware that becoming participants in this recognition they will raise the achievement of their own children with only small but regular gestures and comments.

The power of affirmation: “Facebook conquered the world with just a ‘Like’!”

Now when I suggest learning log, I do mean ALL learning. Be it in a book or online, students should be encouraged to reflect on any significant learning they encounter, in on out of school. The new dance routine, the new Minecraft features, the local news event. This personalises the journey and makes these small daily achievements visible and available for further recognition. This also feeds more information to the teacher from both the posting and the parent comments. This regular two-way information is vital in building deeper relationships and providing yet further affirmation.

Why I suggest digital blogs?

We’re all busy people. It seems that prioritising time to genuinely recognise others in this fast paced world is becoming more and more difficult. Let’s not worry about how we might change the world and look at how we might benefit from the the tools to recognise even the smallest of achievements. Blogs allow students to auto-organise by ticking categories and using tags. Teachers can subscribe and only need show recognition once a week. The key is to have the parents and the wider family subscribe to the updates and use the “Like” and comment features to affirm the child’s learning. The subscription does all the hard work in keeping the family informed and the power of these small gestures should not be underestimated.

“Even for teenagers, don’t underestimate the power of a thumbs-up from grandma!”

The big benefit of digital is that many people in the life a child can provide these small gestures of recognition from their phone anywhere and at anytime. Schools need to harness the power of having a child’s learning widely affirmed by their own community, including peers, and move beyond the reliance on just their teacher as learning provider.

…oh and Edmodo’s a good place to start!