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.


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.

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.


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!

Why High Schools’ biggest problem is Lessons

A major problem in High schools is their lessons. Those short 1 hour sessions that relate to a specific subject, where in most cases, the teacher stands and delivers ‘learning’.from the front. I’ve spoken before about teacher talk, so I wont go over it again but it’s time to challenge the timetable.

Here’s a summary of how my students have voiced their concerns about the typical high school day and also what I have observed as teacher:

High School's Biggest Problem

4 Problems with lessons

  1. 6195581056_281fa13715_zLessons cancel each other out: The unmentioned part of any high school teacher’s job description is to ensure that no student in their classroom is focused on what happened in the previous lesson. Students are to forget or at least change focus entirely to what is happening in their current setting. How are any young people to take anything seriously if our timetable doesn’t? [image credit]
  2. This clock had been circulating around our school with it's twin for almost five years now. It's twin hangs on our new administrators yard wall and this one was given to me a few months back and sat in my classroom. Each measures almost 3'X3'. They are cast iron and atomic. This one will now hang in my wall. 2010/05/28: Clocks are omnipresent in modern life. Make a photo of the clock, watch, or other device that you use most to tell time. #ds194Time to inquire: As a teacher who attempts to run student-driven classes, it is often the case that just as students really gain momentum, it is time to pack up and refocus on something completely different. Many, if not all, subjects in a high school could benefit from longer sessions to allow projects and challenges to embed and students to dig deeper. Our bell-driven factory model does not allow for this. [image credit]
  3. 7115374283_30d07f11c3_zRelations and context: So lets look at a common high school day:
    1. Plate tectonics
    2. Picasso
    3. Newton’s Laws of motion
    4. Macbeth
    5. Football
    6. Nazi Germany
      Is it just me, or is the idea that any human would be capable of ending the school day with a full retention of these 6 unrelated hours of learning absolute madness. The sad thing about much school content is that their are so many relationships that go undiscovered. I’ve been in cross-curricular planning meetings where colleagues have discovered for the first time they both teach the same topic. The saddest part of that story is that the students hadn’t even noticed! Schools must design a day of learning to make sense and add context to what’s being learnt. The factory model makes all learning abstract and doesn’t prepare young people for real life. [image link]
  4. 6040624392_5fe29b8dae_z (1)Allowing for Energy: Teenagers take time in the morning to wake and get going, are effected greatly by food intake and are expected to deal with hours of unrelated content all day. But despite this, most teachers behave and plan lessons as if it were the only lesson of the day. Teachers need to plan activity that allows for the time of day and how much the students have had to deal with during previous lessons. In a project or inquiry based environment, free from rapid context change, the students are free to manage their own activity type to match their energy levels at the time. [image credit]

Empowered and talented

iPads and technology in general empowers students to deal with their learning on their own terms and over their own timeframes. Young people are so much more talented than the traditional school structures assume they are. To segregate each hour’s learning from the next is possible the most damaging element of high school education.

An alternative?

Here’s a timetable from Auckland, New Zealand. You can see how 3 or 4 projects are on-going through the week but span beak and lunchtimes to allow for true progress and learning. [Image source]

Screen Shot 2014-10-06 at 9.41.12 am

iPadpalooza 2015 (Austin)

iPadpalooza 2015 : Unicorns, Band Karaoke, iPads and Online Choirs – not you usual Edu conference! It was weird!

IMG_6017After 2 amazing days in Austin, I fortunately, I wasn’t scheduled to do anything on the first conference day and could get used to the way this “learning event” rolled!. And wow, did it roll! As I had be flown in as a token foreign presenter, I was able to bask in the mind-blowing, influential VIP green room. The discussions I had on the first day in the green room alone made the trip instantly worth while. In Picture:  @TheTechRabbi, @felixjacomino@gcouros – Wow! What a Line up for the “Mini-Keynotes.”

New Friends

IMG_6008The event had a team scavenger hunt game, which worked well to team up people who might not know each other (I highly recommend this to other event organisers). Using Twitter, I ended up in a team of the most amazing people. We became very good friends in just the 3 days. Cathy Hunt (@art_cathyhunt) was my fellow foreign team mate and also happens to be an inspiring iPad-art PD machine! (Check out her iPad art Website – Now!) She is all about the learning, I went to 3 of her sessions over the week and every time, the attendees raved about how genuinely useful and inspiring they were. Cathy also is one of the funniest people I’ve spent time with. Chris Parker(@Kreyus) signed up for the team and fortunately just happened to be the nicest, most hospitable man in Austin. He took us on guided tours, acted as taxi every day and introduced us to the best Austin had to offer.


Workshops & 15 minute swift talks

IMG_0985I attended many great hands-on and here’s my new friend, Cathy Hunt’s excellent and fun session on stop-frame animation. Felix Jacomino did an excellent session on the power of sharing. The discussion was excellent and he had asked several guest Edu-celebs to Facetime video recording of what where views on sharing were, which I thought was a great format to use in a presentation. My 15 swift talk on learning environments was well received and can be found at the bottom of this page.

Man of the People


The event organiser, Carl Hooker (@MrHooker) is a people magician and has created the most relaxed, friendly and thus powerful conference (he prefers “learning event”) I have been to. Not many conference organisers open the event with a personally written and performed #EduEminemParodyRap! Carl’s genius, is building a talented team of people who respect and like him to the extent they’ll all go the extra mile to make it as amazing as it can be. It is impossible to have a negative thought about Carl, so stuff gets done and the green room was evidence of just how powerful Carl’s mojo is. Thank you Carl for bringing me to the most fun, inspiring 3 days of my professional life.


IMG_6006Adam Bellows (@adambellow), is one of the nicest guys you could meet. Is opening keynote involved crafted keynote slides, perfectly timed jokes and a drone flying over the audience. Need I say more? I had the privilege of chatting for some time with him back stage and it was enjoyable to see how much we had in common, including receding hairline and glasses!

IMG_6026Full respect to Guy Kawasaki who had inspiring insights into making real change and innovation in , great slides and enough laughs to keep us entertained. Very strong messages and advice from his times working with Steve Jobs.


IMG_6058Eric Whitacre was probably the most powerful and emotive Keynote I’ve seen. His story of following your passion and using technology to connect and launch world changing collaborative projects was inspiring and all my music teaching friends back in NZ were SO jealous! Check out his latest Youtube Choir here.

The conference had a warm, friendly and relaxed atmosphere with all keen to play and learn in excellent workshops, 15 minute swift talks and one hour take-away sessions.

Thank you

tweet InspiringThanks for all the warm feedback  from my audiences (Thanks for the tweets :-)
I was amazed at how people responded to my ideas. A huge thank you to Kayla Veatch (@miss_veatch)  for her amazing sketchnote of my “Guide to Everything” talk. I makes for a great poster on my wall!

guide to everything sketchnote

Here’s the amazing (filmed by students) highlights video of the 3 fantastic days at Westlake School, Austin.

Here are the links to my Slides:

@iPadWells Guide to EVERYTHING !

Open Minds with Blank Walls

Demonstrating leadership in the classroom

Technology and new societal hierarchies are changing the demands on teachers and thus the opportunities for and style in which teachers should demonstrate leadership. Expectations on young people have also developed as the world evolves increasingly quickly. I wonder how many CEOs are now below the age of 25? It’s now less about displaying mastery over content and skills and more about demonstrating successful leadership by nurturing a creative and challenging classroom environment.


Author: 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 have just read an excellent article in Time magazine by Julie Lythcott-Haims, where she summarises her book about the growing dependency children have on their parents. She explains how middle-class parenting, in particular, has developed in such a way it helps foster this dependency. Julie highlights that children increasingly expect to be fully catered for in any event or situation. To quote Julie: “We have to deliberately put opportunities for independence in our kids’ way.” This problem often gets discussed at my school in regard to students’ lack of initiative in the classroom but I can’t help but argue that the traditional classroom fosters just the same level of dependency.

Demonstrating leadership whilst not fostering dependency

student teams02In a classroom where every child carries out the same task for the same outcome, the temptation is to lead by command and control. After all, everyone has to tow the same line. The underlying issue in this context is that every student is dependent on the teacher for every step of the task. “Turn to page 52,” “Answer questions 5 to 10,” “Draw a mind-map of …” In these situations, a student’s need for initiative and decision-making is limited to the tight confines of the page, question or requested specific output.

Like anything, humans learn best through experience and this includes leadership. To demonstrate the more modern requirements for transformative leadership, teachers need to show mastery for adapting, evaluating learning goals and building productive working structures. These need to be open enough to let the students take control over the environment where true experience is gained in managing time, information, decision-making and social interactions. This has had very positive outcomes in my school where it seems self-respect has developed and the extra ownership over the work improves attitude and productivity.

Design-Thinking-iPadWellsSince opening up my classroom to structures like Project-based learning or Design Thinking exercises, I have seen what student leadership looks like. When it’s normal for students to be dealing with self-expression, task management and working relationships, it will amaze teachers as to what young people are capable of. Regardless of teaching model, the basics of: set negotiated goals, offer working structures; expect collaboration and let the students drive, are much more likely to develop the leaders of tomorrow.

This is important as the problems these young people will face are likely to require a more collaborative and global style of leadership. In my classroom, the quality of output but more importantly, the level of understanding and ability to lead a scenario have never been better.

iPad students learn the most important skill

There’s something in the air and like the best of things, it’s exciting and scary at the same time. More and more articles like this one and this one and even this one proclaim the death of so many jobs over the next 20 years and magazines like this one explain why people not learning to adapt will be disastrous for everyone, especially current school kids. 


The major problem for school children is that traditionally, the classroom doesn’t demand they practice adapting to a situation or problem solve open-ended enough scenarios. It’s always been mostly a matter of fitting in and following the guidelines laid out by the teacher. It’s heartening to read stories like this one that show things are changing but these examples still exist as a minority in education.

This is where I’ve witnessed the iPad itself shift the learning landscape over the 4 years I’ve been involved with it. They have helped but also demanded adaptation on multiple levels from both teacher and student. Here’s where iPads have helped in developing what might just be the key skill for 21st century existence: Adaptability.

Stage one – adapt to electronic workflow.

The multiple benefits from working electronically have encouraged both students and educators to adapt to a new set of skills and tools for sharing and collaborating. Many teachers have found this first step to be a major shift in how they prepare and manage the learning environment. Although young people surposedly have the upper hand in digital skills, they too have learnt many skills in dealing with people (their teachers) who might be less comfortable with tech.  Through suggestions and shared experience many have learnt to adapt to a new format where teacher and learners build a workflow together.

Stage two – adapt to regular updates and new possibilities

The iPad learning environment does not sit still and each week there are new posibilities. Many classrooms have students who enthuse over what the latest and best apps are and this has the tendency to constantly threaten the status quo. I welcome this threat and accept that there will often be a better way to create or connect but for some teachers this too has been a situation they have had to deal with or adapt to.  My philosophy is that if an individual believes they can present the result to me without me having to do too much, then go for it. If they fail, they’ll learn a number of lessons.

Stage three – adapt to higher demands from your teacher

student teams03After a while, in some cases two years, teachers who become more comfortable with the iPad’s capabilities and workflow can start to adapt their demands and expect more engaging, challenging and collaborative output from the class. With a more confident teacher in the room, students have to raise their game and realise that the death of one-size-fits-all education is more fun but also more demanding.

Stage four – adapt to shared cloud environment

Uploading, sharing and commenting is just they way the world works these days. Our work and home life expect it of all of us and most have adapted with relative ease. Still some teachers have kept their school workflows as they were pre-Facebook and sadly, I have found many teenagers are still in the dark when it comes to realising that the skills they demonstrate all day on social media can and are used productively at work all around the world.

Stage five – adapt to running your own learning

students2By helping me develop a new approach and new priorities in my teaching, the iPad has been a major factor in shifting the students into the driving seat of their own learning. This too is something we have all had to adapt to. I would hope that soon I will be teaching children who have had enough experience of adapting and taking charge of their own learning that I will feel confident that I have been part of genuinely preparing a generation for the very much unknown future they are leaving my classroom to tackle.

Additional thoughts

Having to adapt to a one-to-one device and mobile environment, with all its challenges is enough of a reason to make the shift, whether one feels ready or not. Unless we allow young people to experience, fail and triumph in using mobile devices for productivity and creative output, we will rob them of the key experience itself: having to adapt.