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!

Who needs teachers when you have students?

Last week, myself and four of my students attended New Zealand’s Google Education Group ‘s NZ Student Summit. An event by students for students. My 9th graders were running a workshop on coding with MIT’s Scratch programme and they did a great job but what fascinated me more on the day was the workshops being organised and run by students from grades 1 to 4! 


It wasn’t that these children from ages 6 to 10 could code, collaborate inthe cloud, animate, blog and create radio advertisements, or that they were already running online reflection learning logs and explaining levels of thinking through the SOLO taxonomy!! What struck me was that even at the age of 6, tens of students had volunteered to attend a strange place to confidently run workshops for hundreds of strangers. 

When I was at elementary school, everything was devised, organised and delivered by the teachers and the idea that children might have something to suggest in what took place at school was not up for consideration. I, as an average student, therefore had to wait until I was 25 before I had the confidence to take charge of any situation!

The rules have changed

IMG_1366It is so exciting to see that so many elementary schools work on the principle that the children are there to take charge of their own learning (in fact that was the theme of a session). For these 350 students, the understanding is that one takes any opportunity one is given and sharing the experience is the norm. In this context, putting your hand up to run a workshop at a large event seems like common behaviour and so much less threatening than it would have been for my generation.

One session I saw was on collaborative development of animations in Google Slides. They were presenting from a TV with examples and demonstrating the tool, whilst the 30 attendees used their own devices to give it a go. They presented and assisted people so positively and confidently that if I’d closed my eyes it would only have been the chipmunk style voices that would not have me assuming they were already qualified teachers!

But it wasn’t just tech. There were children running workshops on writing, thinking and publishing. In these sessions, the audience engagement was visibly higher than I’ve seen in a number of classrooms possibly because they related more directly to learning from their own generation. One thing that struck me was how prepared most attendees were to ask questions and for assistance. I know this would not have been the case if learning from adults.

A challenge to High schools

One reflection that wasn’t so positive, was that high schools did not feature at the summit. My 4 students were the only ones of high school age. Now I’m not going to suppose a definite reason for this but here are some possible questions that need asking:

  1. Google Summit Students04Was it because it was hosted at a newly built elementary school and this was enough for the average high school teacher to assume it wouldn’t be appropriate?
  2. Is it that the culture in elementary schools is “let’s see what you can do” where as in high school it’s generally “you are here to receive my wisdom.” Does this leave high school students perceived as having less to offer in the process of learning?
  3. Have High schools been slower to make the shift to empowering the individual to take charge of learning? Would this summit not make sense to many high school teachers?
  4. Connected with the above, is it professional connections? The event promotion on social media would NOT have been seen by most high school teachers who also have been slower to connect with the profession through these networks. (Last years biggest NZ education conference (ULearn) attendance was 85% elementary teachers and less than 15% high school teachers)

Just a thought

The big question is what will high schools do in the near future with students who have already run conference workshops at the age of six and have higher expectations of themselves than to expect to slow down and accept the predetermined wisdom of self-important high school experts? 

Dear high school teacher, is your teaching closing doors on the potential of your students?

P.S. The keynote speaker was a 16 year old from west Auckland who, from the classroom, both passes his school courses and runs 2 companies collectively worth NZ$1.5 million !

The “WHY” Guide to #Edchat topics

Although many educational models and pedagogies can seem like a conveyer belt of fads sometimes, many of them at least focus on one or two key educational concerns. Regardless of whether you think it a passing fad, many of them have an aim that you should know about and be considering as a teacher in the 21st Century. I must admit though, as busy teachers, it is understandable that to fully implement a number of them is unrealistic. So here’s my summary of the key take-aways from each model that you should aim to implement in your teaching. (Click for larger version)

The WHY Guide to edChat


OLD FLIPPEDIt’s not about lessons becoming homework. Flipped teaching solves all of the traditional complaints teachers have when teaching traditionally (Chalk & talk), such as:

  • I don’t have enough face-to-face and/or practical time in the classroom
  • I struggle to get through all the content
  • Students just don’t listen or are distracted by others or are away too often.
  • I wish I had time to stretch my more gifted students
    Here’s my post on Flipped Teaching.


You might be against all this staring at screens but learning must involve digital if it is to prepare young people to be productive in the 21st Century. But digital does not allow students to practice all skills. Real-world collaboration and debate are also survival skills in a successful future. Don’t do the work for them! The students must practice balancing and selecting the appropriate tools, digital or not for a task. At the end of the day though, a good balance is the way of the world.


i4S SAMR MindsetThere is some confusion over SAMR but it does make teachers reflect on the impact tech is having in their classroom. It encourages good conversations about pedagogy rather than being focused on tech for tech’s sake. My advice is allow the students to experiment and introduce you to new approaches. SAMR challenges teachers to push tech to do more for students. It also encourages tech use towards connecting and collaborating rather than just regurgitation and helps teachers to move forward with pedagogy.
Here’s my post on SAMR.


I am happy to raise my hand and admit my guilt about not planning well enough to consider individuals in my class who have specific extra learning challenges and obstacles. Anything from a sever disability to simple a lack of social confidence. Too many teachers plan whole units and lessons just for the “average” student Universal Design for learning asks you to start your planning with those with the greatest needs on the basis the others will cope. ensure your room has multiple options for accessing the learning and that you become aware of the extra aides available inside various technologies you have. Offer the required variety of media so all can access the learning.
Here’s more info on UDL.


i4S PBL AppsThe world operates in teams whilst most students don’t. Project-based learning prepares students more for productive social interaction and team skills. An emphasis for presenting to external clients or experts adds a real edge and accountability to learning. PBL improves the scope for genuine community connections and authentic learning. It can also add a much needed purpose to schooling, often missing in the normal abstract content teacher delivery.
Here’s my post on PBL.


i4S-The Connected Class ChallengeThe internet and improved access through BYOD means that learning that encourages wider connections Inspires young people to make a real contribution to the world. They are not learning to be citizens, they are citizens NOW! Offers new perspectives & live learning, not available in an isolated classroom. Encourages peer-to-peer support & independence, creating more definite life-long learners. Oh, and Skype Classroom is free !
Here’s my post on a connected classroom structure for the students to practice with.

WHY DESIGN THINKING? (My new Favourite)

Design-Thinking-iPadWellsDesign thinking can present a little like PBL but offers specific structure that has:

  • a bias towards action (How might we …)
  • a easy structured process for the classroom
  • a Focus on thinking, empathy and prototyping ideas immediately.
  • it also encourages input from all, on the basis that any suggestion might form part of the solution.
    Here’s my post on Design Thinking.


In New Zealand, our national high school assessment is based around SOLO. We grade our students on their depth of thinking more that their ability to regurgitate the ‘right’ answer. Solo helps student consider their depth of understanding on any topic. It has a focus on the relationships between topics and themes to enhance learning rather than just the isolated topics themselves. Solo aims for students to show understandings by moving content into other contexts or from other perspectives.

Here’s my Star Wars Solo taxonomy Poster:


Redesign your teaching year with just the key take-aways

I do hope this has helped some busy teachers, who haven’t had the time to look into these models. I also hope it might have some teachers reconsider elements in their teaching that require a little more attention.

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.

Combating teacher’s stress in a classroom

Students-postitMy general rule for stress relief is to orchestrate classrooms that rely more on the students than the teacher to lead the learning and contribute. Short-term, quick fix solutions will only work so many times with a class. I would recommend developing long term strategies that relate to overall classroom environment and relationships. When discussing stress with my colleagues, I start by suggesting moves to slow down and dedicate more time to see what the students can bring to the table in classroom activities. Here in New Zealand, our future focused national curriculum states 5 key competencies for young people to be focused on. These are aimed at reducing the demand on the teacher to ‘deliver’ education and at building habits amongst the students to manage and take the lead over their own learning. Here they are summarised that every learner should:

  1. set and monitor personal goals, manage time frames, arrange activities;
  2. interact, share ideas, and negotiate with a range of people;
  3. call on a range of communities for information;
  4. analyse and consider a variety of possible approaches;
  5. create texts to record and communicate ideas, using language and symbols.

Given these prompts, teachers must consider a pedagogical approach that will allow students to practice and develop these competencies. In most cases, designing the sort of environment that encourages this behaviour will reduce demand for teacher attention and thus reduce stress in general. Personal thinking space leads the better outcomes and happier teachers I have been doing a lot of work recently with Design Thinking. Beyond being an excellent framework for projects, it has an important and obvious first step that few classrooms utilise: personal thinking time. During my teaching career, many high school teachers have complained about the stress caused by students who just don’t engage or the supposed inability of students to discuss topics meaningfully. In both cases, the lack of time given to allow each student to think, process and prepare thoughts for the class inhibits successful contribution. Here’s my post on Design Thinking.

Typical scenario: A teacher asks the class to form groups of 4 and discuss topic X. After 5 minutes, the teacher expresses disappointment in the results of the discussions. When activities launch immediately into group or class discussion, more confident individuals dominate or if little is known about the topic, they disengage and wait for input from the teacher due to having had no real time to think about what they might contribute.

 Three to five minutes of silent thinking time for every student on a topic to consider their own existing knowledge or questions they have, before embarking on a discussion or project means each individual will bring more to the activity. Then comparing thoughts and lists of ideas they’ve had time to compile leads to more engagement from every student and less need for prompting from the teacher. It took me many years to realise this but I now enjoy working with classes of active students who display more confidence to contribute. Rather than worrying about small quick-fix tools and activities to reduce stress, teachers need to have a long-term view and look at developing a learning environment that encourages confidence in students to take charge of the learning and rely less on teacher input. This way, teachers will discover they can focus more on facilitating conversations and dynamics in the room and less on the fear of content delivery failure.

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 edubloggers.

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

How do you balance preparation for high stakes assessments with teaching and learning in your classroom?

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

How the average classroom operates, especially in high schools, has to change if we are to level the playing field in preparing every child for assessments, not just the middle class.


Image credit˙

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 edubloggers.

Do your parents affect your grade more than your teacher?

What makes the real difference to who succeeds in high stakes assessments? What generally correlates most consistently with exam success in the US, Europe and Australasia? Is it IQ or access to technology? Is it money spent on schools? No, It’s family background or socio-economic circumstance. This has always been the elephant in the room when discussing the approach to and success of education in the developed world. For decades, the the traditional teacher-led classroom model has helped purpetuate the obvious trend that, in general, the higher your family’s social status, the better your grades. This fact alone proves how ineffective most classrooms around the world have been in attending to student needs. But there is hope.

Does government money help?

student teams01In New Zealand, we have what we call a decile system that allocates government funds to schools based on socio-economic student circumstance.  So surely we have a fair system where all classes achieve equally. Of course we don’t. In general, it is still the wealthier learners who succeed in school. One reason the government money does’t change grades in the lower deciles is that the considerable extra funds received by the more needy schools quickly disappears providing the extra social, medical and family support required in such situations and little extra gets spent on the education of those students.

Teachers can’t do it alone

Government money is a great start but once you’ve ensured every child has had breakfast (still not the case in New Zealand and certainly not in the US), what can the classroom teacher do to start to leveling the playing field regarding the support and motivation for learning each child experiences. The classrooms need to operate in ways that maximise the amount of support every child has access to at any moment but with only one teacher in the room, this means collaborative environments that build knowledge and skills not rely on receiving them.

ocKids2-ipadAll learning environments and classroom activity should allow and cultivate collaborative workflow from early years all the way through to college. Classrooms should not be reliant on either each individual student’s personal access to the teacher or a child’s ability to stay focused on the same single point of information delivery. By making teamwork the learning norm, you not only mimic standard workplace practice but also start to provide more support to more students.

This is why a number of new classroom models, such as Project-based learning (PBL), Universal Design for Learning (UDL) or Design Thinking, to name but a few, focus on building knowledge collaboratively so as to involve every learner in an active role, rather than as a passive receiver. Building a team mentality around learning will also mean students have more people to turn to in preparing for high stake assessments, alleviating the pressure on both the teacher and the family at home.

Coding on iPads – Beginner to Pro

Code and programming may not be the most important topics on the planet but it is an area of study that sufferers two major problems. one: an industry with millions of unfilled job positions and two: a world where not enough teachers feel confident to run programming projects. The iPad can offer a solution in these situations.

There’s an app for that (and a generation)

Fortunately, the world of code education is getting easier and more self-sufficient every month. When I say self-sufficient, I mean such that having an expert in the room is not longer a requirement. Thousands of children, some as young as four, are teaching themselves to program and make apps and games . They are using, apps, YouTube, gadgets, drones and robots, all available at home. This generation are also becoming experts at collaborating online.
Initially, many code teachers in the world were skeptical about whether the iPad had any role to play in code learning and thought of it as just a consumption device. That was never quite the case and now the millions of iPads held by children everyday are primed to take them on the full coding journey from beginner to pro.

Here’s a summary of some of the apps on offer and the level they cater for:

Code Beginner to Pro with iPad-EduWells.png

Where do I start and end this journey?

Here I will attempt to summarise the various levels of learning and the apps that sit at each stage.

Stage one – Single procedure

Getting from A to B might be easy for humans but computers need commands every step of the way. There’s also a long way and short way to code anything to get from A to B and learning the shortcuts is important. These apps are great at introducing the main options when doing any type of coding. They will do the teaching and the students can get quite competitive over how far they’ve got.

Stage two – multi character

All apps, websites and games always have more than one thing on the screen that has been coded to do something. Learning how components and characters can interact, pass messages and information and even borrow each other’s code is key to start the development of full products. These apps will open up more open ended options and allow and the students to get creative whilst still delivering extra lessons to spark ideas. They do all this with friendly drag and drop commands, whilst still offering the full toolkit. Pictured: Tickle; Hopscotch; Tynker.

Stage three – IDEs and Text code

Before you take the final plunge into typing your own code to make products that might change the world, it’s worth being introduced to the type of application coders use, namely the integrated development Environment (IDE). These apps offer tools, buttons and shortcuts specific to a platform or language. For example, Apple’s IDE is called Xcode and has iPad specific tools and will emulate an iPad to trial your app on. It’s important to introduce to text coding so students discover how carefully you have to be with syntax. These three apps find a friendly and fun way to introduce IDEs and JavaScript and a real text language. Pictured: HyperPad; Hakitzu; Codecadmy.
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Stage four – time to go pro!

IMG_0688There are a number of app developers creating apps that allow you to type, compile and test real code in nearly every language. They can cost a dollar or two but come with keyboards specific to providing shortcuts to allow you to type and organise the code quickly. This will allow students with iPads to make a serious start on their coding career. Pictured: Python 3 (but they all look similar)

Journey as a team

This whole process from beginner to pro can be done without the need for an expert. More teachers need to feel confident that they can introduce coding at almost any age, get the students onto the apps and then step out of the way. I find teams of 4 work well to build coding knowledge collaboratively and helping each other through the various challenges.

Jobs for the boys and the girls

Find your local jobs website and do the >$100 job search. In nearly all cases, IT will be the industry with the biggest need and in many cases it will be double the 2nd place industry for job availability. There’s a global discussion about success rates with boys and coding often interests boys who struggle elsewhere. It can also act a a gateway to covering much math. Girls are also being encouraged into the industry with extra incentives and programmes such as Google also run special initiatives just for women.
Kids – start coding! 
Teachers – let them show you what they can create!