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.


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

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.

Mistakes when integrating Technology into classrooms

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

What’s the biggest mistake teachers make when integrating technology into the classroom?

During a recent conversation I had regarding a new tech tool, a colleague told me, “it would probably go wrong and mess his lesson up.” The root of much fear around integrating technology derives from teachers wondering, “what do I do if it goes wrong?” In working with teachers in multiple schools, I have found this is due to a traditional mindset that the teacher must be the master of content and activity in the room. Fear of losing that control and sense of respectability is what still leads many teachers to avoid introducing technology and limiting the scope of what might be achieved with it.

Classroom Design Thinking

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.

Teachers often prescribe which apps, websites and gadgets are allowed in “their classroom” to ensure nothing goes wrong. Notice here that the priority is on teacher comfort over that of the students. This can lead to learner frustration, scope limitations and restrictions to creativity and many learners not realizing their potential. Creating an environment like this, can foster disconnect between teacher and learner, and for me is the most common mistake I come across when working with schools introducing technologies. Young people live in a world where technology offers them much personal control over when, where, and, how they do things. If school does not reflect this world, it will seem to become ever more irrelevant.

In all my teaching, writing, research and presenting, the central theme in education at the moment is the empowerment of students over their own learning. As this becomes more understood by teachers, it redefines the classroom as a space of shared ownership, relaxing the need for absolute control and freeing them up to work with the students, whilst learning alongside them. Most technology these days has to be designed to be user friendly or it doesn’t survive in the marketplace and young people have become accustomed to quickly mastering gadgets, apps and other technologies. If the classroom is a flexible and collaborative space, my students help each other apply their own choice of technology to the task at hand. The focus is on the learning goals and/or problems, not the technology itself.

Operating a more democratic classroom environment has led to my own use of technology being enhanced by student suggestion. The Iinternet has increased the speed at which young people discover new tools and examples of them being used. Allowing them to experiment with their new discoveries gives them ownership over how they learn and in my experience and observations of others, it increases engagement in the tasks and content in nearly all casesclassroom.

The issue is not about faith in technology but more faith in the students to showcase their own mastery and adoption of a rapidly advancing world. The trick is to harness this potential and use the keenness shown by young people to enrich the learning experience for themselves the students.

Read the other excellent posts here: Top 12 Bloggers

Can iPads help achieve a state of Flow?

Lev VygotskyI’ve just had the pleasure of being inspired by Keryn Davis at Core Education, New Zealand. Keryn was speaking to a selected group of talented NZ teachers and the not quiet as talented me, who are all carrying out research projects on teaching and learning in 2015. Keryn spoke to us about the power of play in schools and used research and her own data to convince all of us that this was a significant issue for educators to explore.

Starting with the work of Lev Vygotsky, Keryn highlighted that people naturally stretch themselves during play. Vygotsky said: “In play, a child always behaves beyond his average age, above his daily behaviour; in play it is as though he were a head taller than himself.” This idea struck me as quite profound and had me hooked the rest of the way.

Next we were taken through some inspiring examples from her own research where play had been first introduced as a special hour at the beginning of the day, for “proper” school to commence afterwards. She explained how the positive results from this specially timetabled hour of play had led the schools to extend it and use elements of play throughout the day, making the most of opportunities that arose. Learners naturally started to organise, lead others and collaborate. I highly recommend you read more about her work here.

Play, Involvement & experiencing Flow

What I liked most was how she linked play to considering the level of true involvement a child displays in any school activity and finally onto the idea of flow, being a state of intense concentration on the present moment. As a tool for measuring activity and flow, we were introduced to the Leuven Scale for Involvement. Originally designed by Ferre Laevers.  This is used by elementary school educators to grade students during observations regarding how involved they are in various activities during the school day. Normally data is gathered by recording the observed involvement in activities of one child at a time as they carry out the different types of tasks in one day. I can’t see why these wouldn’t apply in principal to a learner of any age.

Here’s my infographic version:

Involvement and Flow - @EduWells


We were looking at her data that recorded both involvement and well-being at 5 minute intervals for a child during a school day. We started discussing the idea of flow as being the state that people attain when these 2 measures are at their peak. Karyn had actually discovered that flow was achieved when involvement was “Extremely High” but Well-being only had to be “Moderate.”

Here’s the Leuven scale for Well-being:

Involvement and Flow2 - @EduWells


Nakamura and Csikszentmihályi identify the following six factors as encompassing the experience of flow.

  1. Intense and focused concentration on the present moment
  2. marking action and awareness
  3. A loss of reflective self-consciousness
  4. A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
  5. A distortion of temporal experience, one’s subject’s experience of time is altered
  6. Experience of the activity is intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as autotelic experience

Reference: Nakamura, J.; Csikszentmihalyi, M. (20 December 2001). “Flow Theory and Research”. In C. R. Snyder Erik Wright, and Shane J. Lopez. Handbook of Positive Psychology. Oxford University Press. pp. 195–206. ISBN 978-0-19-803094-2

All teachers have the opportunity to design school structures and activities with an aim that children will experience states of flow during their day. These two scales are also useful for a teacher to use in judging their own activity design and classroom structures.

What does this mean for iPads?

i4S - APPSMASHING.001Combining the ideas behind play, involvement and flow, I believe teachers need to be open-minded when deciding how and/or when iPads will be used by learners. Allow learners to play and express themselves. Let them build their own learning experience and in doing so become more focused and absorbed in the moment.

App Smashing is a great example of this, as long as it’s not the teacher prescribing the exact apps to be smashed. Learners should develop their own workflows and styles of output. Having to conform to any generic structure for learning is always going to lessen the chance that moments of true flow might develop.

The flexibility and massive possibilities for expressing, creating and publishing from iPads means they can enable a learning environment that caters for every individual. Personal agency can lower self-consciousness and this might in-turn lead to deeper learning and students lost in moments of their own creation.


Design Thinking with iPads

Design thinking is a powerful tool to really get your students thinking about and tackling a problem or topic at a much deeper level. It is a structured task that focuses on giving considerable time to thinking about and empathising with the people within the situation (Target audience or client), designing and prototyping a possible solution that is immediately challenged in order to improve it. It is used much in business and the design industry but can be used as a general classroom task within any subject area. It also gets students to work quickly without much introduction.

Design thinking promotes creative thinking, team work, and student responsibility for learning.


It is a form of solution-based, or solution-focused thinking; starting with a goal (a better future situation) instead of solving a specific problem. This keeps minds open to multiple solutions.

The core rules behind Design Thinking:

  1. The Human Rule: All Design Activity Is Ultimately Social in Nature
  2. The Ambiguity Rule: Design Thinkers Must Preserve Ambiguity
  3. The Re-design Rule: All Design Is Re-design
  4. The Tangibility Rule: Making Ideas Tangible Always Facilitates Communication

The infographic / poster above is a guide to a simplified version you can use in your classroom. This version can be carried out in an hour, over a week, or even longer.

This versions splits the task into 5 key stages. It’s good to set fixed time frames for each of these stages and for their sub stages.

1. Goal Setting (Whole Class)


The first stage is to devise an atoll goal to improve something. This is best started with 3 key words: “How might we …” Starting this way can have a powerful effect on successful classroom engagement. “How” is a word that has a bias towards action. It implied the something is to be done. “Might” acts as a safety blanket as it offers the students the freedom to fail. This ensures tham more are likely to give it a go. “We” pushes the collective responsibility and collaborative aspect meaning nobody will be alone. It also removes the classroom hierarchy, bringing the teacher onto the same level as learner alongside the students.

During this goal setting stage it is important to select as a class:

  • WHAT” = An object – E.g. App, Gadget, Speech, Toy, Campaign, Website etc.
  • WHOM” = A Specific Client/target – E.g playground users, garbage droppers etc.
  • CHANGE” = A better world – E.g. Target result, Improved situation,


As an extra idea, I have considered it even as a fun theoretical teaching task such as:

  • How might an iPad app have helped George Washington win the War of independence in half the time?

There’s nothing to stop posting up a number of big ideas or challenges for teams to pick from but ensure the students have been part of formulating them.

2. Thinking – Individual then Group

Think DTDecide on an amount of time that students will individually think around the topic. This personal thinking space is important for letting quiet, reflective and deeper thinking take place to start the process off. This might only be 5 or 10 minutes but means more will come to the table when the group starts discussions.

The individual thoughts are then brought to the group. I recommend groups of 3 or 4 as bigger than this can become less manageable for the students.

3. Empathise

a) Facts  b) Opinions  c) Interactions

EmpathiseThis is the crucial stage where considering the people and situation that the solution will be dealing with is broken down into 3 stages to help the students allow for as fuller picture as possible. These 3 stages might take anything from 10 to 30 minutes.

  • First the Profile the target as a list of facts. What do they do? What do they have? What are we dealing with physically?
  • Second they imagine or research all the typical opinions and feelings that the solution will have to allow for.
  • Thirdly they consider all the connections within the situation. Who talks to who? Who shares things with who? Who or what competing with what or who?

By the end of this stage, the students will have done far more genuine thinking about the situation than they might have done if asked to just “research the situation.”

4. Solution Design – “Ideate”

ideateA minimum of 20 minutes is now needed for the group to dream up a solution. The important emphasis here is that no idea should be squashed too quickly. Let the students dream up ideas that may or may not be possible and allow the discussion and challenge evolve. The point of this whole process is for all possibilities to surface and be challenged. Sometimes the craziest idea can lead to successful divergent solutions.

App and gadget design can be applied to most situations and the fact that the students may or may not be able to make the final product should’t matter and allows them to focus on the needs that the product meets.

5. Prototype Critique – Feedback & Improve

PrototypeThis stage simultaneously develops multiple skills whilst also encouraging a more optimistic growth-mindset as teams present and challenge each other. The emphasis here must be on growing ideas and not judgements. One thing I would highlight to students is that designers and problem solvers always seek advice and feedback and so can use and appreciate anything that gets fed back to them.

Even after good thinking and empathising stages, there’s always a number of “what ifs” that any team will not have thought of. This also highlights to all students that there’s always another view and this feedback loop is key to any significant success that will last. Just keep asking why? why? why?


Which apps help with Design Thinking?

Essentially, the apps that help design thinking are those that allow students to collaborate around their ideas and  creative output. Here’s a few to help.

post-itSecrative can be used to canvas the class for foreseen problems to be solved and once target problems are chosen, it can then ask students to submit How might we… questions to frame the task around.

Nearpod can also be used to collate the class ideas for problems.

Post-It Plus amazingly allows an individual’s real Post-its be captured by camera and shared as digital post-its with the group. You can even edit the digital copies!
Here’s a review.

Drawp is another great collaborative system and app for class activities.

Talkboard is an instant and free collaborative drawing board for the group to scribble down ideas on. Might need a stylus to get the best from this.

Prezzi can be used to present a plan.


Design Think Links and Info

NoTosh are a key organisation pushing Design Thinking in education. Great info and resources.

Stanford Uni have produced a whole crash course in Design Thinking!



Future Proof your Learning Environment

BlogBut-app14“Did you know, there’s an app for that?” In fact, there’s 100s of new apps everyday and many teachers are put off technology because of it’s rapidly changing landscape. “How can I possibly keep up with what I should be asking the kids to use?” is a common question. The secret is to not worry about which app is the right one. Let the kids collectively do the ground work and worry about keeping abreast of the generic technologies and capabilities that numerous apps are making available.

But before you even worry about overall technologies, worry about what skills your teaching (regardless of content) might be developing. It is becoming a much talked about subject that any particular content schools might have “delivered” in the past is diminishing in value as A) it all becomes available on-demand on the internet in both written and video format and B) the world changes at an increasingly faster rate and priorities change year-on-year.

Universal Skills – prepare for a changing world

kids ipadMy planning starts with analysing universal skills I think are lacking amongst the students.

  • Do my students need more practice at collaborating?
  • Do they need more time on reflecting on previous work or experiences?
  • Should they be working on successfully communicating in writing or visually?
  • How about project planning or connecting with the community?
  • … and so on.

I also then ensure I have answers for the kids regarding why this is a skill worth practicing. Much of how I operate is around student devised projects but I work with the students on what they might focus on if I feel they or their team are not proving strong at a particular skill, like those I listed above. In a rapidly changing world, these are the skills that help develop what for me is the key skill: learning to learn. Why? For example, recent research is showing that unto a 3rd of jobs that exist in western countries will be replaced by automated robots or computers in the next 2 decades!    Picture Credit

Universal Content – add purpose to education

ocKids-iPadWhat information is most important these days? That’s a hard question. Given the uncertainty over even the next 5 years, how does any teacher know what they are teaching will be both paramount or relevant in five years. In New Zealand, I’m lucky that the National Curriculum took account of this uncertainty over where the future might lead and in 2007 removed nearly all content to focus on universal skills relevant to improving communities and the economy in the 21st century.

Universal technologies not apps

The freedom the iPad brings to each student’s learning experience is key when the skills and content being dealt with can be so varied within a class. Let the students find relevant apps whilst teachers focus on knowing the available technology types that they might be expect to see or encourage as options for dealing with material, even if it’s just occasionally. Here is my list of technologies that iPads now offer to a student:

  1. Movie making (Telling stories) – see here for movie making skills
    Narrative is so important in learning and allowing students to tell a story whilst combining multiple media types (film/photo/audio/voiceover) can be one of the most powerful and enjoyable learning experiences. The importance I have placed in any one-to-one device having a camera that can be used for this activity never fails to prove itself every week in my school.
  2. Animation – A challenge in planning and patience
    The opportunity to plan and produce animation, either in 2D or 3D is a real challenge at any age. It’s also fun and allows students to recreate any situation for any topic of story they might want to present.
  3. Collaborative cloud documents / presentations / planning
    This is very much how the world will operate for the next few decades and so building these skills and also their new forms of “netiquette” become paramount. The power in crowdsourcing ideas and skills when producing learning outcomes and the way in which live collaboration speeds up the process whilst developing social / team skills is crucial to all industries from the arts to business to sports.
  4. Web publishing – Blogs / wikis / iBooks / video / apps
    The fact that young people can now publish instantly for free is still not fully understood as the world-changing situation that it is by many educators. The world audience that many people under the age of 16 already have and the self-made learning network the children build for themselves through feedback and professional advice can not be underestimated in how it will change the landscape in schools over the next 10 years.
  5. Green Screening
    This technology is a powerful and fun addition to the world of mobile device learning. It is powerful for telling stories, reporting on events already filmed, school work produced in class or acting out impossible scenarios never before imagined in the classroom. My students were able to stand inside their iPad work whilst they talked us through in a video.
  6. Modelling – Allow students to play with that that would normally be impossible or difficult
    Many apps now model or simulate objects and scenarios for the students to play with but there’s also numerous opportunities to build models with on-screen clay, lego, paint, metal, or electronics. This is not ideal as the real thing is often better but if arranging or funding the real thing is difficult logistically, these virtual technologies are brilliant, especially in the way they can be instantly reset for numerous attempts.
  7. Augmented Reality
    This is the new frontier becoming increasingly mainstream. AR, as it’s referred to, is the idea of adding a layer of on-screen information, written, colour or 3D, on-top of what you can see through the camera in real life (think Robocop). Google has just completed it’s first trial with “Google Glass” and what DAQRI are doing for industry is amazing. Here’s my intro to the Augmented Reality for schools
  8. Coding
    Code.org and “Hour of Code” are part of an international push to have young people all coding. Whether you knew that or not or are already onto debating its merits or not, it can’t be argued that the results of coding now rule our lives and children should have at least some exposure to what it looks like and is about. There are now many teach-yourself systems and apps on the market and most are entertaining and successful at introducing young people to how coding works. Here’s one of my post on iPad coding.
  9. Building Networks
    This has become natural and normal practice for many children. Kids start networking online as early as age five with sites like MoshiMonsters.com and even coding apps like Hopscotch build on this with uploading, commenting and peer support through what they call “Branching”. Tumblr, Facebook and even Snapchat can be seen by parents and teachers as worrying signs but a positive view is to see them as practice for what some business experts have already predicted will be the most crucial skill of all over the next 30 years – networking & connecting. Many of my senior students will setup support Facebook groups or pages regardless of it being mentioned or not by the teacher. It’s just how they operate.
  10. Bookmarking
    Being able to not only save web discoveries but also collate, organise, collaborate and share collections of bookmarked material is an essential skill from the “to-do list” to more serious research. Systems like Evernote and others are great at helping people manage the vast array of stuff on offer. Modern bookmarking apps are also great when teams are collaborating on one project.

An open ended challenge

There are thousands of apps that offer entertaining and even interactive experiences with specific content. The issue for schools is becoming too reliant on a specific app’s existence. It is hard more most app developers to maintain the business and compete in such a difficult market and they often disappear after 2 or 3 years. Allow students to discover and use content apps but don;t centre your teaching on them. Focus your energy on universal skills and technologies and allow the students to practice and showcase their innate curiosity and talents for mastering specific apps collaboratively. in short, future proof your learning environment.

Please let me know if you have ideas for other technology types and I’ll add them to the list. Thanks.

Digital and Collaborative Learning

A three minute video highlighting a journey from 20th to 21st Century learning. Video transcript below.

An incorrect start…

At the beginning of 2014, we started a new computer programming module with all our Year 8 students. This was part of their technology curriculum and offered them 2 hours a week to look at coding and how applications were made. My colleague and I went though a relatively standard planning period for this and as experts in code, we broke the subject and potential problems down into sections and prepared resources and videos for the students to access.The students were using iPads and an coding app called Hopscotch.

student teams01During the first term, we noticed that although the work was self-paced, the diversity in both ability and interest for coding was causing problems for real understanding and engagement. Students were attempting to learn the separate coding elements by running through our tasks as individuals, asking a friend if they got stuck but the classroom had only small numbers of students showing a genuine love for learning this knowledge. At the end of Term 1 we reviewed the course and i highlighted that the students’ level of communication was very shallow, limited to short moments where one would help another over a small coding hurdle.

A new beginning…

student teams02The start of the second term meant a rotation in the timetable and a new group of students for our programme. I proposed that to gain more engagement from a wider pool of the students we focus not on coding elements, i.e. the content, but develop the programme so that collaboration and engagement become the primary goal. If we focus on team-based activity, there will be more sharing of knowledge, collective responsibility and knowledge creation. We were also in luck, Hopscotch added built in tutorials and most importantly an online sharing and feedback community for students to upload their products to. A shared learning journey would make it more enjoyable for all and the Hopscotch online community will allow the teams to share their products and offer feedback and advice to others.

A change in leadership…

student teams03So the course transformed from a teacher led, heavily structured acquisition of knowledge and skills into a more inclusive and active programme that all could be enjoyed by all. The teams of students set about developing a computer game without teacher-led instruction. The focus was shifted away from the content and more towards the experience of collaboratively learning. We even got a mention by Hopscotch when I published evidence of a the new level of engagement. Another development that arose from this new more open approach was that I would often learn from the students and the traditional teacher-student hierarchical relationships started to change.

As covered in the ITL research on 21st century learning design, we were now focused on skills such as collaboration, learning with ICT, self-regulation, and knowledge construction, whilst also being more successful in students developing coding and problem solving skills.

This post is a quick assignment for the Mindlab.