flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

Jon Andrews recently tweeted out the following comment:

Now I know where he is coming from. You only need to look at Graham Martin-Brown’s recent reflection for an understanding of some of the less savory chatter that can fill social media feeds. However, I feel like we are back at the age-old debate as to whether every teacher should be on Twitter?

Don’t get me wrong, I love Twitter, but both my appreciation and use of the platform has developed over time. I once went to Twitter as my first port of call. However, now I use it more as a learning well, a meeting place. Although I go there to learn from others, I am less worried about missing out and instead entertain the serendipitous nature of dropping in every now and then.

Here then are some spaces I go to for critical and quality engagement:

  • RSS Feed: This is usually my starting place. I have over 200 blogs in my feed. The way it works is that if I find someone who posts interesting content on Twitter or any other space, I will then add them to the list. In addition to sharing  interesting posts out, I also bookmark ideas with Diigo.
  • Newsletters: Different to the average blog, email newsletters are the new zines. I am currently subscribed to the following: Doug Belshaw’s Thought Shrapnel, Tom Barrett’s Dialogic Learning, Graham Martin-Brown’s Revolution, Laura Hilliger’s Freshly Brewed Thoughts, Austin Kleon’s Weekly Newsletter, Ian O’Byrne’s TLDR, Bryan Mathers’ Visual Thinkery, Dan Haesler’s newsletter and Audrey Watters’ Hack Education Weekly Newsletter (HEWN). Some are not much more than a list of links, others provide a rich commentary. What stands out is that they all provide curated content to scour.
  • Nuzzel: A social aggregation application, Nuzzel searches through your Twitter feed for posts that have been by a number of people. Although you can access the site for a constant feed, I depend on the daily email for a summary of links.
  • Email Subscriptions: I get emails summarising content from a range of sites, including Diigo, YouTube and Pocket. These can be good to flick through and often provide ideas and resources that are outside of my usual connections.

So there are some of the ways that I filter content. Although Twitter can be fantastic, there are also other means. What about you? What strategies do you use? As always, comments welcome.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

In a recent post, Jon Andrews reflected on the influence of Edutech and its ongoing relevance. It got me reflecting on my own experiences in regards to conferences and professional development. One event that stands out in particular was the 2014 Google Teachers Academy.

There was so much conjecture prior to the event about what it meant and how the representatives were selected. While in a conversation afterwards, one of the questions brought up was that of impact. I argued that time would tell the success of the evolution associated with Google Teacher’s Academy move from a focus on tools to a focus on innovation and change. However, a part of me thinks that this also misses something. Focusing on ‘success’ sometimes misses the chance influences and impact. As I have discussed before in regards to data and connections, reducing success to a particular outcome does not recognise the serendipitous learning and experience through failure.

So as I look back, here are some aspects that have impacted me:

  • Design Thinking: The biggest take-away was to not only learning about, but learning through Design Thinking. From the different immersion activities, such as drawing a classroom to interviewing different stakeholders; to using hexagons to maps ideas in order to develop a how might we question; then generating ideas and then filtering them; as well as prototyping and critiquing different iterations. I have long wondered about the different facets of inquiry-based learning. However, I had not really had the opportunity to properly explore Design Thinking. One of the things which really stood out to me was the cyclic nature of the process. Although it focuses on an authentic end goal, as other forms of inquiry do, it incorporates an element of ongoing refinement that is sometimes lost within other processes. This experience also made a lot more sense when I read Ewan McIntosh’s book How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make The Happen. This is not to say that Hamish, Tom and the coaches did not do a good job with the constraints of time. However, it was not really until the end, when you can stand back and reflect, that you can make sense of the process, rather than just the ideation being actioned.
  • Connections: I remember reading that being a part of the Google Teachers Academy would provide access to a range of connections. Although I am now in a few new Google Groups, which is dip in and out of, the real bonds and connections were those that I formed simply being a part of the process. Ironically, it was the time spent chatting around meal times and during the taxi rides when the friendships were formed. It simply reiterated the fact that learning is more often than not relational. We can follow all the people in the world, but there is always something humane and so much more meaningful associated with face to face contact. Although I knew quite a few people before (and they knew me I found out), I feel that bit more connected now. I am not sure if this justifies the program, but must not be overlooked.
  • Start with Why: One of the interesting things that occurred at GTA was that every coach received a copy of Simon Sinek’s book, Start With Why. Before the event, I had not heard of Sinek and his golden circle. After watching his Ted Talk, I read the book over the Christmas holidays. It was one of those books that, like Carol Dweck’s Mindsets, really clarified the way I saw things, particularly in regards to innovation. Just being ‘right’ or bringing a good idea to the table does will not necessarily bring the change desired. The challenge is to really be clear why such change and innovation is important. This can mean supporting others to drive change, helping them as leaders.
  • GEG: Considering it was an event organised by an edtech giant, I am not sure how much Googly knowledge I left GTA with and I am not sure that it really matters. Instead, the event demonstrated the potential for using Google Apps to support change. I actually think that I left with more thoughts about how to facilitate professional development. For example, Corrie Barclay and I ran a Google Educator Group event at the end of last year. We designed it around the idea that teachers could share and create. It was not necessarily the ‘success’ that I envisaged, but it did leave me with more to critique and think about. A part of a longer process exploring how to support others with change.
  • Driving Change: It has been interesting seeing some others celebrate their successes. Whether it be Riss Leung and her new makerspace or Steve Mouldey’s website 1st Follower, designed to support others with the change process. I left GTA with the question: How Might We ENGAGE PARENTS in a CULTURAL SHIFT to make RELATIONSHIPS and CONNECTIONS the focus of learning? Part of me thought that this might have been a little too ambitious. However, to me, that was the point of the event. I would liked to have jumped into disruptive pedagogies or some other area of change, but I felt that was the safe option. I chose a topic that was messy and wicked, with no clear solution. Every school is unique and has its own context. Engaging with parents and the wider community in a meaningful way is one area that this shows through. Since then, I have continued to ask questions, read widely, listen to different perspectives and test out different iterations. I will be honest, I definitely have not succeeded in bringing parents and the community into the classroom as Chris Betcher and I had envisaged. However I have started implementing different means of sharing and connecting beyond the classroom, which is definitely a step further in what feels like the direction.

So what about you? What big events have you been a part of? Programs that you’ve been privy to? What are the lasting impacts on your professional practice? As always, comments are welcome.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/16593420862

In every school that I have taught, there has been some form of electives in place. From photography to robotics to zoology to outdoor education, the idea is to provide an element of choice and agency. However, this choice is continually contradicted by an essentialist ‘core’ curriculum, where what is taught is decided long before the students arrive. This creates the circumstance where students enter electives feeling that they don’t really matter, for if it did then everyone would be doing it.

Another problem with electives is that they are often decided by looking at the core curriculum and trying to fill in the gaps. The issue with this is that the supposed offer of choice is undermined by the fact that students choose from a predefined list, but often have little say in what actually makes up that list. Although this can be answered by asking the students what they want to learn or are passion about once they are in the subject, there are often expectations already set about what such subjects mean through subject descriptions and historical hand me downs.

I was interested in reading Greg Miller’s post on how his school conducted an enquiry into their elective initiative. Through this process they sort to reinvigorate the various courses to make sure that they were delivering the best learning opportunity possible. As Miller described, the purpose was threefold:

  1. CLARIFY that is, to….. “Make clear or plain” the intent of the Year 9 Interest  Elective Initiative.

  2. DISTINGUISH that is, to…..“Recognise or note/indicate as being distinct or different from; to note differences between” current BOS approved/mandated courses and the  new courses.

  3. INVESTIGATE that is, to….. “Plan, inquire into and draw conclusions about” the best way to deliver Year 9 Interest Electives in 2015.

What stood out was that instead of back filling the subject areas, the focus was placed on the areas of: inquiry, self-directed learning, collaboration and connectivity.  Such innovative practises got me wondering about whether there were any other points of improvement that could be made to the age old elective programs?

One question that came to mind was what if all the electives worked together in a collaborative manner, each addressing a different area, but working towards a common goal? A few years ago, as a part of my Digital Publishing elective, we worked with the Photography, to take pictures of all the students for the school yearbook. However, that was only two classes. Imagine if you had six classes working towards a common goal, at what could be achieved? In conversation, Jon Andrews told me about the Big History Project run out of Macquarie University. Aimed at Year 9 and 10, it is about gaining a deeper understanding of “the cosmos, earth, life and humanity.” As is stated in the introduction, it “offers us the possibility to understand our universe, our world, and our humanity in a new way.”

Going beyond the Big History Project, broadly speaking, Project-Based Learning offers a model to work in a fluid and agile manner. In her work with Learning Futures, Valerie Hannon talks about the power of Project-Based Learning. One of the things that stands out are the many entry points available, whether it be a whole week or a few hours. For example, many schools are using Genius Hour as a means for introducing Project-Based Learning. I wonder if Genius Hour could work in the place of electives? Where instead of teachers taking set subjects, their role is to support students with whatever it is that they are doing.

A similar example to the Genius Hour, Passion Projects, 20% Time or whatever you want to call it is the account given by Jon Andrews in the book Experiences in Self-Determined Learning of ‘Immersion Studies’. (You can also hear a presentation of this on the TER Podcast.)  Like an electives program, Immersion Studies Time was a designated time in Early Years designed for students to engage with the Arts. What is significant about this initiative is that it fits with school’s heutagogical philosophy. It is not an event, a one off, rather it is another cog all running together.

I have taught in an environment that ran inquiry-based programs in two hour blocks. Beyond the issue that if there was something on that week, such as sport or a public holiday, students simply miss out on their dose of inquiry. The bigger problem was that, as Kath Murdoch points out, “we can’t expect kids to be curious ‘on demand’.” If such pushes to innovate, to wonder, to be curious are not celebrated and perpetuated elsewhere, then there is a danger that they often go nowhere. This starts, Murdoch explains, long before planning. It is a way of teaching.

What about you then? What are your experiences of electives? Of Genius Hour? Of heutagogical learning? I would love to know. Comments welcome, as always.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.