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

Here is a collection of reflections from some of the sessions I attended at the Leading a Digital Schools Conference held at Crown Casino on 25th, 26th and 27th of August.

It’s Time to Refocus: Creating a Broader Learning Context is the Key to Using Technology Effectively – Ted McCain

With the progression from punch cards through to thought controlled computers, technology is progressively becoming easier to use, with the ultimate goal being for it to disappear. Ted McCain posed the question, is the focus on technology the wrong thing? Our focus, according to McCain, instead should be in developing the cognitive skills required to use the available technology at any given time effectively. These skills were captured within the nine I’s:

  1. Interpersonal
  2. Intrapersonal
  3. Independent Problem Solving
  4. Interdependent Collaboration
  5. Information Investigation
  6. Information Communication
  7. Imagination Creativity
  8. Innovation Creativity
  9. Internet Citizenship

At the heart of these skills is a focus on student-centred facilitation, active learning, that focuses on discovering, rather than being told. McCain’s focus on the problem reminded me of Ewan McIntosh’s idea of problem finders, while I also wonder how McCain’s skills would compare with Doug Belshaw’s essential elements of digital literacies.

Leading Effective Teams in Schools – Steve Francis

Steve Francis session focused on the importance of team. The benefits that he sighted were: efficiency, effectiveness and consistency. Francis identified four keys for this to occur:

  • Leadership
  • Purpose
  • Trust
  • Processes

Without any of these ingredients, the notion of team becomes hamstrung. For example, you may have clear leadership, with processes in place to develop a high level of trust. However, when people are forced together around a contrived purpose then teams often falter.

On the flipside of this, Francis highlighted five specific dysfunctions associated with teams:

  • Absence of trust
  • Fear of conflict
  • Lack of commitment (to team)
  • Avoidance of accountability
  • Inattention to results

What was interesting was what came out of the opportunities to work with others. In my team were a couple of teachers from Bray Park in Queensland.  Some of the observations made were that the biggest team in a school is the school and it is this team that we need to get right first. In regards to leadership, this is often set by those who set the standard, rather than those who carry the titles. In addition to this, we may be a leader above our pay grade, but we are never a leader above our professional grade.

Are Schools Like Dinosaurs – Steve Francis

The focus of THe keynote was change. He touched on a number of facets of change, including the different stages:

  • Information
  • Personal
  • Implementation
  • Impact
  • Collaboration
  • Refinement

And some of sins associated with implementing change:

  • Keep doing what you have always done
  • Ignore it … trends come and go
  • Throw out the baby with the bathwater
  • Jump on EVERY bandwagon
  • Waste your time and energy whinging
  • Procrastinate until it is MASSIVE
  • Fake it … do what you’ve always done but call it something else

He argued that one of the main reasons that schools have not really changed is because they err towards incremental change, rather than transformative change. The problem is that significant change takes GIANT leaps that can’t be achieved through incremental steps.

He gave the example of when bird flu broke out in Hong Kong and how students were forced to stay at home. This forced he and his colleagues to rethink what it means to teach. In the process many sacred cows were called out.

Francis argued that we are coming to a tipping point where transformative change is inevitable.

Encouraging Innovation: Creating an Enabling School Culture – Christine Haynes

Christine Haynes posed the key question, “if technology enables learning, who enables the technology?” Building on Dan Pink’s notion of autonomy, mastery and purpose, she focused on the notions of self-help, collaboration and coordination. With these ideas in mind, she focused on the following prompts:

  • I can help myself
  • We help each other
  • We proactively move towards a shared strategic vision

These prompts are central to the creation of a culture of change.

Associated with this, Haynes provided a range of questions to consider, such as how you celebrate failure, what subscriptions have you got, how will you incorporate digital citizenship, what ways are you modelling Creative Commons, who manages the budgets, are there appropriate policies in place and how are students involved as contributor?

Haynes covered many topics in her presentation and left a lot to consider.

Click for slides.

Shifting to Deeper Learning – Derek Wenmoth

There are many fads which come and go in education, but according to Derek Wenmoth, the one question that remains is, “who owns the knowledge?” The head of CORE Education, Wenmoth argued that if we are going to admit that we need to go deeper, then we need to recognise what is happening in our classrooms today starts from a very shallow base.

Wenmoth touched on a number of topics, including New Pedagogies for Deeper Learning, Michael Fullan’s 6C’s, the integration of learning and technology, as well as the need for more wicked problems. He closed the keynote with a series of calls to:

  • Stop prescribing and start personalising.
  • Stop thinking that teachers are the problem, empower them to be a part of the journey.
  • Rethink the structures in our school and think more globally and connected.
  • Stop forcing kids to l;earn what we want, instead provide more authenticity
  • Stop bench-marking everything against test scores

Wenmoth left with one last provocation, “we need to start inventing the excellence of the future.”

What Maker Kids, Tom Hanks and PAX Taught Me About Creativity – Adrian Camm

For his keynote, Adrian Camm focused on five features in developing a learning culture:

  1. Create a shared vision
  2. Shift from passive to active
  3. Provide permission to innovate
  4. Make your default response ‘yes’
  5. Tell people they are awesome

The highlight was working collaboratively as the room to come up with ideas ‘Instead Of‘ the usual.

Creating a Vision for Learning – Adrian Camm

One of the biggest problems with vision statements is that they are often created by the board and placed on a school’s website. The issue with this is that staff (and students) have little ownership over the various ideas. Adrian Camm unpacked what it means to create a true vision for learning.

To shift this thinking, we first need to understand the different types of personal and collaborative visions. For Camm, he differentiates between a mantra, a personal vision, a collective statement and a shared idea of what that statement actually means. The reality is if you do not have buy in then you can not have agreement. So although a school may have a motherhood statement, it is important for people to also have voice about what it might mean in reality.

Camm’s advice was to start small and expand from there. He outlined ten steps:

  1. Invite people to be involved.
  2. Brainstorm inquiry probes designed to dig deeper.
  3. Reduce the number of probes to eight.
  4. Set a group for each probe.
  5. Group works through the probe.
  6. Final vote on what is important.
  7. Writing an initial draft.
  8. Forming a final draft
  9. Communicating it out.
  10. Preparing for action.

A resource that Camm suggested to support this process is Gamestorming.

The next step once this is done is to map the curriculum in order to make the vision real. Camm showed how his school used Rubicon Atlas and UbD model to do this.

My three take-aways from the conference were:

  1. A strong PLN is integral for fostering collaborative projects
  2. A good keynote involves a mixture of personal content, a clear narrative and the opportunity to meet new people.
  3. Communicating with people from different regions is a powerful in uncovering those elements which we can sometimes take for granted.

For a Storify of the event, click here. While here are the links to my presentation on blogging and integrating technology in the classroom.

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

One of the significant changes that has occurred in education in the last few years has been the implementation of instructional models. Influenced in part by the research of Robert Marzano and John Hattie, these representations of best practices are often introduced around the mantra of ‘high reliability, low variability’. Along with discussions focusing on a guaranteed and viable curriculum, the intent is to create a consistent learning environment. Yet within all of these conversations around guarantees and reliability technology is often left silent. For some the answer is to get rid of technology. However this fails to recognise our client’s digital expectations. Here then is my attempt to situate technology within a high reliability, low variability framework. The model at the heart of this investigation is Howard Pitler and Bj Stone’s A Handbook for Classroom Instruction That Works. Developed from the work of McREL and Robert Marzano, the book unpacks the different strategies, including:

  • Providing Feedback
  • Cooperative Learning
  • Cues, Questions and Advance Organizers
  • Non-Linguistic representations
  • Summarising and Note-taking
  • Identifying Differences and Similarities
  • Generating and Testing New Ideas


“We need to provide our students with FEEDBACK in a way that is corrective and helpful as they move toward the objective, without overwhelming them with truckloads of feedback at once” p.23

Just as objectives help define the why of learning, feedback helps to maintain this. According to Hattie and Timperley feedback represents one of the most powerful influences on learning and achievement. However, feedback takes many different forms.

Some of the options for timely feedback, include responding via a learning management system or in simply sharing a collaborative document. One application though that can be particularly useful is Google Forms. From providing instant response to a walkthrough to giving peers critique on a performance, Google Forms provides a number of possibilities.

In regards to criterion, technology can be used to not only create rubrics using add-on like JoeZoo or Alice Keeler’s scripts for Google Sheets. Technology can also be used to embed standards as Edufolio have done with their professional blog for teachers.

In relation to learners actually guiding their own learning, Bianca Hewes has shared how she uses medals and missions in a collaborative document to team up different students in order to identify the next step process, while Anthony Speranza has shown how students reflection on pre-tests can be used to differentiate learning.

Cooperative Learning

“Small-group work is valuable, but COOPERATIVE LEARNING, with elements of positive interdependence and individual responsibility, is the strategy that rises to the level of significance” p.76

Cooperative learning takes many shapes and forms. However, the advent of cloud computing has made it something that is both more ‘doable’ and visible. There are numerous applications which allow people to work in within what David White calls a coalescent space that cross-over between the digital and physical. Some of the more obvious possibilities for connecting and collaborating include the integrated use of platforms like Google Apps or Office365. While some other alternatives include Edmodo, SeeSaw or a class blog. Each medium provides their own means of individual accountability within varying group sizes.


“CUES are hints about the content of an upcoming lesson; in addition, they both reinforce information that students already know and provide some new information on the topic.” p.97

Cues help to focus on what is important and lay the groundwork for learning. For some it might be a piece of media, whether it be a collage created with Picasa, a shortened video made using TubeChop or a GIF capturing a particular moment. This may simply be the presentation of information, but it can also act as a provocation. For example Dan Meyer’s three act mathematical problems provides an visual extract as a question.

Another reason to cue in learners is to activate prior knowledge. One way of doing this is through the act of brainstorming. The focus of this is about gathering spontaneous ideas around a specific topic or idea. Some programs that support brainstorming include Answergarden, Padlet,Dotstorming, Socrative, Poll Everywhere and Google Apps. What is significant about them all is the ability to collaborate.


“QUESTIONS allow students to access previously learned information and assess what they do not already know.” p.97

According to Warren Berger, questions offer a means of shifting the way we perceive or think about something. In their investigation, Pitler and Stone identify two key categories of questioning to take learning to a higher level: inferential and analytical.

One form of inferential questioning is through quizzes. Whether it be using Kahoot, Socrative or Google Forms, each provides multiple choice options as a means of engaging with learners, as well as supporting the measurement of growth. A creative alternative to this is to get students to create their own quizzes and share them around. Although some of the applications require teacher logins, students can still collaboratively create a quiz in a Google Doc before inputting it into the system.

Another activity involving inferential questioning comes in the form of Mystery Skype. This is where classes virtually connect and build on questioning in order to identify the mystery location. An extension on this is the Skype-a-Thon where classes connect with others from around the world in a day long marathon.

In regards to analytical questioning, Verso provides an environment within which learners can go deeper. This may be starting with an image as a provocation or immersing within an inquiry, Verso allows students to anonymously engage with questions and problems. From there, they can respond to the different ideas that have been shared by others.

Another option associated with analytical questioning is engaging with an authentic audience. This might include connecting with an author in a Twitter Q&A or responding to student presentations via Google Hangouts. The challenge in the end is not fostering questioning, but creating the conditions in which they can flourish.

Advanced Organisers

“ADVANCED ORGANISERS help teachers prepare students for upcoming learning and take the mystery out of what is to come. They help students retrieve what they already know about a topic and prepare them to connect with and make sense of new information.” p.113

Similar to cues, advanced organisers are designed to prepare students for new information. They provide an overview of what is to come.

One type of advanced organiser is the expository. This is usually a space designed to provide information about what will be learnt. There are a number of virtual spaces which provide a learning hub, whether it be a class blog, Blendspace, a Hapara Workspace, an Edmodo group, a Google Classroom or a hyperdoc.

Another form of advanced organiser is the flipped narrative. This involves recording instructions and sending these home with students so that class time can be spent digging deeper. There is no right way of creating a flipped video. As Joel Speranza explains, they often involve a series of interrelated decisions.

In addition to these two approaches, some graphic organisers can be used to prepare thinking. Whether this be using Google Drawings to complete a Frayer Model or using a Padlet to complete a KWHLAQ.

Non-Linguistic Representations

“NON-LINGUISTIC REPRESENTATIONS provide students with useful tools that merge knowledge presented in the classroom with mechanisms for understanding and remembering that knowledge.” p.113

So many instructional methods are focused on linguistic representation. However, non-linguistic representations can be useful when making sense of knowledge and understanding.

A common method used to sort patterns of information is the graphic organiser. Whether it be about forming a description, sequencing a series of items, identifying the relationship between cause and effect or breaking down concepts into their parts, graphic organisers provide a means to express mental models. Matt Miller provides an extensive list of Google Drawings templates which you can copy to your Google Drive.

Another form of modelling is through the use of various digital manipulatives in the portrayal of ideas. A popular application used to support visual representation is Minecraft. Lee Hewes has demonstrated how Minecraft can be used across the curriculum. Some other manipulative applications include Scratch and Sketchup.

In regards to visual representations, there are many others options. These include GIFs, word clouds and flowcharts. Each of these modes builds on the constraints in order to focus on certain information. For example, the usual design of an infographic supports the summary of information into small visual chunks, whether these be images, icons or graphical representations.

Summarising & Note-taking

“The act of SUMMARISING facilitates learning by providing opportunities for students to capture, organise, and reflect on important facts, concepts, ideas, and processes they will need to access at a later time.” p.152

Methods for taking notes and documenting your thinking seem to fluctuate between the structured rule based approaches to the more informal fluid methods.

There are many applications which either provide templates to support summarising and note-taking or allow you to easily create your own. For example, both Google Docs and OneNote provide structured templates which you can use and adapt, while applications like Evernote and Google Keep provide the means to organise text on the go using limited formatting.

Another alternative to structured summarising and note-taking is the use of outliners. A text editor, outliners allow you to organise information and ideas in a hierarchical manner. They have been around a long time. There are so many different applications available. However, a good place to start is with Dave Winer’s Little Outliner.

For a more open approach, sketchnoting can be a useful strategy. Sketchnoting is about helping us think deeper by mixing, matching and making links using text, image and flow. Some call it visual note-taking, others doodling. There are a range of resources and presentations to help with sketchnoting including Sketchnoting FOR Beginners (Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano), Brain Doodles, Sketchnoting for Beginners (Sylvia Duckworth) and How I Teach Sketchnoting (Royan Lee). Although it can be done by hand, it is common for people to use tablets and touchscreens using applications, such as Paper53, Flipink and Adobe Draw.

Applying Knowledge

“When students are involved in identifying similarities and differences and/or GENERATING and TESTING HYPOTHESIS, they are very often thinking and applying their knowledge at a higher level or with more rigour.” P.237

The challenge of all the different strategies is to help students extend and apply knowledge. Two ways in which Pitler and Howard identify this happening is determining similarities and differences, as well as generating and testing new ideas.

There are many ways of identifying and representing differences and similarities, whether it be verbally or visually. The most common means though is through the use of organisers and frames. Maybe it is a sketch within a OneNote notebook or filling in a template created with Google Drawings.

In regards to problem solving and engaging with ideas, applications like Trello provide a means of managing iterative steps. Often it can be easier to work on paper when developing your thinking and representing ideas. However, Trello is also a useful application when it comes to supporting productivity and workflow. Not only does it provide the means to share with others, but it allows integrates with a number of applications making it easier to locate files.

A strategy which encompasses all learning is the act of documentation. It can be easy to dismiss the idea of documentation as just a portfolio of work, collected together. The purpose though is not necessarily to summarise products and projects, but rather develop a deeper understanding and provide a narrative. Some applications that can be used to support this include Seesaw, Book Creator and Adobe Spark.


So there is a selection of tools and applications which each in their own way can be used to support a high reliable and low variable classroom. It must be remembered that there is nothing inherent within a program that says it must be used to support cues or is perfect for providing feedback. Often such decisions come down to discussions around choice and context. Although it can be easy to view these strategies in isolation, it is often together that they have there greatest impact. For as the Ritchart, Church and Morison remind, “understanding is not a precursor to application, analysis, evaluating and creating but a result of it.”

So what about you? How do you use technology to amplify the act of creating, making and visualising in and out of your classroom? As always, comments welcome.

DISCLOSURE: Although I was lucky enough to be a part of the Google Innovators program and have done some work with Adobe, I have not received funds from any of the companies and/or authors spoken about above.

Here are the slides for my session:

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Blogging In and Out of the Classroom with Aaron Davis

Session Description

It is often argued that learning needs to be redefined, transformed into something different. Going beyond what that change may be, a powerful tool that can help drive this are blogs. Originally designed as a means for logging information on the web, blogs have come to take many forms and purposes. This session is about harnessing the power and potential of blogging to develop learning inside and outside of the classroom. Whether you are confused about where to start or what possibilities blogs can offer, this session is for you.  Aaron will provide a range of practical tips and tricks associated with the differences between platforms, how to build a blog from scratch, as well as a range of examples and ideas of how blogs can be used in schools. The reality is, developing creative learners often depends on providing a place for them to shine and blogs is the perfect platform for this.

Here are my slides:

Here is a summary of some other links unpacking key concepts

  • The Many Faces of Blogging: Some break blogging down into tasks or unpacking the response. However, we often overlook the purpose and intent behind them.
  • A Guide to Blogging Platforms and their Niches: A summary of some of the different blogging services available, what they enable and where their biases lie. Included are an array of resources to support.

  • What Makes a Comment?: A question that does not get asked often enough is what it actually means to comment and what might it mean to bring the comment back?

  • A Guide to Following Blogs: A post that explains some different ways to follow a blog, including subscribing, via an RSS Reader or an automated recipe using a platform like IFTTT.

  • A Blog for All Seasons: Different blogging platforms enable different possibilities. Here is an account of some examples that I have created over time.

While here is a full list of  resources associated with blogging

While here is link to my blog roll for those wanting ideas and inspirations. Also a copy of my OPML for those wanting to explore Feedly.

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.