First term in a new school


Above: Buddy Day at ACMI. Photo: Warrick

It’s hard to believe that I’m about to finish term 1 in my new school, and I haven’t blogged about it yet.

Perhaps it’s still too new, and certainly too busy, to reflect properly on the excitement, the challenges and the possibilities of a new place.

In terms of teaching; I’m teaching Year 9 for the first time in a long time, and no Year 12. The conversations are very different but I’ve enjoyed the shift in lots of ways, and have always thought that you can make a big difference in a Middle School classroom.

In terms of technology, it’s a mixed place. There are IWBs that no-one uses much, Windows laptops for staff, a BYOD program 10-12 and an iPad program 7-9.

So, I’m teaching with iPads for the first time, supplemented by Jacaranda+ texts and some good old paper. I’ve been using OneNote in my own teaching (of course) but am itching to get Office 365 going in the school, and to get OneNote notebooks up and running.

I’ll reserve the iPads for a separate post sometime. They work well: reliable, great battery, portable, app-friendly. The students like them, and don’t mind typing on them (I bought a Brydge keyboard for mine as I don’t like typing on the screen) Of course, the problem remains switching between writing and reading so the need for paper as well, which I don’t like. I bring my heavy Windows HP notebook to most classes, mainly because I can’t plug an iPad into the IWB and the Apple TV solution hasn’t worked well. There’s room for some improvement there.

Otherwise, everything is new. It’s a smaller school so you’re across multiple roles more, some of which are pretty new to me. Being in a new school reminds you how students must feel going into new classrooms with new teachers every year. It’s been refreshing, but I hope to be able to blog more regularly from now on.

Below: Getting started, note Brydge iPad keyboard. Photo: Warrick


New morning, new directions

Morning, day 2, #3

I’m excited to be moving into a new school, and new areas of responsibility this year. After eleven very fulfilling and rewarding years at my previous school as Director of Learning and Curriculum my new role is Deputy Principal (Secondary) in a very different school and context. There’ll be lots to learn, and and lots of changes.

One constant I’m grateful for, is that I’ll continue to be teaching a class. I’ll have a Year 9 English class this year and am looking forward to working with Middle School students again. I’m sure I’m going to miss some of the interactions and conversations I’ve had with my Literature students in recent times. Working with able, motivated, articulate students on texts I’ve loved like Mrs Dalloway, Antony and Cleopatra, and Adrienne Rich last year, has been a real privilege I’ll cherish forever.

But, having the opportunity to work with students who are at that critical time in their lives, grappling with who they are, who they want to be, and what their place is to be in the world, is exciting. And, having the opportunity to try to ‘light that fire’ in students about English is something I’ve always liked about working with students in Years 9 and 10.

Another thing that wont change is that I’ll be intensely interested in the education technology, and how that supports the learning journey. My new school is a mixed environment, an Outlook teaching platform, with OneDrive for students and iPads as well. In the senior years there’s a BYOD program. It’s a hybrid kind of approach that I think will be interesting to work in, after a long time working with the (increasingly improving) MS Office, Exchange, and Windows notebook approach. I’ve really liked the change in direction Microsoft has taken in recent years, opening up the tools in multiple platforms and, of course, the continuing development of OneNote with the shared notebooks for teachers and students: still be the best learning tool I’ve seen. One tool I’ve never really worked with is the Chromebooks, even though I’ve been a gmail user, and Google Drive user personally for a long time. I also like their new approach to Photos. I want to keep my eye on how that educational technology is developing as I take on the new role and new tools for 2016.

I’m certainly looking forward to it, and will continue to post here periodically about the successes, failures, challenges and achievements of it all. For all those teachers starting to set up for the year ahead, I hope it’s a great one for you and your students.

Amazing Stories #324

I’m not a huge fan of the new Apple News app, and I don’t expect that Nine News is going to break new ground in education news I’d value. But, even by those un-lofty standards the article below that appeared tonight was a new low. This was the article in full! (More behind the paywall?) Note, both the assumptions are flawed: the view of  current school as kids in rows AND the radical future, ie Wifi.

Startling revelations.


Leveraging Office 365 and OneNote

We started this term with a staff learning day that was primarily technology focused, It began with a keynote by Travis Smith from Microsoft Australia who talked a lot about the benefits of pen-based technologies. I was interested to see him using OneNote as a  presentation tool; something I hadn’t seen before. It looked a bit like a simplified version of Prezi.

Afterwards, teachers could choose sessions on Office 365, OneNote, pen-based feedback, followed by a range of other options. I gave a session on Office Mix, and teachers could immediately see some of the potential there for adding value to PowerPoint in ‘flipping’ the classroom. I also gave a session on OneNote, and it was nice to see some teachers who had never used the tool, get started with their very first Notebook. I can’t wait to see the reaction when we roll out OneNote Classroom Notebooks later on in the year.

And, on OneNote, which has gradually become my one-ring-to-rule-them-all teaching and learning tool, sometimes it’s good to be reminded about some of the connectivity built into OneNote and other aspects of Office. Like meeting notes, explained below:

OneNote Ninjaism

Anyone who’s been following this blog for any time knows that I’m a big fan of OneNote as a teaching and organisation tool. And it got a lot better this year, with Office 365 integration and especially OneNote Shared Notebooks, which for me has been the most important classroom technology tool I’ve seen for a long time.

We’re intending to roll out shared noteobooks to all teachers and secondary students; meanwhile we’re working on skilling up our teachers, some of whom are OneNote Ninjas already. And what is it about that ninja thing? Coding ninjas? OneNote ninjas? Maybe it points to the somewhat ‘driven’ need for those of who love OneNote to try to share just what this product can do.

365 Ninja offers a range of videos to help you learn Office 365, including a range on OneNote. Here’s one I learned something from today. Spoiler alert: the Mac version of OneNote is improving, but lacks lots of features, including the insert Excel spreadsheet functionality.

Code like a girl

So, in the interest of diverse opinion, in respect to the last post, I post this video of girl coders from the recent Apple WWDC Conference. I’m all for empowering girls to be what they want to be, and love the advice here: ‘don’t give up, just because it’s dominated by men’.

BTW: I still don’t think compulsory coding is a good idea! These kids all really wanted to make things happen.

Why compulsory coding in schools is a silly idea

Sublime WoW: Website Code over 1000!

If there’s one thing bigger than big data in the educational trendo-sphere lately, it’s coding.

Coding, I think, is a cool way to talk about what we used to call programming, and it’s all the rage, as in ‘Coding in Schools is Vital’

This is the next big thing and when the Opposition Leader stands up in Parliament and tells us that everyone should be doing it, you know it’s mainstreamed. Bill Shorten said that all Australian children should have the opportunity to learn “the literacy of the 21st century” so that they can “design, create and operate the apps and computers” that will drive Australia’s future economy. Others are arguing that coding is as crucial as English and Maths.

Read that last sentence again, then code in that smiley face with the straight-line mouth at this point. 😐 Really?

Does that argument even make sense? And if you say it does, what time should be given over in the crowded curriculum, and what should go? Geography?

I used to keep a list of the all the stuff people in the papers and politicians said that should be taught in schools. It included things like (and I kid you not): chess, road safety, personal safety, origami, basic mechanics, first aid, meditation …) Many of these things are very worthy of our attention and time, but you get the point. Where do you stop, and what do you take out?

So, why coding? Well, the arguments seem to come down to these:

  1. Computers are really important in our world and you need to know how they work. This is exemplified in the Business Council argument that ‘digital literacy is now a core life skill which is becoming just as important as normal literacy and numeracy in the emerging digital economy.’
  2. This is where the jobs are. You know that Careers teacher who’s been telling us for year that the jobs of the future haven’t been invented yet? Well, now they have, and it’s called app development.
  3. It’s like another language; languages are good to learn
  4. Compulsory coding will get girls into an area that is dominated by males.
  5. It teaches you logic, cause and effect, that kind of thing.

So, do these stand up?

  1. Well, yes. computer are pretty important in our world. I’m writing this on one now and I’d hate to be pulling the fountain pen out to draft it. I happily admit that I’ve no idea just how Siri understands me 70% of the time. I’m a long time advocate for computers in schools, for students. But not for their own purpose, but for what they bring to teaching, learning, collaborating and creating: what you can do with them. So, while it might be handy to know that computers are programmable devices I’m not sure how much class time you’d devote to that simple idea. Cars are pretty important too, but nobody’s arguing that we should all learn basic mechanics in school to know how they work … (oh yeah, there was that one guy who argued that!) So, ‘digital literacy’ doesn’t mean putting on overalls and replacing the gearbox, but maybe it means being a skilled driver who can get the most out of the technology?
  2. The jobs argument seems a bit like an even weaker argument than the 1980s push that we all learn Japanese, because that’s what the jobs will be. That didn’t turn out so well. And, I don’t really think that coding is the dream-job of the future. For every Mark Zuckerberg who can code and had some good ideas, there are a thousand coding hamsters, most of them outsourced to India, doing the grunt work and making the wheel spin. There sure are jobs in technology, but if I was looking for future skills I’d want to be the creative / collaborative / inventive /entrepreneurial / inventor type rather than the poor pizza-fed employee who has to make it work.
  3. It’s good to learn languages. And coding is a language. Or many of them. But, you know, even in these crazy modern days, if I was thinking about learning a new language it probably wouldn’t be Python. I might try Spanish. You know, a language that’s lasted more than a decade and is well out of beta. Is coding ‘the most important language in the world’? Well, no. You might try Chinese, or English.
  4. That more women in coding would be a good thing is undeniable. Anyone who has encountered the pervasive, casual misogyny of the gaming world would say it needs to be more inclusive. But why should women like evangelising hamsters into the coding caves to right the wrongs of the world?
  5. That it teaches logic, cause and effect, sequencing, is to me the strongest of the arguments. One of my primary colleagues, Steve Costa, puts it beautifully when he says: “It is essential to have students learn to be creators and makers of programs as well as take risks, learn through their efforts (both successful and otherwise- and to experience that learning from their “mistakes” often helps for better understanding of the procedures being attempted… He points to articles like ‘Why we should be teaching kids to code’. Hard to argue with that, except to say that there are other well tried ways of working to develop concepts of sequencing and logic and persistence as well, and those important attributes are timeless and beyond mere content.

In looking at articles about coding in schools in thinking about this piece the name Estonia came up a fair bit. Apparently Estonia has moved to implement coding in schools in a big way. So, Estonia is to coding what Finland is to PISA tests. Something like that.

Late in thinking about this piece I came across Patrick Kenneally’s Guardian piece, ‘Let’s pause before drinking the “coding in schools” Kool-Aid, which argues in part: ‘In the absence of being able to accurately predict which skills will be in demand in the future workforce, surely it makes more sense to build broad generalist skills of numeracy and literacy in the early years, rather than concentrate on the narrower skill of coding.’

I’ve got an even better idea: develop literacy and numeracy and the 21stC skills that are likely to really useful in helping young people fully engage in their future world of learning and work. I’ve blogged about them before. And stop knee-jerking politicians telling just what schools ought and ought not to be doing.

Disclaimer:  I love technology but am not a coder. The most advanced stuff I’ve ever done is scripting in Filemaker Pro. I enjoyed it.  The high point was a Markbook program I developed that was tailored to VCE English, which I began for my own use, gave to some other teachers even considered selling to a textbook publisher. This was long before ‘apps’.

OneNote Notebook Creator

So, I finally got my hands on OneNote Notebook creator as part of the trial group at my school, thanks to the support from the computer team who’v set it up. They set the Sharepoint site up and I ran the Notebook creator tool, setting up three distinct spaces in the OneNote notebook as outlined below.  I set up the student private notebooks with tabs for the key texts (Amadeus, Antony and Cleopatra etc…) a content library, which is the resources I’ve been sharing so far by email, and the collaborative space,which I’m probably most excited about.

Each Class Notebook is organized into three areas:

Student Notebooks
A private notebook shared between the teacher and each individual student.
Teachers can read and write to all student notebooks
Students cannot see other private section groups outside their own

Content Library
A read-only notebook where teachers can share handouts with students.
Students can only read — i.e. pull from — the Content Library. They cannot edit.
Teachers can read and write to the Content Library

Collaboration Space
A notebook for everyone in your class to share, organize, and collaborate.
Everyone can read and write to the Collaboration Space

I’ve been using OneNote as a teaching tool for years now, and this is the biggest break-through yet I think. As one teacher, from the USA, I was speaking to yesterday said, this is a ‘game changer’.

I’ll be sharing what happens. Meanwhile, here’s a video overview: