Not Just a Teacher

binge thinking on technology and education

Not Just a Teacher

An adventure with Minecraft

October 21st, 2015 · No Comments · General

2000px-Grass_block_stylized.svgAs part of my current role, I have been working on a number of small projects with teachers who wish to explore some technology enhanced education ‘juiciness’. This was a very early exploration into the use of Minecraft for teaching a History topic, in this case Feudal Japan. The world had been built by a student Minecraft group on Minecraft Edu. There had been a number of technical issues and hurdles to overcome to get to this ‘pilot’ stage.

It is hoped that by sharing this, other educators may get an insight into this facet of games based learning, some of the pros and cons, the logistics and a realistic look at what will/can happen in such a lesson.

  •  Logistics
    • First lesson using Minecraft
    • Mixed ability Year 8 class
    • One special needs students
    • A group of experienced Minecraft users (boys)
    • BYOD, wireless provision in classroom, one Mac and one Windows Surface Tablet (remainder Windows laptops)
    • Teacher running Minecraft server from Teacher laptop
    • Minecraft admin/Teacher role also run from Teacher laptop
    • Student from Minecraft group assisting in a Minecraft admin/Teacher role using Teacher laptop
  • Technical issues
    • Mac and Windows Surface Tablet would not load Minecraft Edu
    • A couple of early issues were fixed by IT Support – both Java
    • Some minor lagging on lower capacity laptops
    • Sever crash after about 1 hour 15 min of double lesson


As this was a pilot and given previous technical issues, the structure of the lesson was loose. Teacher had to spend time getting everyone on to the Minecraft Edu server and into the Japanese world. This involved a few students having to visit IT Helpdesk and a few successful re-tries from students.

After approx. 15 mins, most students were into the Japanese world and most were freely exploring. Hardly any students were challenged by being able to move about in the world and operate Minecraft controls even though when asked, some students had never or hardly ever played it before. The first exercise was to find the Command Block and all students seemed able to do that. In this area, they were supposed to be able to build. Sand block was in use but some issues in discovering how to share Sand Block.

Some early exploratory exercises were introduced. These seemed very simple for some students (issues of differentiation). However they did allow for exploration and it was clear students were noticing architecture, asking relevant questions such as, “What is a dojo?” Students did not think to come out of the world and search for what a dojo should look like. All of this is clearly an area for development.

Students often used signs to locate objects/buildings and other students seemed to find it hard to remove themselves from distractions of ‘chasey’ games and general exploration in the world to focus on exploratory exercises. Also, difficult for teacher to assist students in exploration as different issues for teacher to deal with.

From quite early on, the group of experienced Minecraft users were attempting to disrupt the world, escape from it and destroy elements of it. They saw this as the challenge and attracted interest from other boys also interested in same but with less experience. Some of this seemed to be related to challenging student from Minecraft group. They found glitches and exploited them. Student from Minecraft group ‘punished’ them (such as freezing) in return. This seemed something of a power battle.

Task was given (orally) to explore and think of a question/activity that could be given to a teacher/students exploring this world. It was difficult to ascertain who actually invested any time in this task given distractions already mentioned. In my view, this was a worthwhile exercise and would produce solid, early thinking that would help students in focussing.

Engagement of students in Minecraft was very high (see ). Students were sharing, interacting and generally enthralled in the online environment. There was healthy and very enthusiastic learning in respect of Minecraft itself and in terms of collaboration, interaction, sharing. How this transferred into learning about the intended topic – Feudal Japan is questionable. This was reflected in both the comments they made and in observations of their behaviour.

From a well-being point of view, there was clear evidence in growth mindset, in positive behaviour and collaboration during the interactions in the world. The atmosphere in the classroom was one of excitement from all students (Minecraft users and non-users). Those unable to use their own device were still able to partake in the activities through sharing with those connected although they commented that it would have been better to have had their own connection.


A Precinct School

August 6th, 2015 · 3 Comments · General

I had the pleasure of attending the Vice Chancellor’s Breakfast at UniSA last week where David Lloyd and several senior members of the university staff publically launched their Digital Learning Strategy. I praised and shared the strategy via Twitter when it was first announced and blogged about it. I still hold it up as a strong example for all areas of education to follow in terms of declaration of intent, strategic direction and action planning to achieve goals set with reference to technology enhanced education. Knowing the process they went through to publish this strategy, I think there is also much to be said for pro-active, driven, co-ordinated actions to rubber stamp fundamental changes to teaching and learning.

However, there was something else mentioned on that morning that caught my intention and has plagued my thoughts ever since.

There have been plans at UniSA to build an ‘education precinct’ at their Magill Campus. I already knew of that but I wasn’t aware of the intention to have a secondary school in that precinct. Now, that’s nothing new as a concept. ASMS has been a feature of Flinders University for a number of years. What was ‘new’ to me was the mention of possibly having teachers in some sort of pedagogical innovation scheme where they came for a set period of time to teach in a certain way.

Unless the bacon sandwiches distracted me, I don’t think we received any more information than I have provided, but I immediately thought that this is an interesting idea. I am picturing a school where there is a backbone of ‘permanent’ staff but then each term/semester/year staff from other schools come to teach using a certain pedagogical approach (or approaches). Would this push innovation forward? Would it lead to teachers going back to their schools with greater experience and knowledge of effective pedagogy? Would the students in the precinct school benefit from this experience or could it be detrimental to their education? Would there be issues with instability and/or lack of student/teacher relationships?

I wonder what opinions are on this matter, whether such models have been done before and what were the findings.


Am I better off writing a letter to Santa?

July 26th, 2015 · No Comments · General

I had the pleasure of spending a day with @danhaesler last week. He gave a day of workshops on Teaching Kids to Stretch. This, as you would expect if you have followed any of his work, was very much part of his take on well-being. Having had many conversations with Dan and seen him present, I was keen to get my hands dirty with his ideas and the practicalities of application in this area not only as a teacher but as a parent of two primary school aged children.

The day was a great learning experience for me, and colleagues I shared it with tended to echo my feelings. Yet, it wasn’t the content that was so ‘out there’, so revolutionary, so mind-changing. In my opinion, it was the delivery that made the difference. I hold my hands up at this point and admit I like Dan as a person. I think we have a lot in common and despite the fact he was born on the wrong side of the Pennines, Lancashire not Yorkshire, he is a good sort. Yet, this doesn’t stop me from standing back and being as objective as I can. Hence, I would like to say he is damn good at what he does.

So, what makes him ‘damn good’ and other presenters, other workshop conveners, not so? To me, it comes down to the delivery style and he, as I witnessed @tombarrett do a couple of months earlier, used styles that, although different, were on the wave length of any average teacher. Dan’s anecdotal, storytelling (often including his own son) approach elevates the passion of his work. In my opinion, he presents his beliefs in applying Carol Dweck’s fixed/growth mindset in such a convincing fashion because he has real life examples that are really easy to imagine and empathise with.

In a chat with him over lunch that day, I asked him where all this work is going for him, where he sees himself in a few years. He shrugged in reply saying he didn’t know then said, “I’m just a PE teacher”. At the end of the day, he told the workshop that, “any of you could stand up and deliver this”. Unfortunately, he could not be further from the truth. Undoubtedly, some people in the room could have gone some way to match him but far more could not have. What Dan represents in my eyes, is someone who is willing to invest time in figuring out learners, what motivates them, what inspires improvements in their learning and ultimately in their achievements. In a similar way, it could be argued @tombarrett and the NoTosh crew have done likewise with learning activities. They have then devoted huge amounts of energy to honing their craft in how to deliver their messages to those at the coal face. This is no mean feat.

When I returned to school the next day gushing over my experiences with @danhaesler, a colleague of mine really summed it up for me. I said to him that much of what I learned was simple down-to-earth application of Carol Dweck’s work. His reply was something along the lines of, “yeah, but he has obviously taken the time to deconstruct Dweck’s work, to figure out how it can be applied and indeed how it should be best applied to maximise effectiveness. That has to be applauded.” This got me thinking about the difficulties full-time teachers face in mimicking Dan and Tom’s in-depth work. It is very difficult to both commit the time to gaining hardcore knowledge of such a subject but also to build up the presentation techniques that enable high quality delivery. Perhaps such opportunities need to be engineered by those strategically planning education systems. Or am I better off writing a letter to Santa?


An unlevel playing field

June 9th, 2015 · 1 Comment · General

unlevel playing field


Digital technology is an unlevel playing field. In my opinion, it is the most unlevel playing field we have ever faced in education. Looking back at the history of education, there has been no other time when something has had such an effect on people yet the level of knowledge and expertise of users of technology is so difficult to determine. A bold statement you might suggest but let’s investigate this and look at the evidence.

Firstly, it is very important to look at digital technology as an umbrella term. I like this definition of it:

“the branch of scientific or engineering knowledge that deals with the creation and practical use of digital or computerized devices, methods, systems, etc” (

We commonly associate digital technology with use of devices, consumer devices, such as phones, tablets, laptops. Yet, as this definition shows, digital technology is also about creation not to mention the involvement of systems and methods. Highly significant in the unlevel playing field argument is an understanding of the breadth of the definition and the ‘creations and practical uses’ that can be seen as digital technology. To better comprehend this, let’s consider some examples, realistic scenarios, that are likely to be happening right now in schools anywhere in the developed world:

  • Young people who are highly proficient users of a particularly area of social media eg Tumblr. They know how to navigate and manipulate the space. They post and connect as they see fit. Some are very skilled at using this space to market their interests, to network
  • Teachers who have self-taught (or Youtube taught) network skills. They have experience as they have set up and maintained a small wired/wireless network
  • Young people who have used online interactive platforms eg Codecademy or MOOCs to teach themselves how to code in a particular language. They program their own robots or build apps and network with like-minded individuals worldwide via user groups and forums
  • Teachers who regularly use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. They rely on these social media spaces to for friendship, sharing practice and socialisation. They are highly competent and active users who have developed know-how over years of use.

Of course I could go on and the list of examples demonstrating involvement in digital technology is vast.

Yet, the list above should not just be looked at in terms of what technology is being used for, what the involvement is. I listed sets of people, teachers/young people, and in any of the examples given they could be interchanged with ease. This is the second point in understanding this unlevel playing field: we rarely have any idea who has expertise let alone in what area of digital technology that expertise lies.

There is, however, a third point when we consider the people involved, namely, that formal education or schooling, qualifications, age, what is commonly referred to as experience have no bearing on who is involved in digital technology. The plethora of learning opportunities freely and readily available online are a conduit to expertise in areas of digital technology not to mention the expertise that can come from immersion, involvement and use.

So, all in all, when we look at digital technology, we look at an area of our lives that has many subsections, lots of specialisms. There are few factors we can point to that provide reliable evidence to enable easy identification of who has expertise and where that expertise lies. Hence, we have a huge unlevel playing field.

Image courtesy of


Diving into Argument Mapping

February 23rd, 2015 · No Comments · General

I have had the pleasure of using Rationale recently to look at the concept of argument mapping. In it’s rawest form this can be seen as ‘essay writing with trainer wheels’ according to a colleague of mine. I really like how it visually represents prose and breaks down the structure of essays to enable students to see how to construct these pieces of work.

The visual nature of this tool enables students to be able to see how their work should be mapped out and how balanced or unbalanced discussions can be depending on the work being done.

argument An Argumentative template shows visually that you are creating an argument in favour of something.






An Issues template shows in a similar way how the the reasons and objections are more balanced in this piece of work.



Using maps to plan out an essay in the map, provides students with their essay at the same time and the export facility gives an .rtf file that the students can use to further their work.










Using the tool, brought into questions of whether students should be restricted, structured in their work from the outset or should they be left to play, to fall over in different ways (eg provide too many reasons in an essay that has a word limit). However, the tool does have facilities to accommodate your pedagogical approach.

I also have concerns about whether use of Rationale without strong teaching would lead to bland essays that had a very formulaic structure but perhaps that is what is needed. It could be argued that any tool still needs good teaching to support it so Rationale is no different in that respect.

All in all, I find this a really useful insight into a lovely example of how technology can enhance traditional educational practice.



Adding to the Mission

November 23rd, 2014 · No Comments · General

As part of the #eNoob team, Urvi Shah provides a very interesting perspective on the mission of the eNewbies such as eLearning Coordinator, Director of Innovation, eLearning coach etc etc, in her blog post on Learn E-nabling: However, as valuable as this might be given its simplicity, I wonder if it is missing key fundamental elements. Here’s my rework:

comm and trust

In my experience and in some ways supported by research if we look at teacher barriers to technology (Ertmer, 1999), we have to build confidence.I would argue that this is confidence in and with technology. I would all suggest that such confidence cannot exist without good communication in the community with which innovation is attempted and certainly not without trust.

In many ways, I think communication and trust go hand in hand. They compliment each other to foster the basis of growth, risk taking and innovation. Without these in place, we cannot inspire or lead any teacher to improve their practice.


Ertmer, P. A. (1999). Addressing first-and second-order barriers to change: Strategies for technology integration. Educational Technology Research and Development, 47(4), 47-61.


The Limited Visibility of Learning

November 11th, 2014 · No Comments · General

I have spent a lot of time during this year involved in sessions organised by Macmillan based on John Hattie’s research  A lot of this has been valuable, probing and at times uncomfortable for many educators present when they have to produce data that exposes heir school and themselves. Yet, what really grates me is the delivery method and the lack of visibility.

How can a conference that professes to educate attendees on visible learning only allow visibility to paying attendees? (Surely, this comes under Cooperative learning which has an effect size of 0.59 in Hattie’s top 150 and it could be argued, surely, that it provides a more extensive classroom discussion which has an effect size of 0.82 and gets into the top 10)

Where is the enabling, facilitating and promoting of shared practice around such valuable PD? (I can’t find this in Hattie’s top 150 effect sizes so I’m not sure it’s ever been measured)

Why would a leading researcher on education run every session largely in a lecture style with a booklet supplied that attendees follow? (This seems to come under the banner of Direct instruction which has an effect size of o.59)

And if we move away from Hattie’s research and perhaps concern ourselves with Alec Couros, George Couros and Steve Wheelers’ views then there is a major push for the benefits of open, connected learning that is shared outside of the walls of a classroom or conference room. So, I am left feeling a little let down by a delivery mode which in it’s archaic style,in my opinion, leaves a lasting impression on educators who attend:

The sharing on a global scale, in a connected world of professional development that elements of social media offers us, does not matter that much. Maybe book sales and bums on seats at a premium rate do





The Role of Parents

July 27th, 2014 · No Comments · General

I want to ask every educator in primary and secondary sectors, the following questions:

What exactly is the expected role of parents in your school?

In your classroom, what specific part(s) of each child’s education do you want parents to be involved with?  

How do you deal with parents who do not behave as you want them to in your school community?

What avenues exist for those parents who want to do what you are asking them to do, to be part of your community?  

Think about it. If, like me, you concern yourself with more than the content you want your students to learn or the experience that your teaching offers them then, as Graham Nutall’s book clearly states, there are ‘Hidden Lives of Learners’. If, like me, you truly believe that education is as significant in the home environment as it is in the classroom, then not only will you be adhering to strong messages from the ‘oh so delightful’ MacArthur Foundation (see video), but you will be concerned with parents.

Yet, in my experience as an educator and as a parent, many schools are confused with what they want from the parent community. Or maybe that’s a little harsh. Many schools are not confused but perhaps they are not telling the complete truth. Ask senior leaders in many schools what they want from parents of students and they will talk about active roles in their child’s education; support for what the school is trying to achieve and in many cases, opportunities for extension of the learning happening in the school environment. However, it seems that when parents don’t do exactly what is expected of them, then their foreseen role get’s kind of complicated. I am sure there are many educators out there who know the parents who are ‘pushy’. the ‘complainers’ but are some of these just doing what you want them to do and others struggling from a lack of clear guidance as to what role they are supposed to be playing.

So. let’s get to the last question regarding the avenues you are offering parents. And to me, this is where the parental portals that exist as part of many VLEs,really do fall very short of what is actually required or indeed desired. But then again, the primary school that invites parents into the classroom at specific times to play a part in a child’s learning – that can be as ill-conceived. The problem with this approach is not the concept or the idea but it’s the flexibility. It is only when the terms are exactly as stated and the plans go according to what the school and the teacher expects that such schemes seem to work. As already mentioned, when parents don’t do exactly what is expected of them, then these systems struggle. I think Seth Godin’s take on customer service has a good message for all of us in this regard.

I think it is time to be honest in each and every school community and make it clearer than clear as to what the role of parents actually is.


I’ve Read a School Report

July 8th, 2014 · No Comments · General

I have just received a school report for one of my children. This is a mid year report. It doesn’t show me any progress, only attainment. It provides me with an effort and an achievement grade in a variety of subjects. There are no teacher comments on my child apart from the overall ‘Teacher comment’ at the end which gives a summary. This follows attainment grading in terms of Respect; Independence; Responsibility; Caring; Honesty. How does that sound? Does that comply with Australian DECD expectations of a report in a primary school? Does it compare to something similar in your school? How does it compare internationally?

But let’s throw some curve balls into the mix albeit curve balls that are real. This child has been psychologically assessed and found to have a literacy ability of equivalent to a 12 year old and a numeracy ability of a 13 year old. This is a child with an IQ way above her age (just turned 7). She is supposedly being extended to meet these needs. Yet, the report says she is achieving at only a Good standard not the highest level of Excellent. Does that mean she is not achieving at the level she is supposed to be working at for her age or the level she is  diagnosed as capable of? If it is the former then there are major issues surely with the teaching and learning happening here, especially as the effort level says Mostly and Sometimes for the two disciplines in Maths but overall she gets the highest level for following the school rules. Surely, that means she is severely under-performing and her effort level is way way way below what it could be given her mental capacity.

So let’s consider the later- she is not achievable at the level she is  diagnosed as capable of….. How does that work then? How does a parent or indeed the child know when the bar is being raised in terms of assessment and reporting and when it is not? Given that we know she is not being extended in other areas eg Science for instance, is the achievement grade for that subject for a typical 7 year old or for a child of her mental capacity and the level you would expect them to perform at? I’m confused. I hope you share my confusion.

Then we get into the issues of engagement. Do these snippets of information suggest a lack of engagement here? Or indeed, do they also suggest a lack of really addressing the needs of a child with very different needs? How can any education system really report in such a confusing manner when there are such diverse needs to address with any group of children? Please help me understand.


A New Dimension in Blogging

May 27th, 2014 · No Comments · General

small-logo3Yesterday was the launch of a new project for me, Learn E-nabling, a collaborative website I have set up with international, cross-sector representation from people in the e-learning coordinator type roles. My reasons for devoting my time to the project and I would hope a shared view of all those involved, are set out here. I really hope we can spark some real insight into many facets of education in today’s’ schools in different parts of the world and the complexities of pedagogical and technological changes, if they are indeed happening as some would have us believe.

For me though, there is another rather exciting side to this. The concept of an individual within a team; a collaborative blog, posting his/her viewpoints and then the rest of the team commenting on that. Then that post and the comments are publicised via online mediums (Twitter, etc).  This provides not only the original authors’ views but the critique of that, the discussion, the comments. To me, this provides an opportunity to join a little discussion rather than just read a post. Almost, like a mini-forum. Now, I don’t know if this has been done before. Perhaps, it is a successful and well-used model. However, it is not something I can recall coming across.

The first post and the subsequent comments are here. I hope you can add yours to that post and the many posts that will follow