A Starter Reading List for Smart Young People


Click this link to be taken to the list: Books for Smart Young People

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Guest Post: Collaborative Learning in Chiang Mai (Uwe Muller)

During my recent travels in South East Asia, I was amazed at how many coffee shops there were in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The fact that it is a popular tourist spot surely contributes to the demand, but could not possibly be responsible for so many of these establishments.

Whilst strolling around an area called Nimmanhaemin, I was amazed to see how many students of university and school age were in these coffee shops. On closer investigation Continue reading

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Getting to Know You (Student Questionnaire)

This is what I use to get to know my students at the start of the year. Feel free to modify and use for yours.



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The Real Benefit of iPads in Education: A Catalyst for a Critical Change in Pedagogy

7469170810_deaf87df6f_oDuring 2014, I conducted research at my school to see if the introduction of iPads as a learning technology had any educational merit.

Research Details

I assessed four key skills over eight months as follows:

1) Critical thinking

Students were asked to analyze arguments and their web research capabilities were carefully measured.

2) Creativity

I employed the ‘Multiple Uses’ test as well as a number of divergent thinking puzzles and riddles.

3) Engagement

These were simple survey questions which asked student to reflect on their own engagement in lessons where iPads where used in learning activities.

4) Administrative tasks

Again, these were survey based and questions centered around how well students managed their own learning (from the use of shared calendars to creating and sharing tasks online).

These key learning indicators were defined as follows:

Critical Thinking

Definition: The process of independently analyzing / assessing / evaluating / interrogating information in order to reach a valid decision regarding the truth and reliability of this information.

Characteristics: Critical thinkers are able to think clearly, rationally and without bias. They question assumptions and are able to detect inconsistencies and common mistakes in reasoning. They are able to identify relevant and important ideas and to reflect on the justification for beliefs and values.


Definition: Creativity is the ability to generate new ideas, alternatives, solutions and possibilities which have value.

Characteristics: Creative people are innovators, combining ideas and information from disparate fields in novel and useful ways. They question traditional knowledge, they are imaginative and lateral thinkers, and yet they are disciplined in striving to make their creative alternatives useful.

Learning Engagement:

Definition: The level to which students are involved in the learning process.

Characteristics: Engaged students are motivated to work and perform well in the classroom, and have the drive to persist in overcoming any academic challenges and problems they may face. They are interested in learning, attentive and devote their full attention to the learning activities taking place both inside and outside the classroom.

Administrative Competency:

Definition: ‘Nitty-gritties’ of learning.

Characteristics: Students who have high learning administrative competencies accept the responsibility of remembering due dates, have strong time management skills, are able to plan ahead, always complete homework and projects, set study schedules, and negotiate unreasonable deadlines. They are also able to reflect on their own learning and to diagnose and take measures to remediate problem areas.



Student engagement consistently yielded the highest scores. Administrative learning competencies showed the biggest improvement. But critical and creative thinking abilities declined significantly from the start of the study to its conclusion.

Specifically as regards critical thinking, I noticed that students’ ability to identify reliable resources fell markedly, and their ability to analyse / critique arguments suffered severely from students giving what they thought was the expected answer, rather than independently analyzing an argument to arrive at a valid conclusion. Depth of thinking and independent analytical skills showed a worrying decline.

In terms of creativity, the most significant trend was how many students answered that a particular lateral thinking task or problem was ‘impossible’. Additionally, most students seemed hamstrung by overly literal conceptions of the problems for which creative solutions were required. They seemed reluctant to offer divergent / alternative solutions. Scores for originality, flexibility and elaboration all declined from the first benchmarking period to the second. Where ‘creativity’ was shown, it was in the form of nonsense – showing that for some students, ‘creativity’ amounts to ‘anything goes’.


Are iPads to blame for the decline in critical thinking and creativity? Although there is a negative correlation between iPads and critical and creative thinking, my feeling is that the actual cause lies elsewhere, and that this decline happens with or without these devices.

The students surveyed were all in Grade Eight. In South Africa, this phase of a child’s education marks the transition from primary school to high school. They were thus surveyed first about two months into their high school career, and then again in about month eight.

What changed to cause such a worrying decline in creative and critical thinking? My feeling (for which I rely solely on anecdotal evidence) is this: teaching happened. Good old-fashioned rigorous teaching. And therein lurks the problem.

I am not Mr Superteacher. I try to incorporate as much twenty-first century learning techniques as I can. I acknowledge that modern teaching needs to be student-centered, discovery- and mastery based and, ultimately, as personalized and progressive as I can make it. Even if I don’t always do these things 100% effectively, I do try. I try very hard. But what about a teacher who has always taught to get good results in a test or an exam? These are successful teachers, these are good teachers – and people whose hearts are invariably and undoubtedly in the right place. The problem, though, is that their teaching styles clash with the demands of a twenty-first century approach. Teaching to the test, and teaching to the child simply don’t blend.

It must be noted that no serious researcher anywhere believes that the use of iPads in education amounts to some kind of magical technology which transforms education overnight. What they have found is that these devices act as catalysts for transforming education. The results of this study are no different. In using the iPad to teach and learn, a more student-centered, critical approach becomes necessitous as old ‘chalk and talk’ style teaching does not dovetail with these devices. In a sense, the iPad merely provides the impetus for this to happen, and it is for this reason that it is considered a transformative educational apparatus.

The key findings of my iPad in education study show that students’ thinking becomes ever narrower and more focused on the right, or typical or even politically correct answer. It also shows that they are less and less able to think divergently and to generate novel answers to problems. This comes about solely because we discourage these tendencies in favor of ‘what matters’ – viz: standardized tests.

I say this categorically: iPads are not magic. On their own, they do not transform stale and outdated pedagogies. They do, however, vastly improve engagement. Unfortunately, if this enthusiasm for learning is not channeled towards a more student-centered, twenty-first century approach to pedagogy, the adoption of key skills in the learning is seriously jeopardized.

The challenge, then, is to plan teaching as carefully as we do infrastructure and to invest as much in fostering twenty-first century teaching methodologies as we do in hardware. If we do not do these things, we simply end up with devices which are fun to have but not worth very much in the classroom.

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Hey Teacher: Stop Thinking & Do Some Work

(Your results may vary)


I've been thinking quite a lot about thinking of late. Specifically, I've been researching the power of giving students time to think and to reflect – both about the content and skills we teach, as well as the nature and functioning of their own cognitive processes.

The modern teacher always seems to have so much to get through that it isn't always possible to slow down and give kids the time to chew and savor what it is we've served up. But finding the time to allow kids time for quiet, unstructured contemplation (in order to consolidate what they've learned in a deliberate, mindful way) can only lead to a fuller, more personal understanding. And thus improve their performance in the classroom. Moreover, allowing them the time to mull over their own thinking processes gives them the meta-skills required to take on a more efficient, personalized approach to learning.

Taking time to think is important in learning. But not, it seems, in teaching.

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Boys On The Side (Why Schools Are Failing Boys & What To Do About It)

(Originally published: February 2012)
English: The schools in Norrköping were for a ...

Here’s a statistic that shouldn't be: teenage boys are three to four times more likely to take their own lives than girls are. Granted, the research is in its infancy, and most of it is coming out of the United States, but there is something fundamentally wrong here. And it isn't with the research. And it isn't an ‘American problem’ (whatever that is). The problem is this: whatever is causing these young men to decide on suicide, it must – at least in part – be related to their experiences at school. (Since time spent at school amounts to at least a third of their waking hours.)

Boys these days are also more likely to be involved in disciplinary procedures, less likely to graduate from high school, less likely to go on to tertiary education, more likely to be diagnosed with learning problems like ADHD, and more likely to be put on to ‘attention-focusing’ medication. In some of the top schools in the US (ones where entrance exams are required) there is a form of ‘affirmative action’ for boys because not enough of them qualify to get in. Girls pip them by at least 20%. Also in the US, girls are more likely to take Advanced Programmes in every subject – except Physics (Peg Tyre: The Trouble With Boys). And every year, the gap seems to be widening. This is not because boys are ‘slower’, or because they are boys, as boys will be. It is not a ‘quirk’ particular to a gender – one to go along with ‘slugs and snails and puppy-dogs’ tails’. And why do these problems disappear suddenly when these boys become men and enter the ‘real world’? Why does the ‘boy problem’ only really exist while they are at school? Could it be because of school?

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The Kind of Kid I Prefer to Teach

I don't care about how well you do in your tests and exams. I don't care about how much time / money / effort you put into your assignments. I don't care about how well-behaved you are, or how well you work in my class.

These are the traits in a student I prefer:

  • Kids who are quirky are cool. Have weird interests and hobbies. This shows me that you have an unusual mind, that you are comfortable with being different and that you have a character strong enough to resist the conforming influence of peer pressure.

  • If you're kind to other people – even when it's difficult and when they're nasty to you – you're the kind of kid I want to teach.

  • Stand up for the underdogs and I'll stand up for you every time.

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Heal Thyself: What Good Teachers Can Teach Bad Doctors

We only meet them at our weakest moments. We trust them to make the right diagnosis and to help us get healthy again. They are among society’s most venerated figures. It seems almost sacrilegious to suggest that there would be something that a lowly figure like a teacher could teach a medical professional.

But there are substandard doctors out there. And there a few things good teachers do that could help bad doctors to heal their bad habits:

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10 Reasons Why iPads in Schools Are Dangerous


Never has one piece of technology caused such a divide among educationalists. ‘Going’ digital seems to be the new vogue and an unstoppable trend in education these days. To be able to research, create content and manage learning in class seems to signal a revolution in student-centered education. Give a student an iPad and a whole new world of discovery is unlocked. You as the teacher simply stand back and guide the learning journey.

Up to now, no serious research has been undertaken as to the efficacy of iPads and similar technologies in education. Never an organisation to shy away from a controversy, Troll University has recently suggested that tablet devices may in fact be dangerous to a child’s intellectual development. ‘Going Digital: The Dangers of Digital Tablet Devices in High Schools’ sets out the results of a four year study into the effect of iPads in education. To gather their data, researchers led by Professor Richard Roll studied iPad rollout pilot projects in 13 schools in North America, Australasia and Europe. Let Professor Roll say it: “…digital tablets devices have no place in schools – they are detrimental to the cognitve and physical development of teenagers.”

You will find a summarised version of the study results below. Down with iPads in schools I say!

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Traditional Education is Almost as Dangerous as None at All


You tell me education will solve all the nation's problems in one fell swoop. Get kids learning you say. The rest follows.

I tell you: Traditional education is almost as dangerous as none at all.

If you really want to make things better, get rid of the model of standardization and regurgitation. Transform schools into hotbeds of student-centred discovery-based learning, focus on nurturing compassion as well as independent, critical and innovative thinking.

The rest follows.




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My Top 25 Posts (2nd Blogiversary)

My Most Popular Posts:

My Ideal School (But Where’s the Technology?)
40 More Things Students Don’t Say
Make It! (13 iPad Apps for Creative Teachers and Students)
A Year With the Tribe: A Passionate Teacher Speaks About Teaching Boys
Tired Teacher: 11 YouTube Videos to Brighten Your Day
Dear Parents (A Letter of Introduction)
iTeaching: The New Pedagogy (How the iPad is Inspiring Better Ways of Teaching)
 iPads in Teaching – What Are They For?
Twenty-First Century Skills Checklist for Students
How to Use Your iPad: A Checklist of Skills

20 Ways to do School Better: A Guide for Students 810
How to Stop Being Stupid – Part 2 (The Control and Eradication of Common Thought Pests) 791
10 Potentially Great Things About Bad Teachers 787
My New Top 20 Favorite Teacher Hacks, Tips & Ideas 757

And the most frequent search term that lands people on my blog: “How not to be stupid”

There’s something immensely gratifying in that.


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Be The Knight

Inexperienced players have a fear of this piece, which seems to them enigmatic, mysterious, and astonishing in its power. We must admit that it has remarkable characteristics which compel respect and occasionally surprise the most wary players. – Eugene Znosko-Borowski


The knight on a chess board provides a useful analogy for the divergent set of skills required to thrive in the twenty-first century.

The knight is unique. It is the most nimble piece there is. It alone can bound over others and it moves in unusual and interesting ways. Properly placed, it can defend and attack multiple other pieces at once. It is an essential (and hugely under-valued) component of any properly executed strategy. Even the queen, who relies so much on brute force, is incapable of doing what the knight can do.

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6 Calming Mantras for Teaching With Tech

These are the mantras I would like every person I help to integrate technology into their teaching to chant quietly to themselves from their sternums when they begin to feel overwhelmed or despondent or negative. Chanting these mantras will realign your pedagogic chakras and make things a whole lot more manageable.


1. The Personalization Chakra:

Repeat in a flat monotone, speaking from deep inside yourself:

Find something that works for me… Find something that works for me…

2. The Zen of Small Things:

Chant this:

Start with one small thing… Start with one small thing…

3. The Tree Buddha Chant:

Intone this peacefully:

Paper LESS before paperless. (Repeat serenely until calm)

4. The Engagement Intonation:

Tech in schools is about student-driven learning.

(Meditate on this koan until you are at one with the chaos.)

5. The Van Gogh Protocol:

It's about creation, not consumption. (It's what tech is for.)

6. The Newness Canto:

Embrace positive change.






Actually there are quite a few more I should have added. Among them:

'Good tech without good teaching isn't good.' and

'There will be problems… patience.'

Any you'd like to add?


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No, Maths & Science ARE NOT More Important Than The Arts! (Link)

I don't think I have ever written a title with both shouting caps and an exclamation mark. I feel strongly about this one!

Please following the link below to read Zen Pencils's latest cartoon featuring Sir Ken Robinson on 'whole body education'. As a teacher, it is the most important thing you will do this year.

Zen Pencils illustrates an inspirational quote by Sir Ken Robinson

The first five frames to whet your appetite…

While you're over at Zen Pencils, why not brew a fresh cup of coffee and read through his other stuff? The guy really is good!



(Don't forget to look up Gavin Aung Than on Twitter at Zen Pencils … I am @SeanHCole)


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Fact: Science is True For You Too

It's funny how often people's response to a new piece of research is “well I don't believe that”, or “that's not true for me”.

Sometimes this response is justifiable – particularly if the methodology is suspect. Bad science needs to be questioned. (Like when educational researchers use memorization as a benchmark for learning in studies of which pedagogical approaches work best.) But most often what these responses mean, no matter how well argued, is that people simply don't want the results to be true.

The wonderful thing about science done right is that the results are real. Whether you believe them to be true or not is of no consequence.


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My Dad’s Rotary Drill: Why Teaching Critical Thinking in Traditional Schools is Pointless

You know when you were younger and you bought your dad a present for Father's Day that you knew was cool and useful and would change his life forever? Like, say, a small high-speed rotary drill with multiple burrs? There's so much he could do with something like that, you thought. He could do eggshell engravings, carve chess pieces, make jigsaw puzzles and create toys and jewelry. And then he used it for a bit – probably just to make you happy – before popping it in the bottom kitchen draw and only using it to do silly things like screw in screws and drill holes – stuff the lazy bum always did before anyway.

I feel the same way when traditional schools talk about introducing critical thinking. I strongly doubt that they will be teaching kids to think for themselves. They will not use it in exciting new ways. It will not change what happens at these schools on any deep level. And, if it is used, it will be a corrupted, watered down version of itself, used only to reinforce the status quo rather than to challenge it.

Such a sad thing that.


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Really Cool Animated GIFS To Expand Your Mind

Internet traffic:


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55 Animated GIFS For When Words Just Aren’t Enough…

Do you ever shut up?


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How Your Brain Messes With You (My Favorite Optical Illusions)


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There’s No Tomorrow (Excerpts from the Movie)

“There's No Tomorrow” (Excerpts From the Hard-Hitting Animated Documentary.)


Catch the movie here: http://www.incubatepictures.com/index.shtml


It took nature about 5 million years to create the fossil fuels that the world consumes in 1 year. The modern way of life is dependent on this fossilized sunlight, although a surprising number of people take it for granted.

Once an oil well starts producing oil, it's only a matter of time before it enters a decline. Typically it takes 40 years after the peak of discovery for a country to reach its peak of production, after which it enters a permanent fall.

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