Computational Thinking Problem-Solving Apparatus

I would love your edits / contributions / ideas please!

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Why We Will Never Stamp Out Bullying in Schools

Schools mirror the communities and societies in which they are located. And we know that young people learn most powerfully by emulating the adults in their lives. Children look to adults to glean clues on how to adapt themselves to the ‘real world’. As we all must.

So if that ‘real world’ is a place where adults have very little patience and compassion for one another, a place where corporate greed and ‘the bottom line’ trump respect for people and the environment, where political ambitions come at the expense of those who wield little influence, where so many of us fall prey to the ‘just world’ fallacy, and where self-interest, survival, and egotism trump the common good, then is it any wonder that children will imitate this behavior in schools?

If so much of how society functions sublimates down to the dehumanization, intimidation, exploitation, and victimization of the weak by the strong, how can we be surprised when our kids do the same thing to one another in schools?

They’re just trying to be like us.

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20 Things I Love About Living in a Technology-Drenched World


My clever Apple TV can stream programs for me when I want to watch them. And it even can turn my TV on and off automatically.

With almost all my payments and bills handled electronically, I don’t really need a postal address and I seldom have to go to a boring old bank in person.


I can get into my car and it connects to my phone automatically and starts playing me music or an audio-book. And when I get a call, it pauses whatever I’m playing and lets me talk hands-free.

My Kindle stands ready to download almost any new title I want. And I can highlight passages I love. No longer do I have to order physical books I can’t find down on the southern tip of Africa and wait an eternity for them to arrive.


I have a little machine that makes me (almost) barista-quality coffee at the touch of a button.

I can start editing a document on one device, and then continue on my phone, and then switch back to another device.


My online calendar gives me a little nudge whenever I have to do something important.

The internet allows me to find resources and ideas that used to take hours and even months to find. And then there’s all of those wonderful serendipitous discoveries to be made.

Funny Relaxed Frogs Computer Bench Rest Fig Bank

The customized news I want comes to me.

I’ve always battled to find those quirky games I really like playing. Enter Steam and online purchases and downloads. Same thing with music.


Waze. It’s awesome.

Ditto Netflix.

I have fewer and fewer digital files I actually need to keep. Most I just download as I need to. But when I do need to back things up, I have more free cloud storage than I actually need.

I love coming home to a package containing something I ordered online mere days ago.


My little e-cigarette gives me a chocolate and vanilla-flavored nicotine fix without the bad smell of normal cigarettes.

With all my little energy saving gadgets around the house, I’m actually using less electricity than ever.

It’s really easy to do something about both good and bad service by writing an online review. And I can use these to avoid bad experiences – as well as to find good ones.

I hardly have to recycle paper anymore – because I don’t use much.

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It’s so easy to find and engage with people and communities around the world who share my interests.

As an introvert, my relationships with other people are better than ever, simply because I can text more and talk less.

Tech helps me to engage my students better than ever.

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The Best of 2017 – The 50 Most Useful Apps, Websites, & Tools for Teachers (As Suggested by Techy Teachers)

Please follow the hyperlinks on the names of the apps. (Photos and images are not hyperlinked!)


Google Classroom A definite winner for distributing and collecting assignments digitally, as well as for posting announcements, questions and enrichment tasks. Can now be used without a GSuite account.


EdPuzzle – Use EdPuzzle to annotate videos and ask questions – integrates with Google Classroom Classroom. Also see Playposit


ZipGrade For multiple choice assessments – scan and grade sheets automatically with your phone.


Kahoot homework Kahoot is a wonderful game-based quiz app. You can now assign Kahoot quizzes as homework.


Perspecs – Gives you the same news articles with a left- and right-wing perspective, as well as a neutral perspective. (Also see Newsela.)


Continue reading


The 18 Best Apps, Robots & Tools for Kids to Learn Coding

The 18 Best Apps, Robots & Tools for Kids & Teens to Learn Coding

For about two years now, I’ve been trying to narrow down the plethora of apps, websites, robots and other tools which allege to be THE BIG THING schools need to teach kids coding. I must have run through a couple of hundred in that time. What follows are my favorite tools sorted by age group.

Please feel free to share with acknowledgement.

Let me know what you think.

(The images and titles are hyperlinked to each tool’s homepage. Other links are also live.)



App / Tool


Support Material



This is both an app and a physical robot. They can be used independently or together.
The Code-A-Pillar encourages kids to experiment as they play, helping them to develop coding, sequencing and critical thinking skills.
None required. Ages 3-6

Free App

For best results, purchase the physical robot!

Robot Turtles

Robot Turtles is a board game you play with your favorite 3-8 year old kids.
It sneakily teaches the fundamentals of programming.
None required Ages 3-8

$25 per set

Scratch Jr

Children can modify characters in the paint editor, add their own voices and sounds, even insert photos of themselves — then use the programming blocks to make their characters come to life. In the process, they learn to solve problems, design projects, and express themselves creatively on the computer.
Tutorials as well as teacher guides, curricula and assessments are available HERE Ages 5-8

Absolutely free!

Hello Ruby

Hello Ruby is the world’s most whimsical way to learn about computers, technology and programming. It’s suited for kids age 5 years and older (but even adults might learn something new).
Lesson plans, videos, and community resources available HERE Ages 5-8

Website resources are free

Purchase the companion books HERE

CodeSpark Academy

Completely word-free. Based on research-backed curriculum from MIT and Princeton. Built with girls in mind without pandering. Self-directed – no experience required.
Educator resources available HERE Ages 4-9

Free for schools. Set up an account HERE


App / Tool


Support Material



Scratch helps young people learn to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively — essential skills for life in the 21st century.
Many learning and support materials available around the web. Ages 9 to 12 (and up!)

Absolutely free!


Tynker is a complete learning system that teaches kids to code. Kids begin experimenting with visual blocks, then progress to JavaScript and Python as they design games, build apps, and make incredible projects.
Educator resources available HERE Ages 9 to 12

Free option.

(Paid plans are available starting from $400 per class)

The Everything Machine

Put the camera, microphone, speaker, screen, gyroscope, and light to work for you.
Create something as simple as a light switch or as complex as a kaleidoscope, a voice disguiser, a stop-motion camera, or a cookie thief catcher!
Manual available HERE Ages 9 to 12

App costs $2.99 once off.

Tinybop has a range of other unusual and cool apps! See HERE


Kodable translates computer science into easy-to-teach lessons and games that kids love.
Many resources available HEREi Ages 9 to 12

Free option.

School license: $600 per annum

Lego WeDo2

The accompanying desktop and tablet supported software provides an easy-to-use programming environment and includes the WeDo 2.0 Curriculum Pack, which covers life, physical, earth, and space sciences, as well as engineering.
Free app contains subject-aligned and investigation-based lesson plans

Can be used with Scratch!

Ages 9 to 12

WeDo2 set: $190

Sphero Robots

Draw, use block-code, or try JavaScript to code your Sphero robot.
Many resources, examples and lesson plans available HERE. Ages 9 to 16

App: Free

Various Sphero models available from $50 to $130


App / Tool


Support Material


Get Ready

An unusual digital creation tool.
Make and publish your own games & apps to any app store with no coding experience.
Curriculum resources available HERE Ages 13-15


Lego Boost

&/or Lego EV3

Vernie can move in all directions at variable speed on its large tracks, see objects and colors, sense distance, grip and carry accessories, make hand gestures and launch darts from its shoulder mounted shooter!
By combining LEGO® EV3 elements with a programmable brick, motors and sensors, you can make your creations walk, talk, grab, think, shoot and do almost anything you can imagine!
No additional resources for Boost yet.

There are thousands of resources off EV3. The best is probably THIS one.

EV3 robots are compatible with many coding apps.

Ages 13 & up

App is free

BOOST robot: $160

EV3 Robot: $410

Coding With Chrome

Coding with Chrome is a Google project to provide an easy-to-use coding programming environment (IDE) within the Chrome browser that even works offline. Currently, users are able to create programs using Blockly, Coffeescript, HTML, Javascript and Python with output to Logo Turtle and/or connected toys such as the Sphero, mBot and Lego Mindstorms.
None. Ages 13 & up

Free of charge

Swift Playgrounds

Swift Playgrounds is a revolutionary app for iPad that makes learning Swift interactive and fun. It requires no coding knowledge, so it’s perfect for students just starting out. Solve puzzles to master the basics using Swift…
All resources included in the app

Curriculum Guide HERE

Teacher Guide iBook HERE

Ages 13 & up

Free of charge

Code Combat

CodeCombat is a platform for students to learn computer science while playing through a real game.
Resources available HERE Ages 13 & up

CodeCombat is free to play for core levels

$9.99 USD/ mo for access to extra level branches


App / Tool


Support Material

Usage® is a non-profit dedicated to expanding access to computer science and increasing participation by women and underrepresented minorities. Our vision is that every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn computer science, just like biology, chemistry or algebra.
Mostly student driven. Guides and manuals provided.

Many teacher resources available HERE

Ages 16 & up

(Some courses available for younger coders)

Teaching London Computing

Teaching London Computing supports Computing teachers in London and beyond (we hope our resources help you wherever you are) providing workshops and free classroom resources.
The entire site is filled with teacher-based resources Ages 16 & up

(Some courses available for younger coders)

Mainly for teachers


Technology Suggestions to Enhance Visible Thinking and Cooperative Learning Routines

(Best viewed on a desktop. If you are using a tablet, please ‘request desktop’ site.



On Pain

Pain deprives us of our humanity. It bleeds away our energy, bruises our spirit, and cuts us off from our dreams and ambitions. Acute pain keeps the mind on the immediate present, with only the option of dull barbiturate oblivion to look forward to. Our worlds become narrow, our focus blurred and our dignity lost. Pain does not flay us down to our essence, it takes that essence away from us, leaving us curled, groaning sacks of raw nerves.

Is severe emotional pain as debilitating, as dehumanizing as intense physical pain? I would think so. Perhaps even more so. Betrayal, loss, and abuse have the same effect on our sense of hope and wonder as do gashes, wounds, breaks and malfunctions. 

I will not be trite and end with an exhortation to suffer through the worst because better times will come. I will not talk about how we scar over our hurt and how time heals. Most often, pain leaves lasting effects. And sometimes, pain is chronic. But I will say this, even in the middle of the worst pain, when time stops and the world closes in, there will always, always be that one little ember of hope, that one thing that does not fade away. Hold on to that.

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Below are some ideas on fusing technology into your lessons. This list will be updated periodically. If you have any suggestions, please let me know.

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Why Most Schools Don’t Hire the Best Teachers


(Today is my fifth anniversary on WordPress! I’ll celebrate with this little post. More to come!)

In the last 5 years or so, teacher turnover at many schools has increased dramatically.

Depending on the school, there may be many reasons for this. But the three big reasons teachers move are:

  • Teachers have better access to vacancy advertisements.
  • Teachers are more inclined to move in order to improve their personal and professional situations.
  • Retention policies (especially for scarce skills) and incentives are rare.

So the pool of possible recruits is wider than ever before, and the need to find good teachers ever more urgent.

The problem is that most schools don’t maximize on their opportunities to draw the best possible teachers into their schools.

And the reason has to do with philosophy and statistics.

The Fundamental Attribution Error

Interviewing a prospective teacher for a position at a school still very much follows the same formula as it did 50 years ago:

  1. The candidate is interviewed (usually by a panel).
  2. The interview panel looks at this person’s curriculum vitae and tries to remember how the person came across in their interview.
  3. The panel decides on the best person for the job.

The problem with this is what’s called the Fundamental Attribution Error. Almost all employers think that they can adequately judge a prospective employee’s personality based on an interview (or series thereof). This is a mistake. Personality is not innate – it is determined by situation and context. All employers are seeing is the interviewee’s ‘interview personality’.

Thus, most often, having good interview personality can win you a teaching job. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that you are a good teacher. Many great teachers are passed over because they lack interview personality – and because of employers’ refusal to understand the Fundamental Attribution Error.

Much better would be to put this person into the same situation they might find themselves in were they to actually get the job. It would seem obvious: To judge whether or not this is the person you want teaching at your school: watch them teach!

Anecdotal Evidence
Anecdotal evidence is very poor evidence. You may have heard stories about this person. There may be rumors. A person you know may know a person who knows this person. And what they have to say raises some flags.

To judge the merits of a person interviewing for a job based on what someone else has to say about them is to commit an inexcusable logical fallacy. Stories and anecdotes are not evidence – as strongly as we may think that they are.

Better is an objective evaluation without ‘references’. These can always be looked and considered at later in the process.

Over-generalization from Small Samples

Usually, one interview is all most interview panels have time for. But we could potentially miss a great deal this way. Taking a small sample and imagining that this is an adequate representation of a phenomena is a lazy way to think.

Much better is a series of smaller, shorter interviews. If there is an interview panel, perhaps a better way to conduct an interview is to hold a series of ‘speed date’ interviews where interviewees spend ten minutes chatting to each member of the panel. (This, by the way, would also eliminate the tendency interview panels have to engage in groupthink.)

There are many, many other problems with how schools recruit teachers. But the bottom line is this: if good schools want good teachers, they need to look beyond bad interview and selection processes.
“Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them become what they are capable of becoming.” ~ Goethe



Why We Don’t Need to Panic About Digital vs Paper Textbooks (On False Dichotomies, Placeholder Technologies and Engaged Learning)

Recently, I came across an article titled The enduring power of print for learning in a digital world – which was reblogged by the WEF and retitled Students learn better from books than screens, according to a new study.

Leaving aside for the moment the subtle effects of the shift in titles between The Conversation’s and The World Economic Forum’s versions of the article, as well as the assertion that students these days see themselves as ‘digital natives’ (they don’t, and even if they do, they aren’t – they need as much training in using technology effectively as us ‘immigrants’), what are we to make of this research which tells us that paper textbooks are better than digital textbooks?

In short, not very much. The first reason: As as any teacher at any forward-looking school will tell you, textbooks as collections of ‘essential knowledge’ are soon going to be replaced by student- and teacher- and even community-generated ‘wikis’, which will be collaborative, dynamic, and free. The future is cooperative, democratic, user-generated content*.

Imagine a world where textbooks are built and customized by users, refined every year, collaborated on by partnered schools and teachers (who can even be in different countries). Add to that cheaper, easier and more ubiquitous internet access, and you have a very different educational landscape.

Textbooks are a holdover from a time when knowledge was sacred, to be carefully disseminated from the gatekeepers of knowledge to the uninformed masses. This is no longer true. Armed with an internet connection, some basic search skills, an ability to discern reliable information, and a bit of time and initiative, anyone can learn anything.

Of course there are issues around echo chambers, confirmation bias, filter bubbles, and false information in the age of democratic knowledge acquisition. But guiding students through the morass of misinformation and fallacious reasoning is one of the true jobs of the twenty-first century teacher. As is the task of making the acquisition of knowledge student-centered, engaging and challenging.


Digital textbooks are a ‘placeholder’ technology, much like smartboards or hybrid cars or, indeed, that Encarta DVD I used to love so much. They are there as a bridge to something more revolutionary (see above). The best digital textbook platforms already allow users to add their own content in the form of notes, links, sounds, pictures, videos and the like. The next step is just to remove the actual textbook!

The other problem is the false dilemma which many people take away from research like this. (A trend that is encouraged by the WEF retitling of the original article, but that is less apparent in the actual article.) What they seem to imply is that it’s either A or B, and it isn’t so much B, so it must be A. The truth is that there are other options, and the implication that paper is better is based on flawed logic. Going back to ‘better’ paper-based textbooks makes about as much sense as going back to combustion engines, blackboards, or the complete Encyclopedia Brittanica.

There may even be space for both digital and paper-based texts, depending on the skill we wish our students to acquire. Say the authors:

We all read for many reasons. Sometimes we’re looking for an answer to a very specific question. Other times, we want to browse a newspaper for today’s headlines.

As we’re about to pick up an article or text in a printed or digital format, we should keep in mind why we’re reading. There’s likely to be a difference in which medium works best for which purpose.

In other words, there’s no “one medium fits all” approach.

(As a side note: The same kind of black-and-white fallacy also applies when people insist that handwriting is better than taking digital notes. Of course it is! But there are also other options – like using a stylus and a wicked-cool app like Notability, or collaborative note-taking apps, smart note paper, or even those pens that work like normal pens but transfer written notes to the cloud. Or, perhaps, a combination of paper and digital media.)

Another point: Reading on a screen is a different skill to reading on paper. And it needs to be taught just as rigorously. If we don’t just roll our eyes when a kid cannot read a paper text properly, why are we so ready to do so when they struggle with digital texts? Even the authors of the article under discussion hint at this as a solution:

…we found a select group of undergraduates who actually comprehended better when they moved from print to digital. What distinguished this atypical group was that they actually read slower when the text was on the computer than when it was in a book. In other words, they didn’t take the ease of engaging with the digital text for granted. Using this select group as a model, students could possibly be taught or directed to fight the tendency to glide through online texts.

There is actually quite a lot more I want to say about textbooks more generally, and I am currently working on a post comparing them to Swift’s Laputans. But for now, a final thought: Students don’t learn from texts or books (in whatever format). They learn from engagement and from collaboration and from learning to make knowledge and skills real and relevant.

Perhaps the real study needs to be on how effective the ‘direct transfer’ method of teaching really is – as opposed to more innovative and engagement-centered methodologies. This teacher suspects that teaching and learning ‘from the textbook’ does not improve comprehension, literacy, retention, ‘deep learning’, or critical abilities nearly as much as an approach which demands that students grapple actively with texts.


* Note: The article under discussion talks here mainly about textbooks, and not readers. Which is not to say that these set works cannot be read, explored, and analyzed almost as well in digital form – given the right tools and training. Or, that we couldn’t use some combination of paper and digital. Imagine the engagement and learning which would take place if students used voice notes, videos, and collaborative analyses of a work of fiction, instead of scribbling notes in the margin of their copy of Macbeth. 
Or, possibly, a suitable combination of both.


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Teachers: Masters in the Art of Living

I came across this quote the other day. It really makes me think of the many passionate teachers I know. 

The picture is of me playing Google Expeditions with a really sweet Grade One class – such fun! We were supposed to explore ‘The Cold Lands’, but ended up going from The Arctic, to the aurora borealis, to outer space. As a high school teacher by preference, I really gained a whole new respect for our Junior Prep teachers. Next week: Under the Sea with the Grade Twos.

Note: I do not consider myself a ‘master in the art of living’ as Michener has it. But the part about playing and working really describes me to a T.

(Please forgive the old-school masculine general.)


What is Visible Thinking Really?



When you think about it, defining thinking is harder than you think.

And getting students to think hard is even harder.

Think back to when you last had to build something and you didn’t have exactly the right tools (or skills) for the job. If you’re anything like me, you probably got it done, but it was very likely not a great job, or it was more time-consuming and difficult than it should have been – or else you were surprised that it actually worked. (You may even have gotten someone else to do it for you.)

Thinking works the same way: We often arrive at a conclusion (with varying degrees of validity) through a cumbersome, haphazard process that is not as refined as it could be. Or, without fully understanding how we got there. We use whatever tools we have at hand – even if they are not completely suited to the task. And sometimes we just let someone do our thinking for us.

Almost every teacher has asked kids ‘to think about it’, or ‘to think more deeply’. But how exactly do they do this? What does it mean to think? How can we expect students to think better if we don’t show them how?

Now, what if we gave students a set of well-designed and research-based tools that helped them to structure and thus deploy their own thinking better?

What if we could help them to build, connect, and refine their thinking in more overt ways by providing the (meta)cognitive tools and skills to build better thinking?

Knowing how to think makes all of us, especially kids, better thinkers. The best way to do this is to use a set of appropriate tools to structure better thinking.

This is Visible Thinking in a nutshell.

But wait. There’s more…


Thinking About vs Thinking With: A Thinking Toolbox.

Much of our learning, especially our foundational knowledge, becomes internalized to such a degree that we often forget that we know it.

But we don’t really forget it. Instead, most of the basic materials of foundational knowledge become fashioned into tools, not that we think about, but that we can think with.

This distinction between thinking about and thinking with is extremely important.

Whether it is the rudimentary components of language and numbers, the scientific method, or even historical knowledge which provides a perspective with which to understand modern conflicts, ingrained core knowledge is more useful as a device, rather than as a finished product.

Here’s an example: I teach map skills to high school students. Frankly, because much of this is paper-based, it seems to have very little value in the digital world. However, I do spend a long time coaching them to interpret maps. This becomes an exercise in deductive thinking: what evidence can you find to justify your conclusion? To answer questions like “Does this area receive reliable rainfall?”, or “Is the golf course well located?” demands that kids search for evidence, evaluate this evidence; connect evidence; ‘zoom in’ and analyse things closely; as well as to ‘zoom out’ and see the bigger picture. My hope is that these methods of thinking will become tools that they can use beyond my classroom and beyond school. Hence, the thinking mechanisms behind the map skills I teach are more important than the actual content and skills.

Visible Thinking takes it a step further. Rather than holding thumbs that specific knowledge items and subject-specific skills will evolve to become a set of tools to think with more broadly, the approach specifically provides these ‘thinking-with’ tools, and advises educators to infuse their content into and around these thinking structures.

Thus, rather than fantasizing that knowledge will become a set of cognitive tools through some sort of alchemy, those thinking tools are taught explicitly.

The result is a set of thinking dispositions and strategies that allows students to explore ideas and issues more readily, more deeply, and more confidently.

Thinking about Thinking: Knowing, Understanding and Doing

Back to thinking. What is it to think? The words ‘thinking’ and ‘thought’ are among the most difficult words to define in any language. They seem almost ethereal. Most understandings of the process of thinking will yield a taxonomical description of skills, in the same way that we would describe a thing like a bird: based on a description of its parts and what these parts do.

In most cognitive taxonomies, thinking is categorised from the ‘easy’, ‘lower order’ or ‘superficial’ learning to the more difficult ‘higher order’ or ‘deep’ thinking.

But there are well-known problems with these sorts of hierarchical arrangements.

Understanding, as the chief example, is generally listed as a lower to middle order skill, and thus a precursor to higher order skills. This is not true. Understanding is a very complex process. True understanding is often the most difficult cognitive skill there is.

Understanding is the result of some very advanced mental processes – not the precursor to them.

Understanding might best be conceived of not as a type of thinking, but as the chief goal of it. And the best way to understand is not just to know, but to apply, analyse, evaluate, generate and all those other lovely taxonomical verbs.

Thus, the most useful definition of thinking is this: Thinking is the process of approaching understanding. And an essential aspect of this process of ‘thinking-as-understanding’ is learning to apply and utilize knowledge in various ways.

Thinking Moves to Move Thinking

So how best to teach children to apply their knowledge in order to achieve understanding? What tools can we give them to think with?

Visible Thinking identifies a core set of ‘thinking moves*’ around which we can begin to build these structures:

  • Observing and closely describing what’s there
  • Building explanations and interpretations
  • Reasoning with evidence
  • Making connections
  • Considering different viewpoints and perspectives
  • Capturing the heart [of an idea] and forming conclusions
  • Wondering and asking questions
  • Uncovering complexity and going below the surface of things
  • Identifying patterns and making generalizations
  • Generating possibilities and alternatives
  • Evaluating evidence, arguments, and actions
  • Formulating plans and monitoring actions
  • Identifying claims, assumptions, and bias
  • Clarifying priorities, conditions, and what is known

These are by no means exhaustive. (I would add on something about empathy and imagination, for example.) Nevertheless, they do offer an extremely useful bank of thinking techniques which can be used in designing activities aimed at fostering understanding.

These are the thinking tools which become embedded and which we can think with.

These thinking techniques become the guiding principles behind the thinking structures we associate with visible thinking. The structures themselves mean very little without an understanding of the importance of thinking moves.

Consider how many of the following well-known Visible Thinking routines refer back to the thinking moves listed above:

  • What Makes You Say That? (Interpretation with justification routine)
  • Think Puzzle Explore (A routine that sets the stage for deeper inquiry)
  • Think Pair Share (A routine for active reasoning and explanation)
  • Circle of Viewpoints (A routine for exploring diverse perspectives)
  • Compass Points (A routine for examining propositions)
  • Connect Extend Challenge (A routine for connecting new ideas to prior knowledge)
  • Headlines (A routine for capturing essence)
  • Colour, Symbol, Image (A routine for distilling the essence of ideas non-verbally)
  • Generate, Sort, Connect, Elaborate (A routine for organizing one’s understanding of a topic through concept mapping)
  • Reporter’s Notebook (A routine for separating fact and feeling)
  • Tug of War (A routine for exploring the complexity of fairness dilemmas)
  • True For Who? (A routine for exploring truth claims from different perspectives)
  • Claim / Support / Question (A reasoning routine)


What Visible Thinking is all about is intentionality. At its heart, it’s about getting right to the very core of what makes good thinkers: having a carefully chosen set of embedded cognitive and meta-cognitive tools to think with and to use to understand better. Once we know and understand the core motivation behind Visible Thinking methods, we can begin to use them to even greater effect.

Of course, there is a lot more to Visible Thinking. Most notably, the fact that as thinking becomes more visible, it becomes easier to diagnose and thus remediate thinking errors.

But the real lesson for teachers has to do with the intentional teaching of thinking moves. Rather than planning which centers around content and skills, planning should involve first identifying the type of thinking involved in a particular learning module and then latching the content and skills onto those.

Something very exciting happens when Visible Thinking is properly implemented. Classrooms become more student-centered, more thinking-centered, and, ultimately, more focused on life-long learning.

Says David Perkins:

“Learning is a consequence of thinking. Retention, understanding, and the active use of knowledge can be brought about only by learning experiences in which learners think about and think with what they are learning.”  (Perkins, David. Smart Schools (pp. 7-8). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition. Quoted by Ron Ritchhart in Making Thinking Visible, 2011 p. 26.)


‘Making Thinking Visible’ by Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church and Karin Morrison (Jossey-Bass, 2011)

* The authors distinguish between ‘thinking moves’ and ‘other kinds of thinking’. I feel they are part and parcel of the same thing.


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Never Be a Mark: The Final Word On Critical Thinking From My Favorite Hustlers

Anyone else love the BBC TV series Hustle as much as I do?
Here, some advice from the final moments of the final episode of season six:


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Chess and Strategic Leadership: The Overlooked Middle-Game

Chess is about making strategic decisions. From the very first move to the last, it is all about how you deploy, position, support and utilize your resources to get the best results. As such, chess is a very useful analogy to all kinds of strategic decision making – be it in leadership, entrepreneurial ventures, school innovation, job hunting, and even our personal lives.

The Opening

The opening is all about how we position our pieces. The goal here is to deploy all of our major pieces to key squares where they can exercise influence over the board and over other pieces.

In strategic leadership, this equates to how we acquire, position, and maximize our capital, our human resources, and our physical infrastructure. A good opening foray is thus about getting the best resources possible into play as early as possible. This is important not just in leadership, but in life more generally. Even though we might have physical limits, as players do with the number and abilities of pieces, we should identify and deploy what we have as soon as we can.

There are some minor exchanges in the opening, but if you’re playing well, you are generally swapping poorly placed and weaker pieces for stronger ones, and you are getting pieces linked up to coordinate their efforts and to support one another.

The opening generally takes far longer than most players realize. But it shouldn’t take too long, otherwise the opponent might already be on the middle-game and thus have a tactical advantage.

The Middle-Game

This is the most neglected phase of a chess game. In chess, as in strategic leadership, many average players move directly from the opening to the endgame, without a proper understanding of the tactical advantage a strong middle-game can have.

A properly played middle-game leverages the positions and connections put in place in the opening. This is where a player’s tactical and strategic decisions matter most: It’s all about taking on multiple targets simultaneously, in a coordinated and intentional fashion, and about revealing subtle hidden tactics. 

The middle-game involves carefully coordinating, supporting, and manipulating your resources, as well as seizing the initiative and playing intentionally. In this phase, creativity, adapting to change, problem-solving abilities, and pattern-spotting proclivities are incredibly important.

The middle-game is a rich, multi-faceted phase of a chess game, and knowing how to play it makes good players into great ones. It is here that we talk about tactics like forks, pins, skewers, discovered attacks, and overloading.

In strategic leadership (and in life’s challenges), this is analogous to actually exploiting the resources you have put in play in the initial phase of a project. This is the phase where you need to be deliberate and cautious, and where you need to analyze carefully. But it is also the place where true innovation, risk taking, and problem-solving can seriously boost your chances of success.

The opposite to a well played middle-game is a mechanical, reactive approach, where you respond to moves made by others rather than taking the lead. The result can often be a loss of critical resources, which puts you on the back foot as you approach the final phase of a project.

The middle-game is basically where a game is either won or lost. And it is the arena in which the most serious blunders occur. (A blunder is a move which loses a critical piece, and thus loses you the game.) Most often, blunders are not simply ‘mistakes’, they are as a result of either not seeing the whole board, and thus obsessing with just one part of it, or of neglecting critical, threatened pieces.

The Endgame 

It is difficult to define when the endgame actually begins in chess. In essence, the endgame is an extension of the middle-game, except that the tactics are almost completely prescribed. There is not much room for being innovative. To play the endgame well, you simply have to understand simple tactics like king opposition, zugswang, and check-mating squares. The end game depends on rigorous preparation and a solid understanding of the rules of an endgame.

In leadership, the endgame is wrapping up a project. It is ensuring that your tactical advantages are carried through, and that things are properly concluded.

Interestingly, while most people are infatuated with a checkmate and a win, in the endgame, it is entirely possible (and sometimes even desirable) to go for a draw. Often, chess players give up too soon, where they could have earned a draw even from a seemingly hopeless position. Chess teaches us the value of a bit of determination in fighting until the bitter end. (Of course, sometimes a loss is inevitable, in which case, it might be best to resign with a bit of dignity, and focus your energies on diagnosing what went wrong so that you’re better in the next game.)

There are some very useful analogies in a game of chess to all manner of strategic decision-making and leadership-related issues. But it is the often neglected middle-game which provides the most useful lessons. Rather than moving directly from planning to results, a focus on the middle-game teaches us to enhance our tactical and strategic acumen in order to protect our assets, or at least exchange them more intelligently, and thus to leverage better results.

I’d love your thoughts. Please add a comment below.

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What is the Capital of Western Sahara? (Why We Need to Rethink ‘Geographic Literacy’)


Being able to point out the countries of the world, together with their capitals and major cities is a cache of knowledge many people assume to be as essential as knowing your ABCs or your times tables. In fact, people (and even whole nations) are ridiculed because they can’t point to, say, Bhutan on a blank map of the world.


No other body of knowledge (or lack thereof) is as closely linked to the success or failure of a country’s education system. This is a very strange phenomenon indeed. Think about some other core areas of knowledge:

  • Fundamentals of grammar
  • Basic literacy, numeracy and graphicity
  • The history of [insert country’s most significant event here]
  • The principles of evolution
  • Basic nutrition
  • The fundamentals of chemistry
  • The core works and themes of [insert country’s most famous author here]

And so on.

As important as they all are, none of these are as subtly weaponized as geographical literacy. How many of these core learning stockpiles do you think the majority of a country’s people have locked and loaded and ready to fire off on demand (especially those a decade or two out of school)? Strangely, not knowing where a country is, is somehow more disgraceful to the ‘geographic illiteratists’ than not understanding how an apostrophe works, being unable to read a graph, or refusing to ‘believe’ in evolution.

According to the traditional way of thinking about geographic literacy, kids need to know not just their own provinces / states, and the capitals thereof, but the names of ALL of the world’s countries and capitals. And adults are expected to know them even better than kids. Even if things change.


If they don’t, they are geographically illiterate and can be openly mocked.

Think about trivia games and television shows: people are forgiven if they can’t name a historical figure, or a song from the nineties, or a chemical element, or a character from a novel. But not if they forget, say, the capital of Scotland. (Which is Edinburgh, by the way, not Glasgow.)


So why is geographic illiteracy such an area of scorn and derision? Some would argue that in a globalized world, it is important to know that we are connected to the world, and that knowledge of the world makes us better global citizens. This is a lie: remembering where a country is has nothing to do with appreciating its history, cultures, customs, traditions, and economic networks. 

According to the spatial illiteratists, in an age where education is evolving rapidly, and most content is being probed more deeply, knowing something as objectively true as where countries are is a battle-test for the triumph or humiliation of our education systems. In an era where training kids’ ‘soft skills’ forms an essential part of their basic training, not knowing something as ‘fundamental’ as where the continents are is indicative of the ‘declining’ quality of modern education. “We shouldn’t just be able to ‘look up’ where a country is, like we might look up the properties of a chemical element”, they might say, “we should know it!”

In short, geographic illiteracy is an easy target for those who wish to shoot down the modern education system.

I would like to assert that this is a wrong. It’s time we took on the illiteratists.

Firstly, the field of geographic literacy is not as clean-shaven as many illiteratists imagine:

  • Many of the world’s borders and even countries are contested
  • Questions like ‘What makes a continent?’ or ‘What is an ocean?’ have no clear, incontestable answers.


  • ‘Where’ a country is changes physically. Japan moved 2.4 meters after the 2011 earthquake, and it’s longitudinal position had to be updated.
  • The sizes and shapes of countries on maps depends on the projection used to to create them. And these projections can be used to encode all manner of political agendas into something as seemingly innocuous as a map.
  • Knowing where a country is is not the same as knowing about that country.
  • Climate change is changing coastlines and causing the oceans to completely ingest some island nations. (Alas, Kiribati!) Not to mention the fact that the melting ice means that maps of Antarctica have to be withdrawn every few years.
  • There is not even a final answer on how many countries there actually are.
  • And who’s to say what constitutes an ‘important’ city? Where do you draw the line? If you live in the middle of the Outback, Alice Springs is a pretty important town. And if you live in rural Manitoba, Thompson is a heck of a lot more important than Winnipeg. 

This may seem like splitting hairs. The majority of countries and features are where they are, some might say, and it’s important to know where they are.

My answer is this: knowing where geographic features are is less less important than being able to find out more about these countries and features. Being able to probe and discuss the economic, geopolitical and environmental issues facing these countries and environments is of far greater use than a regimented, superficial knowledge of what goes where. Real geographical literacy is about thinking using different scales, its about being able to investigate deeply and discerningly, and its about finding connections.

A redefined version of geographic literacy in the twenty-first century is more closely aligned with progressive educational methodologies. In place of drilling facts into kids’ heads and asking them to memorize these, we take a more textured and child-centered approach. Instead of learning what the countries and natural features of Africa are, we look at how climate change is affecting African economies. We investigate countries like Botswana and Rwanda to see if what they are doing could be a model for the rest of Africa to lift themselves out of poverty. We explore modern forms of colonization. And we try to uncover connections between the historical, developmental, environmental, geopolitical and economic issues facing several African countries. 

And how about we teach globalization by looking where the components that are used to manufacture our cellular telephones come from? We could learn a whole lot about rare earth metals, labor abuses, environmental consequences, marketing, and so on. These are lessons that stick. These are lessons which require active learning. These are lessons which really teach kids about the world they live in. And it gives them a sense of being able to change that world for the better.

And then we’ll move on to the Middle East…

I am not alone in this move to redefine geographic literacy. National Geographic has gone so far as to introduce the term ‘geo-literacy’ to replace the old fashioned geographic literacy:

Geo-literacy is the ability to reason about Earth systems and interconnections to make far-reaching decisions. Whether we are making decisions about where to live or what precautions to take for natural hazards, we all make decisions that require geo-literacy throughout our lives.

And they continue elsewhere:

In our modern, globally interconnected society, it is more important than ever that people understand the world around them… [T]he preparedness of our children to have systemic understanding, geographic reasoning skills, and systematic decision-making capability are crucial for our society. Geo-literacy can reduce the costs of bad decision-making and provide the foundation for positive breakthroughs.

This new kind of ‘geo-literacy’ is very different from the old geographic literacy. In a sense, it becomes more about geographic thinking and reasoning rather than just memorization.

Being geo-literate means being able to…

  • research, access and evaluate geographic information.
  • understand the world as set of inter-connected, dynamic systems.
  • link together events, ideas, and places.
  • appreciate that contexts matter.
  • ask questions that link the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ to the ‘where’.
  • recognize and analyse spatial trends and patterns.
  • think both regionally or locally, as well as more widely (and being able to move back-and-forth between these levels of thinking).
  • communicate ideas using graphs, maps and other ways of representing spatial information.
  • understand how the physical world affects the human world and vice versa.
  • understand and assess both short and long term consequences of actions.
  • imagine and design solutions to social and environmental problems.
  • develop a sense of agency in the world and to make well-reasoned, responsible, and ethical decisions.


In short, it’s time to rethink what geographical knowledge is. It’s time that we realized (as most of the world’s Geography teachers already have) that Geography is not just about knowing where things are, it’s about being able to think geographically.

Perhaps it would be poignant at this moment in world history to give Barack Obama the final word:

The study of geography is about more than just memorizing places on a map. It’s about understanding the complexity of our world, appreciating the diversity of cultures that exists across continents. And in the end, it’s about using all that knowledge to help bridge divides and bring people together.



Tech Tools: Have You Tried? (8: Notability)

Tech Tools: Have You Tried? (8: Notability)


Students in a 1:1 environment should never type notes. It is not neurologically sound. But that doesn’t mean they can’t take notes digitally using a stylus. The only issue with this is that writing tends to be large and untidy.

Notability gets around this problem by making note-taking simple, easy and neat. Notability works best with a stylus, and it makes taking notes feel more like handwriting.

Of all the apps this teacher uses, Notability has to be in the top three of all time. (Watch this space for the other two!)


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A New Culture of Learning

This, after Thomas and Brown’s book:


PDF Version: A New Culture of Learning 2


Never Send a Machine… Re-imagining Technology in Education (Excerpted From Yong Zhao)


I absolutely love what Yong Zhao has to say especially about the shortcoming of standardized assessments. Some of my favorite Zhao blog posts:

How Does PISA Put the World at Risk (Part 1): Romanticizing Misery

Doublethink: The Creativity-Testing Conflict

Test Scores vs. Entrepreneurship: PISA, TIMSS, and Confidence


And then I found his thoughts on educational technology. I have excerpted a small bit below, but please visit the original article here:

Never Send a Human to do a Machine’s Job: Top 5 Mistakes in Ed Tech

You can also purchase the full length book on Amazon. (Click on the caption below the book cover image to be redirected.)

Says Zhao:

A new way to think about technology and education is “never send a human to do a machine’s job,” advice from Agent Smith in the film The Matrix. In education, we need to redefine the relationship between humans and machines based on thoughtful analyses of what humans do best and what should be relegated to technology. There is no reason to have human teachers do things that machines do better or more effectively. There is no reason to have human teachers perform routine, mechanical, and boring tasks when technology can do it. After all, the reason to have technology is to extend, expand, and/or replace certain human functions.

The redefinition of relationship can only happen when we begin to reimagine what education should be like…. Technology has made it both a necessity and a possibility to realize some of the long-standing proposals for child-centered education and learning by doing. Personalized education that grants students autonomy and respects their uniqueness has become a necessity for cultivating the abilities required for living in a society when machines are rapidly taking jobs away from humans. Technology has made it possible to enable personalized learning and to have students take more control of their own learning. Moreover, technology has also made it possible for students to engage in authentic learning by tackling real-world problems on a global scale.

In summary, technology has been traditionally conceived as tool to enhance and improve existing practices within the existing educational setup, but it has become a tool to enable a grand education transformation that has been imagined by many pioneering thinkers such as John Dewey. The transformation is not about technology, but about more meaningful education for all children.


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You Know You’re a Geeky Teacher When…

(By the way, being called a geeky anything is a compliment these days. In case you didn’t know.)

You Know You’re a Geeky Teacher When…

You email developers with suggestions for making their apps better.

You know what IFTTT does.

You have Lego in your class and you’re not afraid to use it.

You love sketch-noting. Digitally.

You know / make / use memes in your lessons.

You have an Alice Keeler mini-shrine.

You can speak meme.

You can happily spend hours working out complicated formulae on a spreadsheet. Often just for kicks.

You incorporate the latest fad into your teaching rather than banning it.

You have Google’s release Calendar synced with your own.

You know what syncing means.

You don’t understand why people don’t use a Google Form for that.

You admire people who share a good script almost as much as you do humanitarians.

You know that kids typing assignments actually improves their spelling and grammar.

You often get stuck on YouTube or Wikipedia when you went there to look something up.

You know what Snopes is.

You’ve translated something into Klingon or Elvish.

You own at least one figurine.

You love Radiolab.

You work with at least two cloud backup systems.

You have at least three internet connected devices.

You haven’t been bored since you were at university.

Setting up a cool collaborative, interactive hyperdoc excites you more than it should.

The idea of coding intrigues you even if you don’t know how to code yourself.

The idea of having a robot do your job actually sounds quite interesting. 

You find yourself asking how and why more than what, when, and where.

You would much rather try and fix a piece of broken classroom equipment than buy a new one.

You fall asleep thinking about that BreakOutEdu lesson you want to create.

The educational toys you buy are as much for you as they are for your students.

You wish there was an app for that.

You watch other teachers doing something and you know there is an app for that.

You have at least 10 different ways of randomly picking names.

You have at least 5 different classroom playlists.

Your Chrome browser looks like something out of StarTrek.

You’re angry when your students don’t have their phones in class.

You have a Steam account.

You know that gamification isn’t about using Minecraft in your class.

You feel naked when you don’t have your tablet under your arm.

You play with the ‘Explore’ button in Sheets just for fun.

You have 20 or more folders / rules / filters running on your inbox.

You get as excited as your kids when a new sci-fi movie comes out. (And you threaten them with vaporization for spoilers.)

You can quote the latest movie or song ironically.

You’ve got 20 styli and all you need is a pen.

You’ve worked on a cloud-based document on at least three different devices on the same day.

You think Prezi is as passé as PowerPoint.

You wish reality had hyperlinks.

Every year you are disappointed all over again when haptic technology still hasn’t gone mainstream.

You use virtual and augmented reality in your lessons.

You’ve actually used a chess tactic in real life.

The word ‘wireless’ gives you a little quiver of pleasure.

Not having wifi is worse than not having coffee.

You spend more time geeking out with your online friends than you do with people in real life.

I’m sure there must be more. Any suggestions?


Tech Tools: Have You Tried? (7: Adobe Spark Page & Spark Video)


Adobe has an amazing range of apps – most of which are free, and most of which can either be used as an iPad app or online. I’ve chosen just two, but there are many others.

SPARK PAGE can be used by students to create amazing ‘glideshows’ as an alternative to traditional presentations. Students could also create beautiful ‘webzines’ or picture-based stories. Now add soundtracks, voiceovers, animated texts and more.


SPARK VIDEO does everything Spark Page does, but with videos.

More lesson ideas here.

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