Tech Tools: Have You Tried? (4: Apple Clips)


Apple Clips is another idevice app. It works quite simply – you record a video and the app automatically adds subtitles (which you can edit if your accent doesn’t translate well!).

Clips is another cool way for students to create content on the fly or for teachers to create short explainer videos.

You can also add effects, sounds and even motion to your pictures and videos.

There is a bit of a learning curve, but the controls are mostly intuitive and easy to use.

A few ideas:

  • Make dynamic posters
  • Create living poetry readings
  • Jazz up explainer videos
  • Speak in one language and retype captions in another

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Espresso Idea: Argumentation & Guerrilla Punctuation


Espresso Ideas: Small but strong ideas to make you sit up and say ‘yeah!’ (Also known as wasabi ideas)

Very few things drive me as kooky as people who take what I say and spit it back at me covered with flecks of punctuation. I am becoming particularly revolted by snotty inverted commas and gooey quotation marks.

As if if this is all that is needed to confute the point I am making.

I find this is especially rife on Twitter – mostly because of the character limit (and the impersonal nature of social media). But I’ve also had emails and replies on Facebook where the same fallacious use of punctuation-as-a-counter-argument is employed.

And then there’s the sniffy question mark or exclamation point, or even a ‘hmmm?’ or a ‘huh!?’ or even a ‘lol!’ after quoting something I have said. (Although to be fair, I do say a few bizarre things.)

I am all for open and respectful debate, I am happy to be proven wrong, and I celebrate people’s right to disagree, but using guerrilla punctuation to make these arguments smacks of lazy thinking.

I’m not saying I need a three page rebuttal. But surely, with a bit of thought, a concise, witty counter-argument isn’t impossible? Or even a more engaging ‘Have you considered?’ Or what about something entirely vanilla-flavored, like ‘I believe you are wrong because…’?

Or perhaps even a short blog post…

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What Happens When Kids Design Their Own Competency Descriptors

When Kids Design Their Own Competency Descriptors (With Thanks to Ronel Hugo)

Our Preparatory School teachers are deep in the throes of preparing for student lead conferences. Because we are long longer working with grades, we are focused heavily on skills.

One of our superb Afrikaans teachers, Ronel Hugo, decided that she would get her students to collaborate on redesigning their own descriptors. Rather than teacher-based competency descriptors, she thought it would be a good idea to let her students collaborate to decide on how best to describe their skill levels in various aspects of second language learning.

Here’s what they came up with:


What I especially like about the descriptors they decided on is how the help level goes from ‘I need help from my teacher’ to ‘I need someone to help me’ to ‘I can help others’. Not only does this describe competency levels, but it also details a different type of collaborative class dynamic.

Ronel also has a more detailed reflection sheet where the kids are asked about their favorite parts of each particular section, as well as to provide strategies they can use to improve their skill level in each aspect of learning their second language.

The level of metacognition and reflection involved here is wonderful.


What Roboting Teaches You About Life (Students Write)


So I ‘coach’ robotics. Which is my way of saying I use robotics to teach kids to solve problems. I don’t ever teach them how to build or code their robots. Instead, I give them a challenge and stand back, offering guidance only every now and then. 

For the last four years, I have entered teams into the World Robotics Olympiad. I have had teams make it to the international rounds for two years. Unfortunately, none of my teams performed particularly well in the actual international competition, but they were amongst the best in the country, and they did learn heaps: about themselves, about independence and about how to solve problems. And even those who didn’t make it past the regional rounds learned similar things. This is why I love robotics so much.

What follows are my students’ ideas about what robotics and being involved in robotics competitions has taught them about life.

  1. Don’t give up. To be successful, you have to fail plenty. Look closely at where things went wrong, understand why they went wrong, and fix them.
  2. Be very patient. Great things always take time.
  3. Find good partners. Things are easier in a team.
  4. Keep calm when things go wrong. If you panic, you won’t be able to fix anything.
  5. It’s better to use a smart code and to go with the flow and self-adjust than it is to try and ‘hard code’ to control everything step by step. 
  6. Look for different solutions. Sometimes you get stuck on one idea. 
  7. Be honest with yourself. If something really isn’t working, and you’ve tried a million ways to make it work, try something else.
  8. Once you are most of the way towards a solution, be careful about changing things too radically. Going back to line one isn’t always a good idea.
  9. You’ve got to learn to do things for yourself.
  10. Create some flair!
  11. Be organized. If you don’t have a plan, it will take you longer to find a solution. But be prepared to change your plan as other things change.
  12. Better parts don’t necessarily mean a better robot. Sometimes you just have to make do with what you have. (This sometimes forces you to be very creative.)
  13. Don’t compare yourself to other teams. Set your own goals and benchmarks and meet them one at a time. That way, you can never lose – even if you don’t win.
  14. Don’t copy other solutions. You have to understand the problem and find your own solution. Otherwise, if things go wrong, you won’t know how to fix them.
  15. Don’t be afraid to stand out. If everyone has a similar solution and yours is way different, you will stand out from the pack.
  16. Don’t let your coach or your parents or anybody else do too much for you – no matter how well-meaning they are – or you will never learn to do things for yourself.
  17. Help other teams. Sometimes the best way to learn something is to teach it to others.
  18. Don’t be intimidated by big occasions. Take some time to explore your surroundings, and figure out where things are and how things work. Talk to some people, and give yourself time to settle in.
  19. Take a break. Sometimes you need to walk away or do other things. When you come back to the problem you can often find a good solution.
  20. Don’t get lost in the competitive element. You won’t learn as much and it won’t be as enjoyable if all you want to do is win.
  21. Sometimes you need to look at the details, sometimes you need to zoom out and see the big picture. Don’t get stuck on either one of these problem-solving methods.
  22. Every new environment brings with it its own set of challenges. Instead of complaining, learn to adjust.
  23. Stay with it and keep trying. You’ll never know how far you could have gone if you give up too quickly.
  24. Have fun!


Such smart kids.


Google Sites as a Digital Portfolio and Showcase for Learning (Guest Post)



The following post is from Mr Mitchell More – a dynamic middle school English and History teacher at Redhill School.


This year in History, the Grade 7s are busy creating their own Google Sites based on the work we are doing throughout Term 2 and 3. This is an ongoing process.

The process started off with me recording a video for them on how to create a Google Site. (It’s really easy.)

Then the fun happens:

Firstly, students work in groups of four to develop the look and feel and structure of the site. (We obviously give them hands-on guidance and information to assist them in this aspect of website creation.) They then create sub-pages for the sub-topics we cover, and then adjust headings and themes. The History teachers also show them the site that I set up as a guideline.

(As an example, the topic for Term 2 is the Transatlantic Slave Trade. This will be one of the ‘main pages’ and the ‘sub-pages’ will be the topics and themes we cover in class under this main topic. So in the main page they should have some short description of the slave trade, and the the first sub-page will be the story of Olaudah Equiano.)

Students are also tasked with getting more information than just the outline their History teachers give them. They have to ensure that this information is reliable, and to rephrase and bring together this information in their own way. (They have to provide hyperlinks to their sources.)

The sites they produce this way will then work as their history portfolio for this year.

As they do individual classwork, something like an essay or an analysis, each item needs to be published on their site under as a sub-page, once their work is marked and suggested changes have been implemented.

Unfortunately, we cannot share the link to the site with the outside world as we would like to protect the privacy of our students, but there is a screenshot of the site at the top of this post.

We look forward to watching what the Grade 7s produce Mr More!

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Tech Tools: Have You Tried? (3: VideoScribe)



You know those videos where a hand seems to write text and slide in pictures? Well, this is what they use. VideoScribe Anywhere is an app for idevices, and is great as an alternative presentation app for students or for teacher recorded ‘explainer’ videos.



This app does take some getting used to. The timing and other settings need to be tinkered with a little before starting any project.

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Espresso Idea: Why More Teachers Should Blog


Espresso Ideas: Small but strong ideas to make you sit up and say ‘yeah!’ (Also known as wasabi ideas)

Spend more than half an hour with any random teacher and you’ll walk away with at least one cool new idea.

And I’m always the guy who says “You should share that idea with the world!”

Some of the braver ones do.

But most teachers think that their ideas are somehow not good enough to share. Or that someone must already be doing what they’re doing. 

There are so many ideas that regular non-blogging teachers have that other teachers around the world would love.

I know teachers who teach Grade Ones to code, who engage in philosophical discussions with Grade 3s, who lead Middle School students on historical murder mysteries using augmented reality, who use robots to teach literature, who have created low cost learner-friendly furniture, who create makers’ spaces out of cardboard and masking tape, and who have created entire blended learning platforms. 

I’m in touch with teachers around the world who are outdoor learning specialists, creativity domos, brain specialists, and magicians. And I wish everyone could see the amazing things they’re doing.

So get to it teachers! Start a blog. Share some espresso ideas. Or even some fancier cappuccino revelations. (WordPress and Blogger are relatively simple to use, but you can also micro-blog on Twitter.) It’s time to get your ideas out into the world!

(An open invitation: If you don’t want to create a blog, consider sending me your post and your details and I will potentially publish your guest post on this blog. Keep it short and sweet and send me a few pics. Post a reply below and I’ll be in contact.)


Espresso Idea: Why This Foolish Teacher is Wary of What Research Tells Us Doesn’t Work.


Espresso Ideas: Small but strong ideas to make you sit up and say ‘yeah!’ (Also known as wasabi ideas)

If only teachers would listen. Research proves that when they do X, it has no effect on learning.

We now even have a list hundreds of items long that tells us what works and what doesn’t.

So what’s the problem? 

Scientists and researchers define ‘learning’ as the ability to recall information. And empirical testing is used to judge a methodolgy’s effectiveness in students’ ability to memorize. 

But I say education is so much more than memorization. Learning happens in the heart as well as the head. Education is also about nurturing critical thinking, creativity, independence, curiosity, compassion and many more of these wonderful aptitudes.

I can see that teaching method X works to stimulate progressive learning because I am there. With my students. Watching them learn.

And unless these researchers can show me that X doesn’t work in the context of my classroom and with my definition of what learning entails, then, yes, I will be one the fools who doesn’t listen to their recommendations.


Tech Tools: Have You Tried? (2: TellaGami)


TellaGami is an app for idevices which allows you to create talking, moving, expressive avatars. Students love this as an alternative to traditional presentations and teachers love using it to create videos for flipped classrooms.

TellaGami is very easy to use. Backgrounds can be customized, as can the characters you create. Try using different moods.


The free version only allows 30 seconds worth of recording at a time – which is okay if you record a whole series of videos and then splice them together using an app like iMovie.

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Tech Tools: Have You Tried? (1: ThingLink)

This, the first in the series of recommended tools for teaching and learning, showcases ThingLink. ThingLink allows users to insert hotspots over an image containing text, videos, audio, hyperlinks, maps and much more.


Imagine students using this when analyzing poetry, developing map skills, understanding physical forces, studying plant life, breaking down the parts of an equation, cartoon and/ or visual image analysis, and so on. It also makes for a great way for students to demonstrate their learning in collaborative or child-driven learning experiences.

The icons on these images are hotspots which you or your students can create and then tap to explore.


Thinglink is cross-platform (meaning you can create and view on any device) – and it’s free. (You will need to pay to access the virtual reality ThingLink maker though.)

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Espresso Ideas: How Good Teaching is Like Good Eating

Espresso Ideas: Small but strong ideas to make you sit up and say ‘yeah!’ (Also known as wasabi ideas)

(With apologies to my vegan and vegetarian friends.)

Good food always has a crispy element. And you can always taste when something stale has been refried in an attempt to make it crispy. It’s just not the same. Good teaching crackles with crunchy newness and fresh-cut goodness: A sliver of contemporary affairs, a rasher of the latest in neuroscience research, and a crouton or three of a new approach makes all the difference.

Spice makes all things nice. Sometimes it’s used delicately to achieve a masterful balance, and sometimes it’s thrown about liberally. Teaching spices include: brain breaks, games, and, best of all, a sense of humor.

Eating is better together. Learning is a better when done collaboratively.

There’s probably no eating experience worse than when everything on the plate is the same color, the same texture, and practically the same taste. Gloop does not make for good eating. Like good cuisine, good learning is multi-layered, multi-textural and complex. It engages the senses and excites the mind.

Sometimes you just want to bite into a good steak. And you want to chew on it’s juicy tenderness. Giving kids a good juicy problem to sink their teeth into and to chew over is far yummier than pre-chewing it for them.

Trying new taste combinations and experimenting with new flavors, cooking styles, and dishes often gives us a new perspective on what food is supposed to be. Same with teaching. A new approach might not be to your taste, but it’s always worth trying twice: the second time to make sure it isn’t for you.

Too much of the wrong kind of food can cause irreparable damage. And sometimes, just a little bit of a toxic ingredient can be incredibly dangerous. So much of what we do in our classrooms is about trying not to do any harm.

The best eateries cater to a diverse range of palettes, instead of forcing you to enjoy what they recommend. (And some of he least enjoyable ones tell you what you should be enjoying.) The best classrooms cater to a diverse range of abilities, interests and backgrounds.

(A note: No, I am not the Heston Blumenthal of the classroom. My lessons are often canned and stale. But I do try to make my teaching palatable. Like almost everything else I publish, this is a reminder to myself as much as it is advice for anyone else.)


Espresso Ideas: What About The Mind? (Rethinking Makerspaces and Learning Spaces at Schools)

Espresso Ideas: Small but strong ideas to make you sit up and say ‘yeah!’ (Also known as wasabi ideas)

Schools are embracing the idea of makerspaces along with their more general openness towards reimagining how classrooms look and feel. 

We want learning environments that are more obviously student-centered and which encourage tinkering, experimentation and hands-on learning.

But the real learning space is the one inside our minds. We need as strong a focus on children’s thinking environments as we have on their physical ones.

As much as we need kids to tinker, play, create and experiment in the real world, we also need them to learn to tinker, play, create and experiment with ideas inside their own heads. Renovating young people’s mental spaces by bringing in rational thought, imagination, and deep consideration has to be at least as important as a less structured classroom layout.

As nice as it would be to have nifty tables and couches and tools and gadgets in our classrooms, nicer would be if we had an environment more conducive to nurturing and growing young minds.

New collaborative and creative pedagogies are a great way to knock out a few walls and open up our students’ mental learning spaces. And to support this, well-chosen educational technologies and software which support these pedagogies can make a damp, cold and dark thinking environment a fresh, warm and open one.

Image source: 


Reimagining Disruption in Education

By now you’ve most likely heard the talk. I’ve heard it so often now I think someone is selling it at a discounted rate. It’s the same speech over and over again: The speaker will caution you against complacency because the world as we know it is changing quickly and in unprecedented ways. Thus, they’ll continue, we need to embrace innovation or be left behind. And they’ll always use the same positive examples: Netflix, Über, Airbnb, Virgin, and Google/ Apple. (With Kodak as the negative example.)

In education, we are told, we need to embrace new disruptive educational technologies in particular, or risk being left behind.

So what’s wrong with disruption as a term in education? 

On the surface of it, not much. In the last half decade, disruptive innovations have certainly improved my life and the lives of many around the planet – in some very profound ways. And disruptive technology in education – things like tablets, ChromeBooks, MOOCs and the like certainly seem to be helping to produce a richer educational experience.

But dig a little, and you’ll find that not all is as it seems.

Disruption is Slow and Persistent

Firstly, true disruptive innovation often starts out being worse than existing systems. True innovators fail, and then improve, they slowly make their alternative better and better until it appears that suddenly they have emerged with a whole new way of doing things. Disruption is thus not a single moment of epiphany, it is a long, hard slog. Real innovation is a slow, patient, deliberate, stubborn, sweat-stained evolution, not an explosive revolution.

And in schools, this is exactly what we need to be encouraging in our teachers and students. True innovation takes time. It takes work. It takes persistence and resilience. It takes collaboration and it takes vision. ‘Disrupting education’ simply by lifting the lid and throwing in new innovations doesn’t work. In order to truly change schools and education for the better, we need to learn from the true nature of disruptive innovation: we need slow, deliberate, sustained revolutions. We need to embrace our failures, and constantly set about improving what we do.

Disruption is Careful

As is the fate of most new and wonderful ideas, ‘disruption’ has now become a wash-out with overuse (and misuse). Mostly, this is the case because ‘disruptive’ companies want to capitalize on the success of the giants of disruption. Hence, now that anyone can ‘disrupt’, innovation is associated with short-term, superficial, faddish products. They do not make a significant change in the way we live and are forgotten within a few months.

In education, we constantly have to defend against these empty disruptions. There are a horde of providers who want to sell us things to ‘disrupt’ our classrooms: From innovative furniture to collaborative learning, from fancy interactive boards to a plethora of ‘educational’ apps. Very few of these disruptive ideas and products are focused on where innovation truly makes a long-term difference. Disruptive education is a slow change towards a more meaningful, flexible system of learning, one in which students are given agency and choice and respect. Only outside innovations which support this vision have any kind of real and sustainable effect. The rest will be forgotten very quickly.

Disruption is Small

Disruption starts in someone’s garage. The juggernauts of disruption we know today all began with one or two nutcases imagining something better. Disruptive innovations start small. They take mad courage and the passion to make the impossible possible. And they are rooted in the conviction that the world can be made into a better place.

Disruption in education is about individuals. It is about the crazy teachers who know there must be a better way. It is about those students who love to tinker and challenge and rebel and try and learn beyond the confines of the syllabus. It’s about those subversive parents and administrators who support these children and teachers. And soon enough, if these people are persistent and patient enough, the movement grows. But it can just as easily wither and die, if the focus is on the wrong things (like tests and grades and ‘disruption’)… And if we bang on the garage door and tell them to shut up.

Disruption is Meaningful

What’s interesting about disruption and disruptive innovations is that they are so seldom applied to what matters: poverty alleviation, gender inequality, environmental despoilation, intolerance, and our general deficit of compassion. We can get a ride somewhere by tapping a screen, we can binge-watch tv on our computers and we can access our files from anywhere with an internet connection. But are we really making the world a better place?

In education, there are disruptive innovations which allow students to search the Internet, we can ‘personalize’ learning with sophisticated software, we can analyze data, we can assess digitally, and we have wonderful apps to tap out amazingly artistic creations. 

But are we teaching our kids to evaluate information, spin, and fluffy reasoning with which they are constantly bombarded? Are we nurturing curiosity and creativity? Are we allowing kids to tinker (with their hands and their minds)? Are we talking through controversial ideas and pushing kids to make unusual connections? Are we encouraging them to find and embrace their own interests? Are we encouraging them to subvert outdated ideas? Are we teaching compassion and understanding? 
These are the real disrupters of traditional learning. And these are the things that will truly lead to a more rational, empowered, compassionate and world-changing generation of young people.

Conclusion: Disrupting Disruption

Schools are not businesses. Classrooms are not startups. Learning is not a commodity. Education is about young people and about doing what is best for them. Education does not need to ‘learn’ from the latest bit of marketing babble. We do not need to ‘disrupt’ education by taking on board all of the latest, shiniest toys. We do need to look closely at the true nature of paradigm-shifting revolutions to effect meaningful change. And if businesses want to be truly disruptive, they would be well-advised to look towards what many progressive schools are doing these days around the world: education is changing in some truly amazing ways: We are shifting our focus away from the product, towards the ‘customer’ experience, we are listening more than we are telling, and we are focused on long term impact rather than short term results.

I’ll let Tom Robbins have the final word:

“In times of widespread chaos and confusion, it has been the duty of more advanced human beings – artists, scientists, clowns and philosophers – to create order. In times such as ours, however, when there is too much order, too much management, too much programming and control, it becomes the duty of superior men and women to fling their favorite monkey wrenches into the machinery. To relieve the repression of the human spirit, they must sow doubt and disruption.”

― Tom Robbins, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

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Henry and Nick Go To Cape Town: A Story About Learning

Henry and Nick are going to Cape Town. Henry is Nick’s dad. Henry tells Nick about the trip two weeks before, and then hands Nick his iPad and asks him to research places he would like to go. Nick is eight years old.

Nick discovers Robben Island and tells Henry he would like to go there. And then Nick finds out all about the history of Robben Island. Inside a week, he’s an expert on the prison and the famous prisoners on Robben Island.

Henry decides to fuel Nick’s interest in History, and takes him to the Apartheid museum in Johannesburg. This is the museum that is next to an amusement park. Nick glances over at the rollercoasters and rides on their way into the museum, but he doesn’t break his stride as they walk towards the ticket office.

Many hours later, Nick now knows the names and faces of most of the politicians, activists and key figures of the Apartheid era.

When they come back from Cape Town, they’re planning on visiting Vilakazi Street in Soweto next. Nick is already finding out more about Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Nick is eight years old.


Mrs Browne

Let’s call her Mrs Browne. You probably know her. There’s one in practically every school.

Mrs Browne’s been teaching for thirty years. She knows what she’s doing.

Mrs Browne’s classes get fantastic results in tests and exams. Her students run to get to her classes. None of them ever dare to bunk her lessons.

Her classroom is her castle. Her desk and her prep tables and her kettle and her clutter take up a third of the classroom space. And of course the students’ desks are placed in tight, straight rows.

Mrs Browne arranges her students according to their results in the last test they wrote. (Her students write a test a week.) The ‘dummies’ (mostly boys) sit in the front so that they can focus better. The smarties sit at the back.

Mrs Browne loves the smarties. She’s not so keen on the dummies. Some kids are just not cut out for her subject, she tells anyone who will listen. Someone once told her that this was tantamount to child abuse. She laughed.

Fear is a great motivator, according to Mrs Browne. If kids are scared of her, she gets more out of them. They’re afraid of being late, of not doing their homework and of asking questions in class. (Why would they need to ask questions? – She’s taught the work hasn’t she?)

Every day, her students have plenty of homework to do. Mrs Browne’s believes in ‘rigor’. Uniforms have to be neat and tidy because that shows respect.

Students are required to leave bags outside so that they don’t get in her way as she patrols. And the air is always a little too cold in her class.

Mrs Browne calls her students names and demeans them because she thinks it’s funny.

At professional development sessions, Mrs Browne is a tyrant. She sees no reason why kids need to be taught to think, much less how to think about their thinking.

And don’t even get her started about this newfangled technology stuff. Brain-based learning and collaborative structures? Not for Mrs Browne thank you. It isn’t relevant to her subject.

Decades’ worth of young minds have endured Mrs Browne’s class. But most of them have made it through school anyway, and have made a go of life – despite the psychological scars she left in them.

Fortunately, she will be retiring soon, and education can move forward.


(With apologies for the thinly disguised rant. Hopefully, you, dear reader, will read this as it was intended: a metaphor for outdated modes of teaching – rather than an attack on any real person.)


The Big, Fat Reason Why Edtech Enhances Learning. (And How to Really Make Technology in Learning Pop.)

There are probably a dozen or more reasons people give for integrating technology into education. Among them:

  • Facilitating personalization and differentiation of instruction and assessment.
  • Content creation is prioritized over content consumption. (And hence, student agency in their own learning enhanced.)
  • Democratizing access to information. (Once students have been shown how to evaluate this information.)
  • A greater focus on the application and amplification of skills through methodologies such as flipped teaching.
  • Edtech fosters greater engagement as students enjoy using technology.
  • By learning to use key tools, students are better prepared for the world of work.
  • Teachers can make more effective use of diagnostic and formative assessments in order to monitor learning.
  • E-learning, vodcasts, MOOCs and blended methodologies extend the reach of education by allowing students to work online.
  • Because learning is now more multi-modal and interactive (and thus more brain-friendly), learning becomes more effective.
  • Students present their findings more often and thus become better communicators.

And so on.

There’s truth to all of these. But like fable of the blind men describing an elephant, all of these reasons are not really the big, fat reason why technology is important. They are merely facets of the primary reason.

So what is it that makes technology integration truly pop? It’s this:

Edtech encourages and enhances structured and collaborative learning methodologies.

Or, put another way:

Edtech makes it possible to transition from teacher-led instruction to structured student led and peer-based learning.

These structured cooperative peer-learning routines are not ‘group work’. Nor are they stifling scaffolds for thinking. They are structured and intentional, but they are also malleable. The learning routines and structures as promulgated by the likes of ‘Visible Thinking Routines’ (by Harvard’s Project Zero) and Kagans’ ‘Cooperative Learning Structures’ work absolute wonders in class.

And technology has the potential to take these pedagogies to an entirely new level.

Properly structured learning, when paired with the appropriate educational technologies, has the potential to include all of the items on the list above… and then some. Edtech enhances the process by providing tools to record thoughts and discussions, to enhance evidence-based reasoning, to differentiate learning, to stimulate reflection, to create content, and to enhance feedback.


Some Examples:


This routine asks students to begin by thinking their way through a problem, idea or issue. Next, they pair up and discuss their thoughts with a partner. Finally, they can discuss and share these thoughts either with a bigger group or with the class.

Now imagine this process infused with technology.

  • Using Google Docs and/ or Google Slides, students can record their conversations collaboratively and modify them at every step.
  • Using an app like Explain Everything, students can record the entire process of their thinking and how it develops as they move through the process.
  • Students can engage with other ‘squares’ in other classrooms around the world.
  • Using backchannels, students can tweet their individual or group ideas.


This routine is pretty easy to understand. Now add a layer of technology:

  • Students can use a device camera to record things they see, teachers can use an AR app like Aurasma to make a quest of finding the stimuli. Or how about student using ThingLink to create hotspots on an image?
  • Kids’ thinking can be enhanced by allowing them to research supporting evidence for their own or other perspectives.
  • Wondering can be refined by allowing students to draw or mindmap their ideas digitally, or indeed to present them in creative ways.

A Few More Examples:

One Stray (Can also be 2 Stray or 3 Stray)

Students work on a task as a group of four. At different times throughout the task, the teacher calls out “one stray” (or “two stray” or “three stray”). When this happens, one or more students stray to other groups to collect other ideas and bring them back to their group.

  • Use Google Slides / Docs (HyperDocs) and Book Creator


Students record the following: Three things that are clearer to them regarding the day’s topic or concept; two connections they have made to the new concept and their prior knowledge or experience; and one question/ concept/ problem that needs further clarification. The teacher collects the slips as students leave the room and uses the information to inform the next day’s lesson.

  • Use Google Forms to collate and analyze these reflections and to inform the next lesson.


The teacher places students into groups of 4. Each one is assigned a different task or section. Students doing the same section from different groups then move together and work cooperatively to become experts in that specific field. Experts then return to their base groups & share what they have learned.

  • Apps to support a Jigsaws: Google Docs, Google Slides, movie making apps, podcasting apps, Book Creator, slow motion / stop motion apps.

Claim-Support- Question

Identifying generalizations & theories, reasoning with evidence, making counter-arguments

  • Try Popplet and / or Notability

Question Starts

Use these question prompts to start or conclude a section:

Why / Why is ____ ? How would it be different if ____ ?

Suppose that ____ ? What if ____ ?

What if we knew ___ ? What is the purpose of ___ ?

What would change if ____?

  • Enhance Question Starts with any audio, video or text-based app!
  • sometimes it’s nice to allow students to scribble and doodle. Use Notability or Paper53 for this.

CSI: Colour, Symbol, Image

Capturing the ‘heart’ of an idea or concept through metaphors and visual connections.

  • Use any of the awesome Adobe Apps / Canva / Grafio 3 Lite / Padlet

3-2-1 Bridge

Students document their initial responses to the topic: 3 Thoughts/Ideas – 2 Questions – 1 Analogy

After the learning activity, students document their new responses to the topics: 3 Thoughts/Ideas – 2 Questions – 1 Analogy

  • Google Docs & Forms

And this is honestly the tip of the tusk of a very big elephant. There are so many really effective structures, and pairing them with technology turns an already amazing learning experience into something majestic. The trick is firstly to pair the structure carefully with the lesson objectives, and then find the appropriate technology. Fair warning though: Some structures, like the silent collaborative mind-map are actually better without the technology.

I’d love to have your thoughts on this post!



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All Homework is Not Equal: Why We Need to Rethink the Value of Homework in Middle School & High School


We need to redefine homework in order to make it more effective for middle and high school students. By substituting homework as punishment, practice*, revision or preparation with homework that focuses on integration, creativity, thinking, collaboration and extension, homework can become a more meaningful, ongoing, and effective learning experience for senior school students.


The Detail:


I am with Alfie Kohn and the other homework denialists. I did, after all write a post titled ‘Homework is a Slimy, Smelly, Nasty Troll That Eats the Souls of Children’.

But since then, I have refined my thinking slightly. And I only agree with the anti-homeworkists IF you define homework as unguided, repetitive ‘practice’. And IF we are only talking about younger children.

In senior schools, most homework amounts to ‘practice’. But we now know that practice does NOT make perfect. (To use Kohn’s example, imagine a tennis player practicing without a coach. Almost no development will take place – without proper expert guidance, goal setting, correction, challenging, and fine-tuning.) Practice needs to be deliberate, well designed, and guided to be effective. And most homework is not.

But here’s the thing:

Not all homework is created equal. There are actually several species of homework. Some have absolutely no effect on meaningful learning, but some actually do.

If our focus is on life-long learning, and we do want to ensure that real, progressive learning takes place beyond the confines of the middle and high school classrooms, then there are some types of homework we should weed out, and some we should nurture.

(A note on nomenclature: It’s an interesting thing when a new compound word emerges. Words like cellphone and website which were originally two words slowly become one as they become more sanctioned and established. Homework is no different. In many countries, work done at home was frowned upon, but as the world has become more competitive, homework as a noun rather than a descriptive adjective became an accepted and established term. In what follows, I have taken the liberty of creating a series of compound words as alternatives to talking about homework in the hopes that they will become equally as established in as short a time as possible.)



To start with, here are the weeds:



Unfortunately this does happen in schools. Obviously, no learning will ever happen with this kind of homework. I am by no means a behavioral expert, but I do believe it must be a bad idea to punish kids with school work.


It happens. In fact, it’s often unavoidable. More often than not, what results is something wilted, rushed and done for the sake of doing it. Inevitable, yes. Good for learning, no.


This fits into the ‘If I give them more to do, I will seem like a good teacher’ category of pedagogics. It needs to be rooted out and burnt.

Practicework / Revisionwork (Or Practisework if you must)

Although it seems like a beautiful idea on the surface, this type of homework is mostly poisonous. Sure, kids need to revise and practice to learn, but they need to do so in the right ways. Practice and revision can be made far more effective by grafting them to one of the flowering species listed below.


Again, in general, this is a great idea, but in practice, it seldom promotes any kind of real learning.





Getting kids to work together on tasks promotes deeper learning. Combine this approach with one or two others below to form a beautiful bouquet. Collaborationwork could be done digitally, or as part of a supervised after school programme. Or, indeed, in class. (Homework in class he says! ’Yes’, he replies.)


This species of homework asks students to take what was in learnt in class further and deeper. It could be in the form of a rich discussion with family, as well as extra research or thinking (see below).


Why not ask kids to think about some interesting, rich questions or problems? They could record these thoughts in a learning diary. But it would also be great to get them to generate a list of their own deeper questions about the work convered in class. Thinkingwork works superbly well in tandem with collaboration work.


Creativework asks children to generate their own ideas, solutions and innovative products. Pair with collaborationwork.


Ask students to bring several of the things they’ve learnt over the last few weeks together by trying to find links, connections and commonalities between them. Works well when combined with creativework.

Imagine teachers and students speaking a new language of homework. Where the teacher assigns integrationwork and students ask if they can make it collaborationwork or creativework. I do think there will be a great deal more excitement around ongoing learning, and I also believe that it will be far easier to engender the habit of lifelong learning in our young people.

* Because so many of my wonderful readers are American, and because I honestly believe they have it right where spelling is concerned, I will use ‘practice’ with a ‘c’ as the verb. (American pragmatism for the win!)


Posted in EDUCATION | 1 Comment

Interactive Fiction: The Coolest Way to Teach Critical Thinking, Decision Making, Ethics, Social Skills, Consequential Thinking, & Engaged Literacy

Holiday time and I'm catching up on those downloaded apps I haven't really had time to play with yet. And then I come across the interactive fiction folder I created in January. In particular, an 'app-story' called MetaHuman caught my eye. Many hours later, I had played through it a few times, with different story paths and endings each time. But what I liked most was how my character's abilities, relationships, and characteristics changed with each different combination of choices.

The best interactive fiction apps are those which are like regular choose-your-own-adventure books – but with an added series of graphs showing the consequences of your choices on things like friendships, personality, and your moral stance on issues. The main character is usually customizable, and the best interactive fiction also leaves room for solving mysteries by entering solutions to problems. And, like all good fiction, they raise some interesting philosophical and ethical issues to ponder. (MetaHuman raises issues around magic versus science, human body augmentation, and profit versus people.)


Naturally, my teacher brain turned immediately to the possible benefits of these types of interactive stories in education. Although these are not as visually immersive as games, they are engaging in their own way. My feeling is that, under the right kind of guidance from the teacher, interactive fiction could be used to develop a variety of progressive skills. Reading, discussing and reflecting on these stories, whether individually, in pairs or in small groups, has to be a very cool way to develop children's consequential thinking abilities, ethical and social understanding, critical thinking acumen, and problem-solving/ decision-making skills.


Choice of Games is my favorite developer of these interactive text-based games and they have a ton of app-stories available for download. Some stories are more suitable for younger children, and others for younger teens. Most of them are paid apps or have in-app purchases, so please read the reviews beforehand. They are even willing to pay for contributions.

Update: You'll find even more interactive fiction under the 'Hosted Games LLC' developer heading. Most of these as well as the Choice of Games titles are also available on Steam as well as the Google Play store.



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Innovation Apologies: Newness is Messy


From a few of my more popular posts you may have surmised that I am some kind of innovation guru. Or that I have successfully walked the path and can now look back, stroke my beard, and tell you how I did it.

The truth is I can’t. Because I haven’t. Because that isn’t how innovation works. I haven’t ‘done’ innovation, I am doing it. Innovation is an active process. And it’s on-going. I am lucky enough to be a sweat-encrusted, grimy, blue-collar innovator, and I work as part of a team. No single innovative idea that I have ever put in place has been as a result of me working alone.

Worse, I have made mistakes – and continue to make mistakes. Our entire team has. Getting it wrong is as important as getting it right. Newness is messy.

If you were to come and look at where I work, I would struggle to show you the great new things we are doing. Because we’re still getting there. And the biggest revolution so far has been in the hearts and minds of my colleagues. Yes, you will see and hear about great things now and in the near future, but if you only see and hear those things, you will miss 90% of what we have done are doing.

The truth is, I am lucky enough to be knee and elbow deep in trying to make new and better things happen on a daily basis. But I am not alone. Innovation is a collaboration. And it is also part of a bigger collective dream of a better way of doing things.

But if you do want some advice, this is all I have to offer. Please take it with a heap of salt:

1. Innovation needs a blueprint to pull the entire team together. This plan needs to be one that is collectively created, evidence based and focused on innovation towards a specific goal: a better way of doing things. All sub-aspects of any new initiative must be informed by this over-arching blueprint.

2. Innovation is hard work. Slapping down a few gimmicky pieces of technology, a shiny new prospectus, a glitzy website, or some nice branding doesn’t do the job. You need to wrestle with ideas and better ways of doing things (as well as old habits, and embedded assumptions – the things many will call ‘traditions’).

3. Innovation for one is not innovation for all. Getting one person to change one thing they do is often enough of a victory to boost the entire project. Set manageable goals, but also make them just challenging enough. Pushing too hard too soon, and setting goals that are too lofty, is like trying to build a skyscraper overnight. Somewhere, something is going to collapse – and take the rest of the project with it. (What this also means is that goals need to be customized to each person’s strengths – while still taking them just far enough outside of their safe zones.)

4. Sustainable innovation is never the result of a ‘thought leader’ (whatever that is). It’s the result of a team of committed and hard-working people. And if you don’t have those people yet, give the ones you have the skills and inspiration they need. (So easy to say, isn’t it?!)

5. Communication between all members of an organisation building something new is essential. Keep everyone in the loop, be gracious and be respectful. Moreover, give everyone a voice. The most amazing ideas are unearthed if you stop and listen to the quiet guy working the shovel. However, to be perfectly frank, some voices will need to be edited out of the conversation. The easiest way to spot who to not to listen to, is to identify the person who tries to sabotage key aspects of the project. There is a difference between pointing out some possible pitfalls in an honest, constructive, and open way, and trying to topple things over.

6. It’s good to plan and to put structures in place. But if you spend all of your time planning for every eventuality, you’ll never get a thing done. Things will go wrong, and when they do, adapt the plan or adapt the implementation.

7. Look at the evidence. Ideas are wonderful, and yes, be creative. But what does the latest reputable research say? Do these ideas have real world merit?

8. Acknowledge your mistakes. No, embrace them. Squeeze them dry in an attempt to learn from them. And if you aren’t making mistakes, you’re not really innovating. There will be set-backs and constraints. Work around them. It’s easy to give up. It isn’t as easy to make a plan to carry on. And the best innovations often happen as a result of constraints.

9. Good things take time. Take the long view.

10. Never stop imagining what could be. If you think you’re finished transforming, you’re not thinking hard enough. Network and create opportunities to keep on learning, to keep on building and to keep improving.


Innovation is disconcerting and it’s audacious and it’s exciting. And it is hard work.

And that’s it.

Now jump.


Social Media Explained (A Quick and Nasty Guide)

So I've seen this thing a few times. (I'm not really sure where it comes from, and a reverse Google image search didn't help much. If it's yours, give me a shout and I'll update this.)

I thought I'd try my version of it for people who want a quick(ish) and nasty guide to social media.


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