The Minimalist Approach To Email Organisation With Gmail

Emails do not stress me out as I have a very easy and minimal way to organise, sort and deal with my email. This short video explains my system of handling email using Gmail (sorry for the echo, I work in a fishbowl/glass office).

Robotics In The MYP Design Classroom

Last year I took over the robotics program at my school. There are compulsory classes for all grade six and seven/eight students. In grade 6, all students do five different rotations of design, with five different teachers doing five different units for approximately seven weeks. The students work with wood in the wood shop, they work with plastics, they cook in the kitchen, they do a digital creation project and they do robotics with me. In grades seven and eight, they do longer rotations spanning closer to 13 weeks which makes it six units over the two years. The units/topics are similar to grade six, with one elective making up the sixth class at the end of grade 8.

In grade six, the students get give a simple, real world problem that they must create a robot to solve. But in grade seven and eight, I give the students a range of different possible real world problems to solve. One of the most popular problems is a robot alarm clock. The students have to design, build and program a robot that uses a sense other than sound to wake up the user. So I decided to give this problem a go myself and build a robot to address this issue. Here is my robot and an explanation of how I programmed it.

In the pictures below, you can see the dock I built for the phone, along with the sound sensor (the orange piece on the front left of the robot) and the pressure sensor (red) at the front to detect obstacles.


You can see from the bottom view below that there are two motors at the back to make the robot move. Two motors are used because it allows the robot to move not only forward and back, but also left and right by moving one motor forward and the other backwards at the same time. There is a metal ball at the front as a third contact point so the robot rolls and to allow it to move in any direction, without resistance.evernote-camera-roll-20161012-155427

The 6 P’s

I have found a lot that in my class, my students want to rush to get to the fun part, but when they get there they find themselves ill prepared for the challenges and problems they face. So I made them this poster to remind them that planning is just as important as building and making. Feel free to hang it in your classroom/office/living room! Just give me a shout out for it.

The 6 P's

If You Want To Build A Ship: The Importance of Vision and Philosophy on the Success of PD and Technology Integration

If Somekh (2008) was correct when she wrote “radical structural changes to education systems are needed if schooling is to be transformed by ICT” then school leadership are the only ones that can do this (Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2010). They must use PD to generate the change in our schools that is so much needed (Somekh, 2008). That change should not be focused on technology, but to change the pedagogical approach of teachers (Bain & Weston, 2012; Matzen & Edmunds, 2007). As a result of change in pedagogy, teachers and students will have to use more technology for exceedingly more transformative tasks (Matzen & Edmunds, 2007). Armfield (2011) and Matzen & Edmunds (2007) both suggest that to put this into practise and to make technology integration a success, school leadership must create a clear vision for all stakeholders. If you think about it, Antoine de Saint-Exupery expressed it perfectly:

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

When we take all of this into consideration, we are approaching a much larger elephant in the room. School leadership, management, educational philosophy, vision and direction are much more important than professional development for staff. One way to successful communicate an educational philosophy and vision is through PD, but it is just one means to do so. The philosophy and vision must first be developed collaboratively between leadership, teachers, parents and students. Everyone must be on the same page before anyone can move forward. One way to articulate this vision, is through professional develop programs for teachers to help them meet the vision that was developed. So what do you think? Is it time we all developed a shared vision? Do we all need to believe in the same approaches to education before PD can be successful? Can the same be said for educational technology?


Photo by Luca Laghetti, 2015Photo by Luca Laghetti, 2015


Bain, A., & Weston, M. E. (2012). In the learning edge: what technology can do to educate
all children. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Ertmer, P. A., & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, A. T. (2010). Teacher Technology Change: How Knowledge, Confidence, Beliefs, and Culture Intersect. Journal Of Research On Technology In Education, 42(3), 255 – 284.

Matzen, N. J., & Edmunds, J. A. (2007). Technology as a Catalyst for Change: The Role of Professional Development. Journal Of Research On Technology In Education, 39(4), 417-430.

Somekh, B. (2008) Factors Affecting Teachers’ Pedagogical Adoption of ICT. In J. Voogt and G. Knezek (Ed.), International Handbook of Information Technology in Primary and Secondary Education: 449-460. New York: Springer.

Technology In The Classroom And The Real World

I use a lot of technology in my everyday life. I could not live without Evernote. I use Wunderlist extensively. I read web articles using Pocket and share the ones I find interesting on Twitter. My days schedule would be a mess without my calendar app. I use Google Drive when I’m doing any word processing and What’s App to stay connected to friends, family and colleagues. I rely heavily on my laptop and when I’m out and about, I use my smartphone as a substitute. I really don’t know what I would do without technology, it helps to keep my life so organised, it stores the content I need to remember and allows me to easily access it when I need it. And I feel my students should be able to use the technology they have then same way I do. I explicitly teach them how to use almost all of these tools and I make sure I am a positive roll model for the use of technology inside and outside of the classroom. I believe restricting technology in the classroom is foolish, education and setting a good example is the best way for them to learn how to use the power of technology responsibly. And I look forward to the day I can teach my own children these same life skills.

Digital Life Class: Explicitly Teaching Students To Be Safe, Responsible and Efficient With Technology

When I started in my current position as a technology coach, I was very excited to see how my school managed their 1:1 program. I had not been in a 1:1 school before, but I had been in the planning process for implementation, but unfortunately did not see it come to fruition. At my new school, the 1:1 had been around for years, so to draw on that knowledge and experience was going to be very interesting.

What I saw in the first few weeks of school was that the students receive their laptop, they got a short one hour introduction to make sure everything was working, then away they went into the world with their own Macbook. It was especially interesting to see the grade seven students, who are the youngest to receive laptops. Giving the students their own computer sounded like a great idea, these students are digital natives after all, so they know how to use a computer, right? We use an integration approach to technology and we want to teach them “just in time” don’t we, so we shouldn’t need technology lessons?

Well yes and no. The students may know how to edit their GoPro videos from their weekend holiday or set up a Minecraft server, but there is a huge gap in the knowledge when managing their computer for educational purposes. We had a purely integration model for the students to learn how to use their device and it worked well. The students gain the knowledge and skills to create a range of presentation types, they all know how to word process on a range of different software and they can all edit a movie of some sort. But the problem is if no one explicitly teaches the kids the skills they need to stay safe and manage their machine, then the kids will not learn it. Being an elementary school teacher, I have taught children how to hold a pencil, how to cut a piece of paper and how to write each letter of the alphabet explicitly. So not teaching students explicitly how to manage their machine seemed strange to me.

After seeing the problems that arose from this, I mentioned the problem to my boss. He was receptive, but held off on going forward and fixing the problem straight away. Throughout the year, I was involved with a lot of the behaviour incidence involving technology, so whenever these problems arose, I mentioned the idea of explicitly teaching students how to use their computer, in a stand alone class. It seemed like the more time I was called to the office to help deal with a behaviour issue involving technology, the more my boss came around to the idea.

Finally he agreed and through conversations with the head of technology and my team, I developed a new class named Digital Life. I wanted to shy away from calling it digital citizenship, as it is meant to be much more than that. I also didn’t want teachers to think the digital citizenship was all going to be taught by me, we all know that all teachers have a responsibility to teach their students how to be a good citizens on and offline.

The new school year started and in the grade seven and eight timetable, each student had a class with me every two weeks. These are the youngest students in our 1:1 program, so I teach them a lot that they can carry through into older grades. I focused at the start of the year on getting the students to use their computer more efficiently. They learned about and set up bookmarks, modify their docks, set up folders for their work, change settings to suit their own individual needs, etc. All the little things that help them use their computer quickly and easily in every class they attend. Not just teaching them, but giving them time to do it and ask questions really helps the students and the teachers that have them in their classes. Later in the year we move onto teaching an extension of our digital citizenship lessons in this class, along with password lessons, we talk about GPS services, we research and implement back up solutions and a range of other lessons to make sure the students are being safe and responsible. However, the curriculum is very flexible. If an issue keeps popping up at school, I modify the order of the lessons so we have time to discuss it in class. I try to make the lesson ‘just in time’ for the learner, so the learning is in context for them.

These are the links to my Evernote notes where I document my scope, sequence and the dates I taught them. These are rough working notes, if you would like more detail, then let me know:
2013-2014 grade seven and eight
2014-2015 grade seven
2014-2015 grade eight

I had the idea to have specific technology classes in a 1:1 integration model school many years ago, but I never had the opportunity to implement it until now. It has been amazingly successful. Now all students in grade seven, eight and nine (one year out of the program) manage their own backup solution. Every one of these students has bookmarks for the most used online services we use at school. I could give a range of success stories for the new class, but the one I am most proud of is the improvement to the students behaviour involving technology. I tracked the class of 2018, the grade who go their laptops in grade seven, before Digital Life classes began. I looked at their behaviour records and narrowed down all of the entries to those that involve technology. I found the difference in their negative behaviour involving technology declined 86% from grade seven, when they didn’t have Digital Life classes, to grade eight, after the introduction of Digital Life classes. I’ll repeat that so it sinks in. The students negative behaviour involving technology declined 86% once Digital Life classes were implemented! That figure alone makes the class worth it. To add icing to the cake, now that the same grade is in the senior school and they know long have Digital Life classes, the behaviour incidents continued to remain low, at about the same level as what they were in grade eight. This shows that the lessons had impact and that they really took onboard the concepts and ideas presented to them.

I am very pleased with the outcomes of this new class. I would highly recommend it to any 1:1 school with an integration model and will push it at any school I teach at. If you need some help getting it set up, or if you want any advice, please don’t hesitate to contact me and I would be glad to help you.

So what do you think? Could you see this working at your school? Are there any topics I have not mentioned that I should cover?

The Paradigm Shift At The Turn Of The Century

I have a colleague at work, let’s call him Yoshi. Yoshi hates the terms 21st century learner and 21st century education. He does not believe in these terms and is open about his thoughts against them. And I can see where he is coming from, the world has changed so much in the last 15 years, children now are learning and living in a world that is just so different from anything we could have imagined last century. For example, the iPhone was not released until 2007. The iPad was not released until 2010. Theoretically, those born in 2001 and those born yesterday are both 21st century learners, but they way that they have learned and will learn will be very different. These are only changes within the last decade, imagine the world of the learning in 50 years time? The change will be outstanding.

I agree with Yoshi to some extent, but I also feel that there was a huge paradigm shift at the turn of the century. The introduction, acceptance and access to the internet really changed the world and along with it, education. Teaching and learning have not been the same since. In the article How Are Students’ Roles Changing in the New Economy of Information? Shawn McCusker argues,

“Where teachers once lectured about important ideas and events, or shared their acquired knowledge with their students, today’s classrooms can see every key primary source document, the actual notes of great scientists, and a limitless amount of literary criticism.”

This paradigm shift should have changed every first world classroom. It’s estimated that 91% of US middle school students say they can text and access the internet from their own cellphone, according to 2011 study by Stephanie Englander of Bridgewater University. The fact that almost every middle school students can access the internet at any moment, where ever they are, whenever they need to is completely different to the classrooms we were taught in. This easy access to information along with the ability to communicate and collaborate through space and time is what I believe sets a 21st century learner apart. So the term 21st century education is still relevant, no matter if we are discussing it now, or in 2099, because it differentiates between a traditional classroom approach and one where information is everywhere. It helps frame our approach to education and learning and helps us to remember that there was a huge shift in our lives, one we could not imagine living without.

Digital Natives Are Just Like You And Me

Palfrey and Gasser define Digital Natives as “children who were born into and raised in the digital world.” These children (or adults in some cases) have grown up in a world that is saturated with technology, ease of access to information and an exposure to media unlike any other generation before it. The wide spread use, simplicity and intuitive nature of digital devices now means children know how to control and interact with technology from a very early age. A great example is a popular YouTube video of a baby controlling an iPad, then opening up a magazine and thinking it’s broken because it doesn’t respond to touch:

However, we need to be careful that we do not assume our students know how to use technology proficiently simply because they were born into a world where they are exposed to it from a very early age. Yes, some children do know how to use technology to a very high level. But some can be anxious when using technology and are not comfortable using it. Just like some adults, we need to guided them through the process and set up learning opportunities so that they have exposure to technology in a range of settings. I believe that we still need to teach all children explicitly how to use technology safely, responsibly and efficiently. We have done this for generations with a range of analog tools that we use in education from dictionaries and atlases to pencils, pens and pain brushes. So we should also do this with the digital tools we use. We must explicitly teach students how best to use them so that they are safe and able to fully utilise their power.

The other aspect that should be taken into consideration when discussing Digital Natives in education is the amount of information that these children have grown up with access to. Cathy N. Davidson once wrote, “Wikipedia is an educator’s fantasy, all the world’s knowledge shared voluntarily and free in a format theoretically available to all, and which anyone can edit.” I believe this does not just apply to Wikipedia, but the internet in general. And when we are teaching our students, we should assume that they have access to this information, so asking them to memorise content is what our roll as educators should be. Unlike in times gone by, we are no longer the source of knowledge in our classrooms. Not to mention that our classroom walls are slowly but surely coming down and students are learning what interests them, when they want to and how they want to. As a result, our roll as teachers have change. we need to be teaching students how to access the knowledge that they are seeking, how to critically evaluate it and not just how to memorise it. We should be expecting them to draw connections between sources, teaching them to synthesise the information and apply it to the tasks they need it for.

But when you think about it, this is true for all people, not just those born this century. We all need to know how to access the vast troves of knowledge that has been created and shared on the internet and then use it for whatever our intended purpose is. This is also true for using technology, just because a person is a Digital Immigrant does not mean they useless on a laptop. The same way we should not assume our students know how to use a digital device. We need to keep an open mind and make sure we are teaching children the skills they need to function in a world that is changing so rapidly.

Photography Resources

Photography For Everybody – Composition
Photography For Everybody – Portraits and Flash
Photography For Everybody – Landscapes

VSCO Cam – A great app to control all aspects of your iPhone and iPad as well as edit your photo when you have finished
Snapseed – An app by Google for editing your photos once they have been taken
Instagram – A place to find inspiration from a range source and styles
Hyperlapse – An amazing way to make a time lapse video which removes shakes

Inspirational Instagram Users
Trashhand – Outstanding vanishing points, perspective, symmetry and urban landscape
Finkel Captures – A young Australian photographer that likes to find beauty in ruined buildings
Humans Of New York – Portraits of New Yorks, with short interviews to give some insight into their lives and their city
Analog Features – Great portraits by a range of artists that have been features by this user
Drew Martin Photography – Surfing, snowboarding and amazing landscapes take by a pro
The Find Lab – A photography lab in USA that features great photos from the photos they process
Brenton Clarke – Landscapes and portraits

Do you have any other suggestions?

Coding In My Classroom (Resources For Students and Teachers)

This year I introduced all of my Grade 7 and Grade 8 students to coding. This great video by got my motivated to introduce coding to my class:

The video is bound to get anyone excited about coding. However, once the task of actually getting to work arrived, the opinions of my students changed a lot. Some were motived to keep pursuing coding but a lot were frustrated with the process. It just goes to show, coding is not for everyone! The first activity I had my students complete was the Hour Of Code activity. It didn’t take any of them an hour, but it was a good activity to do as it took them through many of the basics of programming and coding. After the students finished their Hour Of Code, I let them explore the following resources. They could chose a course based on their own interest and skill level.

WHEN STARTING OUT TRY: – The basic introductory course that teachers you how to program a computer.

Code HS – A great way to learn the basics. The lessons slowly build up to more advanced techniques.
Code Monkey – A fun game made by Brainpop to teach you how to write real code.
MakeGamesWithUs – Make your own iOS game in your browser!
RoboMind Academy – Learning how to program a virtual robot.
Scratch – Create basic games and animations using drag and drop.
Grok Learning – An introduction to program which builds up to knowledge and skills in Python.

Code Academy – Learn to code real world language such as JavaScript, HTML, Python, Ruby, etc.
CodeSchool – Learn to code JavaScript, Ruby, HTML and iOS apps in a game based situation.
LiveCode – Download software to code iOS and Android apps offline
Code Avengers – Learning how to code JavaScript, HTML, games and apps.
App Inventor – Learn to code an Android app (works best if you have an Android).
Kahn Academy – A more advanced step by step video guide on how to program.