Mitch Norris

-  124 posts

The portfolio of Mitchell Norris - International, ICT educator and Apple Distinguished Educator. Find out more at

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.

Evernote For Students and Teachers

As you can see is this short video, Evernote is a great tool that can be used for a range of purposes. On the outside, it’s a very simple note taking app. At the very least, you can organise all of your notes in the same place instead of using Word documents, stickies, note applications, etc. Having your notes in one place and searchable makes them very powerful. However, it doesn’t stop there. Being a cloud service, Evernote stores the original information for you, so that all of your information is backed up whenever you press sync and it is then available on any device you use, be it Mac, PC or tablet. The next feature that makes this powerful is that you can save any type of file in it. Word documents, PDF’s, sound files, video files, images, etc. An example of this can be seen in this short video below:

Another powerful feature is that alerts can be set on any note, giving you a reminder at a specified time and date. With the integration of Skitch, you can also annotate PDF’s and images quickly and easily. When using a device with a camera, you can take images of text that are optimised as well as voice recordings and pictures straight into notes.

Finally, the Evernote Web Clipper is a powerful browser extension tool to ‘capture’ a copy of any web you are on, so you can read it later or have access to it in the future.

Evernote has so many varied uses, I would recommend that you download it, start to use it and you will begin to get hooked! It’s the ultimate tool to remain organised and in control of all of your information across a range of devices.



– When teachers take notes on the the whiteboard, they can open up Evernote on their device and take a photo of it. Now they can search the written text and add tags to the note so that they can find it later.

– Students can take notes in Evernote and tag them. These notes can then be found at a later date. This can be powerful if certain lessons have cross curricular links. The notes can also have pictures, videos and voice notes integrated.

– Teachers and students can set up shared folders, which makes it easier for students and teachers to communicate.

– Evernote is great for password pages. A list of all passwords can be made for students and teachers, make it much easier for them to remember how to access the range of services they use. Full passwords do not need to be written, or you could use hints, or Evernote also allows the encrypting of specific passages of text, so you could encrypt each password.

– Using Evernote Web Clipper, students could collate a range of research and annotate any webpage they like. This would also allow the students to keep a copy of the website, so that if it goes offline in the future, they can still access their own version of the information.

– Evernote is amazing for the IB extended essay and research! Watch this video I made on how best to utilise it.

Adobe Voice, A Powerful New Presentation App

Earlier in the month, Adobe launched a new app for iPad called Voice. It is a very easy easy to use way to make presentations that are visually stunning. It has everything you need (pictures, clipart, music, etc.) stored within the app itself, so there is no need to flip between apps and save pictures to your camera roll just to create a slideshow. I think it is a very powerful tool for use in classrooms and could be used for a range of purposes, such as:
– A way to show evidence of a project
– A way for students to reflect
– A way for students to show their learning in a topic
– A fast and easy alternative to Powerpoint or Keynote

I made a short Adobe Voice presentation to outlines some of it’s features. This took me a minute or two to make, watch it here:

As you can see, you can publish the final video and even embed it, making a very powerful tool for any teacher or student with access to an iPad.

Game Based Learning In Action

Currently the Grade 6 students have just started a unit on diseases. Before the unit started, the ESL teacher approached me with the idea of incorporating game based learning into this unit. She showed me the iOS app called Plague Inc. I had a play around with it and realised that the students could use this app to help them learn about the spreading of diseases, curing diseases, climatic, geographical and socioeconomic factors that effect disease spread and fatality as well as putting into context a whole range of vocabulary. So the ESL teacher and myself decided to trial it in her class with the students in groups to help facilitate more conversations. The lesson went great and it was amazing to see the children talking about complex concepts so openly and freely. I would highly recommend it to any teacher is teaching a diseases unit, not only were the students learning in context but they absolutely loved it!

Plague Inc.

Slowmation Workshop

At our annual professional development day, I hosted a double session on Slowmations. Slowmations are stopmotion animations, but instead of taking 20-30 photos to make 1 second of footage, you only take 1-2 photos per second. This makes the final movie more jerky, but much less time consuming and accessible to students of all ages.

Here is the detailed handout on how to make a slowmation. Click here to download it.

Below are some great examples of slowmations that teachers in the workshop made:

This is Todd, Eb and Susan’s tsunami slowmation. It looks super fun and I’m sure their children would LOVE to make an animation like this themselves.

Jens, Tony and Gregg on how to use a rowing machine. This one is interesting as it’s the first slowmation that I have seen use real people. I think their’s is very polished and came out great!

A great chemistry slowmation by Antoine and Cameron:

This is a great video from Shauna and Bruce in the math department. I love that they have really made a possibly dry topic very interesting and engaging.

As you can see, the animations can be used for a range of purposes, age groups and subject. Get your students making slowmations in class to really engage them and solidify the concepts learned in class.

I am also planning to present on this same topic at the up coming Association of German International School conference in January. I’m really looking forward to turning some more teachers onto the powers of using slowmations to really solidify understanding of a range of topics.

Evernote For Extended Essay

Evernote is a great too for staying organized and I think it would be excellent for any research assignment such as the IB extended essay. This tutorial explains the basics of Evernote and how to use it as a research tool.


Evernote for IB Extended Essay from Mister Norris on Vimeo.