My Journey Through Formal Education

This is a post for my Global Citizenship Diploma (more information here) for the element Academic Excellence.

Four long years ago, at the start of 2015, I started a long and arduous journey into post graduate studies. This was a huge undertaking for me and I don’t think I knew all the way back then how significant this would be or how much work would be required.

If we rewind all the way back to 2001, I started to blaze my own trail when I became the first in the Norris family to finish high school. This wasn’t a hugely significant achievement for me at the time, because it was something that everyone around me was expecting; my family, friends and teachers. But a few weeks later, the next achievement occurred which was much less likely and wasn’t an expectation at all, more like a personal hope or dream, I was accepted into university! Once again, a first for my family.

I studied a Bachelor of Teaching specialising in primary/elementary education at The University of Wollongong in New South Wales, Australia, which was about 20 kilometers from where I grew up. I can’t pretend that getting my bachelor’s degree was effortless. It was quite a shock for me because in high school, learning came easy to me, whereas in a higher educational institution, academic expectations were much higher. This was where I realised the limitations of simply being engaged in learning, I now had to work for it, having to commit time and effort to it and apply myself to the required course material. But that extra effort, time and deeper thought needed now I was at university set me up for my future career and further studies.

High school graduation with my best mates, 2001

I toiled away at the three year degree, working multiple jobs, pretty much full time while living at home and slotting in study around my work commitments. The course concluded with my final teaching placement. It was an extremely positive learning experience for me, I developed as an educator while also receiving some very good feedback from my supervising teacher on how to improve and refine my practise. The school was so impressed with my abilities that they invited me back the follow week to start substitute teaching, days after I had finished the final module of my bachelor’s degree.

The three year Bachelor of Teaching degree that I finished had a fourth year master’s program, but acceptance into this program was by invitation only from the Faculty of Education staff. Deep down, I wanted to continue to the fourth year of study so that I could obtain my Master’s of Education, partly because I still had a love for learning and I was also starting to work out how to be successful at university after a rocky start. But unfortunately, I was not offered a position to continue. I received my bachelor’s degree, but not being offered a place in the Master’s program was the first time in my whole life that I had not been accepted into a course I wanted to be a part of, which hurt a little and knocked me down a peg or two. The fact I was not accepted to study for a master’s degree stuck with me and fuelled me to be the best teacher I could be, as a way to show the university that I really was capable of postgraduate education.

Graduation from Wollongong University with a Bachelor of Teaching (Primary), 2004

Looking back, it was actually the best thing that could have happened to me. A few weeks later, at the start of 2005, I got my first full time teaching role with an extremely bright and cheerful Year 1 class, at Mt. Terry Primary School, the school I completed my final practicum at and started to substitute teach at. Being in the classroom, teaching and interacting with students was where I thrived, where as writing academic papers and reading textbooks wasn’t really what I enjoyed, especially only being 21 years old.

Over the following years, I taught a range of year levels and subjects, in three different continents, while continuing to refine my pedagogy more and more each year and increasingly drawing on the theoretical knowledge from my bachelor’s degree as the years went on.

Fast forward to Germany circa 2015, 10 years after starting my first full time teaching role and I was ready for a new challenge in my career. I decided to look at different master’s programs around the world to see if there were any that looked interesting. I was hoping to find something in the field of educational technology leadership. My search continued on and off for a long time for a course I liked, until one day I stumbled upon the Master’s of Information and Communication Technology in Education at Charles Sturt University. This course, as you could infer from the name, was focused on technology in education, but it also had modules on leadership in education, so on a whim, I decided to apply. Little did I know that four years later, I would have read hundreds, if not thousands of academic papers and studies, watched hundreds of hours of video content, written tens of thousands of words in reports and essays and formally reflected time and time again. If I knew how much work was required, I doubt I would have started it in the first place. But my determination and drive kept me going, (along with the knowledge of how much money I would have wasted if I walked away without a degree). I also kept thinking back to 2004 when I was told I was not cut out for postgraduate studies, this setback motivated me enough to prove everyone wrong. Now having the maturity (being 32 when I started a master’s degree, as opposed to being 22 when I originally wanted to start a master’s degree) and teaching experience really helped me to put what I learned in my post graduate studies in context. I could add the new knowledge and skills of my already developed understanding of curriculum and pedagogy, which made the learning so more relevant and meaningful than it would of with the minimal teaching experience I had back in 2004.

At the end of 2018, I had to finish the final assignment of the final module of my master’s degree. I had received some excellent marks throughout the course, with the exception of one mistake in one course right at the start of my degree, which brought down my grade point average considerably. So I worked hard to get the best marks possible so I could bump up my grade point average. I proofread my work for days, editing and rewriting multiple sections over and over again. I trawled through the assignment descriptions and expectations (the assignment description for my final assignment was 2000 words in itself!) to make sure I met all of the expectations. I listened to the video description of the task multiple times as well, clarifying anything I didn’t understand in the course forum. I finally submitted the 3,500 word report and cross my fingers.

A bit over three weeks later, I received feedback and the grade on my final assignment. I got 51 out of 60 (85%), which bumped my grade point average up to 6.0 out of 7.0. Doing so well on my final assignment, raised my GPA, which in turn allowed me to graduate from the degree with distinction. At my graduation ceremony, I was the only student in my course that graduated with distinction, which really helped me put into context the level of academic excellence I was able to achieve.

Master’s graduation with my parents, sister, niece and nephew, 2018

Thinking back to 2004, if I would have been able to enroll in the Master’s program at Wollongong University, I doubt I would have come close to graduation with distinction and as mentioned above, I would not have had the framework to apply new knowledge to without years of teaching experience. Being in my early thirties also allowed me the maturity to take my education much more seriously than what I would have in my early twenties. I know “hindsight is 20/20”, but having the rejection in 2004, helped to push me as a professional, as I felt I always had something to prove. It helped me to continually strive to be better and do better and gave me the ability to not only be the first Norris to graduate high school or receive a bachelor’s degree, but to become the first Norris to graduate from a Master’s degree and do so with distinction.

The Global Citizenship Diploma

Last year I was invited along to a meeting about the Global Citizenship Diploma (GCD). I had no idea what it was and I was sceptical that it was adding even more work onto our busy students schedules. However, after attending the meeting, with GCD coordinators and those involved in the GCD from around the world, I was really sold on the idea, what is stands for and how it goes about asking it’s students to demonstrate their international mindedness.

The GCD defines a global citizen as:

A person who conducts their daily life with a commitment to understanding others; who makes decisions with an awareness of how they affect communities locally and globally; and who advocates and holds themselves accountable for social and environmental sustainability.

As such, I would hope that all international schools strive for their students (and their teachers) to be described in this way. Students show their proficiency towards becoming global citizens by reflecting on the amazing experiences they already have in their current education, such as the outdoor education adventure trips they take part in, the opportunities they have to serve a community, their public communication experiences and so much more. The different elements that students need to demonstrate experience in and the different levels of recognition for the GCD can be found in the one page doc here. In order for students to demonstrate an understanding of an element, students are expected to reflect on a deep level on their learning in a public digital portfolio which can be shared with high education institutions, others schools or anyone else interested in getting to know the students and their education a little better. This reflection is a great way for the students to explicitly learn how demonstrate metacognition, deep thoughts and a great understanding of oneself.

This year, I have been on a team of five teachers as a GCD coach for one class in Year 10 and one class in Year 11. Our goal is to have all students, by the end of the Year 11, complete a Global Citizenship Certificate and hopefully inspire them to take a shot at getting a full diploma in their final two years of school (the differences between a certificate and diploma can be found on the GCD one page doc). As a result, all of the coaches have agreed to also get their Global Citizenship Certificate, so over the coming months, expect more content from me on a range of different GCD elements.

My Year Teaching Year 10 MYP Product Design

Students independently working on their products.

Last school year I took on a new professional challenge. The MYP Design department at NIST needed a someone to teach one more class, so I put my hand up to help out. I took 10E Design in the design lab for a year of product design. It was fun to transfer my knowledge and understanding of MYP Design to an older age group in a new field and it was a great opportunity for me to refind my teaching skills in a new setting. I also learned a LOT about all of the tools we have available to the students, from laser cutters to 3D printers, bandsaws to drill presses.

The boys working together to use the laser cutter.

It was also fun to see these students so much more often than I was used to. For 5 years in Munich, I was teaching MYP Design on a rotation basis and before that, I was in Japan where I taught technology classes, but I would only see each class once a week. So seeing 10E every other day helped me to developed some really great relationships for the first time since I was an elementary homeroom teacher.


Using the bandsaw to cut some wood.

The students inquired into some really interesting problems, developed some creative solutions, where they designed, built and evaluated some high quality products. They developed a range of skills throughout this process, from specific things like bending acrylic, to transferable learning skills like planning out long term assignments. I was extremely proud of my students, they taught me so much and authentically engaged in the design cycle process so well.

Bending acrylic.

As a learning coach, you see so many roles and positions I would like to pursue further as a future career path and being an product design teacher is definitely one of them, especially after getting a taste last year. I just wish I could clone myself so I could teach all the classes that interest me.

The girls working together to create wood joins.

Swift Playgrounds VS Duolingo: The Different Between Game Based Learning & Gaming

A super powerful game I’ve played and had some students play is called Swift Playgrounds. It is an iPad app that walks the user through learning how to program using Apple’s Swift coding language. It’s super engaging and fun, but also highly educational. You become engaged in the game of it all, without realising you are learning how to code! It walks you through levels by progressively building skills over time. There are a lot of similar games like this that teach coding and computational thinking, but I think Swift Playgrounds is the most polished, engaging and powerful of all of them. When you finish the game you have enough skills to build your own app from the ground up, which also adds to the motivation factor. The only downside that I see is that this learning experience is only possible on iPads (and new ones at that). If it were available on more platforms, then I think it would be extremely popular.

Duolingo on the other hand is an app that tries to teach you a new language through a game based approach. It’s a similar model to Swift Playgrounds, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark as you get lost in the game instead of learning. At first, you are super motivated to play as it makes learning new languages accessible and fun. You fly though the first few levels, the instant feedback grounds it in learning, you receive notification to keep playing if you haven’t played for a while and you get in game encouragement and positive reinforcement. It all sounds and feels like a super powerful way to learn a language. However, after a while I realised that I was simply ‘playing the game’ and getting positive feedback, level ups, etc. but I wasn’t actually learning any new vocabulary. Maybe this is what Moore & Pflugfelder (2010) are referring to when they state that games can be less disengaging for student because of a “the lack of pedagogical direction” (p.250)?

It’s interesting that both apps use a very similar model and approach, but their education benefit can vary so differently. Has anyone else played these games before? I’m curious if you had a similar experience?


Moore, K., & Pflugfelder, E. H. (2010). On being bored and lost (in virtuality)Learning, Media and Technology, 35(2), 249–253.


BookSnaps are a great way to share ideas, create visual cues to help solidify learning and make dry, text based print media a little more engaging. They can be used in a number of ways, for a number of purposes, you are really only limited by your imagination.

I recently made a these examples for a middle school war unit:

Predominantly, BookSnaps are creating using Snapchat. I think this is a great way to engage students in the technology they know and love and show them ways they can use it for constructive, educational purposes. But you don’t need to have a Snapchat account to create a BookSnap, you can make them on your computer from screenshots using Google Draw or other tools you have access to. You could even create these using slideshow software (Keynote/Powerpoint) or tools to create posters and visual media such as Canva.

Below are some great video tutorials on the logistics of how to create BookSnaps using a range different of tools. Choose the video based on the tool you would like to use.

How To Create A BookSnap Using Snapchat

How To Create A BookSnap From A Screenshot Of Text On A Computer

How To Create A BookSnap Using Google Drawings

Another Way To Create A BookSnap Using Google Drawings

A big shout out to Tara Martin who came up with the idea and who narrates of lot of the videos above. She makes some excellent BookSnaps too, here are some examples of hers and some other great BookSnaps I found on Twitter:

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.

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.