What we can learn from the past and apply to the future of education?

Going to ISTE2015, it was obvious that the focus of pedagogy and classroom ‘instruction’ has changed so dramatically over time that many teachers are taking a step back and letting students direct their learning and for instruction to come via alternate means.  Many American educators that I heard from during the ISTE2015 conference are facilitating STEM and STEAM learning activities that are student-driven.  STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, with STEAM adding the element of art.

Having had 12 hours in the back of a car yesterday as I traveled from Oklahoma City to New Mexico, I started reading ‘Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom’.  It’s a fantastic read, and it has highlighted to me, just how right the philosophers, educators, mathematicians and scientists of old have been about education. Below is a summary of the beliefs of those key people:

  • Piaget has said that “to understand is to invent” (Piaget, 1976); “… use of active methods which give broad scope to the spontaneous research of the child or adolescent and requires that every new truth to be learned, be discovered, or at least reconstructed by the student and not simply imported to him” (Piaget, 1976)
  • Dewey (1859-1952) advocated for learning experiences that was project-based and connected students with the real world
  • Rousseau (1712-1778) believed that students should be given freedom to develop naturally
  • Pestalozzi (1746-1827) was a strong believer in first-hand experiences being the optimum catalyst for learning
  • Froebel (1782-1852) is the father of the first formal education of young children, known as kindergarten.  He believed that children needed to interact with the world to learn
  • Papert said “Anything is easy if you can assimilate it to your collection of models.  If you can’t, anything can be painfully difficult.  What an individual can learn, and how he learns it, depends on what models he has available” (Papert, 1980)
  • Gardner emphasised that “classroom projects that welcome various problem-solving strategies provide fertile ground for the expression of multiple intelligences” (Gardner, 1983)
  • Montessori said, “the hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence”.
  • “When children are deeply involved in play, they are learning.  Their passion, flow, and sense of timelessness mirror the actions of the tinkerer” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1991)
  • “Play creates a zone of proximal development of the child.  In play a child always behaves beyond his average age, above his daily behaviour; in play it is as though he were a head taller than himself.  As in the focus of a magnifying glass, play contains all the developmental tendencies in a condensed form and is itself a major source of development” (Vygotsky, 1978)

These great philosophers, mathematicians, educators and scientists of old are more relevant now than ever.  The maker space movement that is sweeping through USA schools is all about play, about inventing, and about learning from experience.  Perhaps we need to step back from programming and curriculum and take a leaf out of the books of these greats before us.

ISTE2015 – Day 3 – Maker, creator, coach and innovator

So much to process so these first posts will just be summaries but they will grow into greater reflections as I get more time to reflect and play.  I went to three sessions today, and the keynote presentation, as well as spending plenty of time in the Expo hall taking in all of the amazing things on offer.  Here are some of my notes.

From 0 to 60: jump start a maker culture in your school

  • Prototyping – piloting with iterations.  This is how they developed the model for how they would run Maker spaces
  • Start small and think big, grow and scale through iterations
  • Essential conditions
    – empowered leaders
    – engaged leaders
    – intrinsic motivation
    – resource capacity
    – design thinking competence, not just one-off instances but purposeful maker projects
    – future connection
    – skill capacity
  • Accelerator 1: focus on a high-impact opportunity (understand potential)
    – global shifts: trend shots, urgent need to address Stem gap, and emerging technology
    – Deloitte maker report
    – trend maps
    – global shifts: collaborative production will define the future of work
  • In education, practice trumps theory.
  • Rise of the professional amateurs
  • Accelerator 2: attract and maintain an inquiring coalition (find your leaders)
    – teams
  • Accelerator 3: envision impact and design a prototype
  • Do with what you have at first, find space at is visible, set it up for students and watch it transform.
  • Materials
    1. Recycle, reuse, remake
    2. Use what you have at first
    3. Materials for targeted age groups
    4. Educational electronics
  • Level 1
    Basic craft supplies
  • Level 2
    Some electronic kits, basic mechanics and electronics
  • Level 3
    3D printers, robotics, soldering irons, more complex building
  • Prototypes are not a one size fits all – different approaches for each division/level
  • Maker Saturday – parents and students making
  • Making in the high school
    – advisory maker challenges
    – engineering club
    – free math day
    – new media in art
    – integration with science curriculum
    – maker Saturday workshops
    – maker elective classes
  • Accelerator 4: attract volunteer inquirers (recruit the engaged)
  • Find volunteers who are passionate and engaged
  • Barriers: identify and overcome
    • Lack of knowledge – http://bit.ly/ISTEmaker2015
    • Provide reading, hands on learning and examples
    • Resistance to change – maker PD, spotlight success/ignites, distribute resources to interested individuals
    • Time – engineering club, elective classes, workshops
  • Scribble box activity – box and motors/batteries
  • Accelerator 6: generate and celebrate early impacts (spotlight success)
  • Family activities, collaboration, community engagement
  • Create videos of sessions and their impact etc
  • Get students to record video of process and put on YouTube
  • Accelerator 7: keep learning from evidence and experience (gather data)
  • Maker look fors rubric
  • Accelerator 8: institute change
  • It’s not done yet, embed it into the culture of the school
  • Great resources are available at Instructables.com

Rethinking Library and Learning Spaces for 1:1 Schools

  • Learning-ecosystems.org (furniture arrangement)
  • Library Design – Rethinking Spaces with Students in Mind
  • A Library is like what appliance?? Thinking outside of the box on what a library actually is.
  • “Sometimes we need to UNTHINK before we can RETHINK.”
  • noise level
  • a place to work individually
  • Language of School Design by Prakash Nair
  • notosh.org – Digital Lives are made up 7 spaces
  • Purposeful design – cave space (maybe in front of windows
  • Give it a name! – Transparent Library, Learning Commons, etc.
  • High Tech High in San Diego – all classrooms are glass – very transparent
  • Teknion – Glass wall that hangs from ceiling tiles
  • Survey teacher and student needs to gather input from students about the space. How do you learn?  What kind of space do you like to study in?
  • Taped floor for testing
  • Teacher focus group
  • Edutopia project Remake Your Class – visual thinking – Pinterest on a bulletin board – give limited number of dots and allow users to post dots on favs
  • Become an anthropologist
  • identify obstacle points with sticky notes
  • observe student behavior
  • ask critical questions
  • Gamestorming – exercises outside-the-box
  • Staple Yourself to Something
  • Think of your day through the lens of space
  • Amplify what already works/priorities
  • Strategic Brainstorming
  • Creating Analogies
  • Give yourself a THEME to work toward – what is your overall VISION?
  • Listening Walk through the space – TED talk by Julian Treasure: Why architects need to use their ears
  • “Make a room that doesn’t smell like school.” – Paul Bogush
  • Stanford design school – 90 minute crash course
  • Channel the optimism of a designer, the resourcefulness of a hacker, and the playfulness of a maker. Melanie Kahl Remake your Class: 6 Ways to Get Started
  • Locker repurpose??? – use them for displays – hacking a space that’s doing nothing!
  • Hack a vending Machine – library vending
  • Design is not just what it looks like and feels like.  Design is how it works. Steve Jobs
  • How do we learn best interview – Where? How? Sounds?
  • Brainstorm – what are you doing well?
  • Inspiration?
  • Design Share
  • Find wasted space – staircase
  • Google Color Search
  • Books – The Robin Hood Foundation and NYCity elementary school The L!brary by Siddiqi
  • Language of School Design
  • Make Space – How to Set the Stage for Creative Collab
  • The Third Teacher –
  • Dave Thornburg From the Campfire to the Holodeck 21st century Learning Environoments
  • Why wouldn’t we want our spaces to be beautiful and inspiring?
  • Google Sheet of resources
  • Grant Resources –
  • Future Ready Schools
  • Donors Choose
  • Partner with a Vendor
  • The other presentations didn’t involve so many notes.

More notes and reflections shortly…

ISTE2015 – Day 2 – Ideas and inspiration

I attended some great workshops today and I have been plenty inspired, however, I think that I have months worth of stuff to ponder.  For now, I will write in my notes that I took, in their raw format and I will continue to come back to them for further reflection in the weeks to come.

THE VIRAL VIDEO EFFECT (click for presentation)

  • Some of the lamest videos are the ones that go viral, E.g. Nyan cat
  • What makes videos a viral sensation?  What makes students want to put everything that they do on YouTube?  What makes students want to be professional YouTubers?
  • So many YouTube videos demonstrate students success, so that we can celebrate with them.  Why do we not celebrate these more at school, in the community, with parents?
  • Video storytelling is so effective when it takes a simple content area, analyses it and reproduces it in a fun and creative way. E.g. The dating game with rocks.
  • Build tension, but make people laugh as well
  • Science experiment videos with final outcome at the beginning hook the viewing audience, very effective
  • Science video with ear and sound frequencies, interactive video, gets audience participation.  Use rhetorical questions in videos to make it interactive.  Use the videos interactive with the editing tools, overlays etc in YouTube.
  • Scratch can be used for robotics and game design as well as video storytelling.
  • Vine is a great video tool for creating stop motion videos and ally creative videos, look up vineoriginals, limit of 6 seconds

Example videos shared include:


  • First level support and curriculum support
  • Digital citizenship in schools by Mike Ribble, third edition out in August
  • Important book… The principals guide to a powerful library media program
  • Develop an elevator speech about what the library is about, what it offers.
  • Build bridges and unify visions
    – change perceptions
    – embrace change,look to the future
    – get to know your IT folks
    – learn the lingo
    – seize opportunities: daily opportunities for data backups and curriculum discussions, what could I offer in free periods? “I want to help you, because I know it helps others.”
    – right tools for the right job
  • The benefits of team-ups
    – IT and information specialists
    – empowering others
    – streamlining access for resources (Worldbook, discovery Ed, IDM)
    – voice for the user
    – collaborative benefits
    – stewards for digital citizenship
  • Work towards the future
    – librarians as tech leaders
    – librarians as learning centres
    – be an innovator, a model, and SHARE
    – volunteer
    – build relationships
    – be a myth buster: failure is always an option


  • Teachers won’t be replaced by technology, they’ll be reached by teachers who use technology.
  • If we can Google the answer, we need to change the assessment.
  • Curation and narration are missing in the 21st century skills
  • The ability to find good information, and understand it, makes you care about it
  • Ngram viewer – scans books and tells you how many times a book is seen within that book


  • High school Spanish teacher, quit using textbooks to relinquish control and restraints
  • Students need to learn the skills to engage with others online
  • Need to encourage creative and productive use of devices
  • Kids use Twitter to get feedback from strangers worldwide using the hashtag #comments4kids
  • Check out some of the back channel activity that formed the majority of this session, click below

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 8.17.11 pm

ISTE2015 – Day 1 – The Immersion begins

As I sit in my hotel room, reflecting on my jam-packed full day, there is fireworks going off out over the Delaware river.  It is reflective, ironically, of the way my brain kinda feels at the moment.  Today is only day one of ISTE2015 here in Philly but I am so pumped to learn more about how they are doing things in education here with technology.  Already I’ve had some great conversations and learned about areas of education that Australia could really benefit from adopting, and perhaps areas that America could learn from us about too.

My morning was spent learning about Hummingbird Robotics, and learning the fundamentals of robotics and how to program simple expressions and sequences of expressions.  It was much easily to do than I originally thought and I loved the ideas many others came up with when making their own group project robots.  There was all sorts of use of the light sensor to trigger flashing lights and movement of parts.  The imagination of some of my colleagues in that workshop was great so I can only imagine what our students would do if let lose with the same equipment.  We often forget as teachers, that students will learn these things faster than us, and that they still have an imagination that is not bogged down in administrative duties etc that we might get weighed under.

I am full of hope and excitement about taking what I have learned about robotics and applying it in a MakerSpace environment that I really want to get running at my current school.  It is such a fantastic way of engaging the disengaged amongst our student population and I cannot wait to see untapped potential fulfilled more through new opportunities this might present to them.

A20150628_124346fter that workshop I went and experienced more of Philadelphia and went to The Franklin Institute to check out The Art of the Brick exhibition that was AMAZING, and made entirely of Lego.  Artworks such as The Scream and the Mona Lisa were replicated, using only Lego pieces, and they were phenomenal!  I love Lego and this exhibit was Lego at its best. The rest of the institute was great, and I can see it being the perfect excursion venue for schools to bring students too but the highlight for me was definitely the Lego.


Tonight’s keynote speaker at ISTE2015, highlighted for me, the importance of the teacher in recognising potential in students and in providing unique opportunities for all students to experience learning in multiple ways, not limiting them because of who they are seen to be or who they think they are.  The short Ignite session brought to us prior to the keynote was so poignant in also highlighting the significance of diversity in education.  We fail to cater for the diversity that does exist within our school systems so much.  We try to cater well for those with diagnosed learning difficulties and physical disabilities, but what about those who are from a low socio-economic background; who do not have literate parents; who are isolated; who are without the basic necessities in life; who have had little exposure to other cultures or demographic groups; and, so many others types of diversities that exist? Do we bridge the gap, only to create a new one?  I feel we do.

By @jmattmiller

By @jmattmiller

Soledad O’Brien was our keynote speaker tonight, and she was very inspirational.  Her parents were married in the late 50s, at a time when it was illegal for a ‘white’ American to marry a ‘black’ American.  They suffered prejudice and discrimination but did not let it sway them.  She spoke about how technology can be leveraged to bridge the gaps of diversity, and how it can be leveraged to provide greater opportunities for students to reach their full career potential, even for careers not yet heard of by them.  She shared a story about a group of American students who went to help a community of students in South Africa, even worse off than they were, and how the laptops that Dell provided them, gave them a voice in the projects they were working on in South Africa.  The key here for me is, it gave them a voice!  Do we allow our students to have a voice?  Or do we place to many rules and restrictions around them that it neglects to leverage any benefits from technology whatsoever?  I think this is a big point we need to consider in Australian education with technology.

More tomorrow…

Where are we headed with technology in education?

Technology has never more rapidly evolved than in the last 100 years but will it keep changing at such a drastic rate?  Will we always feel a step behind in the classroom because it takes longer for technology to logistically reach the institute, and by the time it does, it is almost obsolete?  There has been some steady progressions of technology addressed in the Horizon Reports each year, however, I find that they do not cover everything for everyone and we are so behind in most instances.  I think that educators are only just catching up to the fact that technology allows for the educator to take a step back, loosen control and give more over to students, so that they can direct their own learning a bit more.

I get a little overwhelmed by the videos out there like the one above as it highlights just how real the impact of technology on the world is.  When I was in Year 6, I distinctly remember a class discussion where we pondered the future of education and speculated that it might include computers as teachers.  Well that has not exactly become reality, or has it? Whilst I do not believe we are headed towards completely transformed educational institutes, governed by androids who are the teachers and various forms of artificial intelligence, I do think that pedagogy and practice is changing.  Have a look at the Gartner Hype Cycle 2014 for emerging technologies and education below.

That’s a pretty real picture of what technology is going to be at the forefront of society in coming years.  If we look carefully at the cycle above, it will be in the next 5-10 years that technology explodes again into a world of more 3D printing, robotics, and wearable technologies.  However, will they reach the classroom?  If so, how and for what purpose and under what infrastructure, funding or initiatives?  Some provocation in such images, but I guess its a waiting game too.

Design-based research

Ever since I became a teacher, I have sort to improve my practice by way of further informal research into topic areas that may impact my professional effectiveness.  Early in my career I engaged in professional development on topics such as behaviour management (with Bill Rogers), project- and problem-based (with Intel), website design, webquest design, action research and so much more.  What is this type of ad hoc research strategy reminiscent of?  After doing some reading and reflection, I believe that my professional practice has seen me develop skills in design-based research, as a facilitator of professional improvement.  The image below shows the difference between traditionally adopted research and design-based research practice.

The way that I approached research was very much to figure out the exact nature of the problem I was facing in the classroom and to then do some internet research to develop solutions for these problems.  Behaviour/classroom management was of course a big issue for me in those early days and determining the main source of the problem was of course not easy, however, the students’ engagement and motivation proved to be a big factor in it.  I sort to explore more technically innovative ways to facilitate students’ learning opportunities to increase their motivation and engagement with the subject, creating Webquests and projects that would give them more autonomy and ownership over their learning.

My work towards finding a solution was not quick, and to be honest, I never mastered it of course, but I tried many different strategies and tools, both technical and pedagogical, to test and refine what might work best.  I always learned a lot from these experiences, and I still do this kind of research in the various roles I have taken since my first classroom teaching position.

I believe that no learning experience is complete without critical reflection and that is part of the design-based research paradigm, and the catalyst for it becoming a cycle that restarts based on critical reflection.

What makes a great learning object?

An emphasis on engagement is what Lowe et al. (2010) report as being key to the success of learning objects.  What is going to drive engagement for students with learning objects?  What visual and usability aspects are going to determine the success of a learning object in facilitating achievement of learning outcomes?  In Lowe et al. (2010), “Frydenberg, Ainley and Russell (2005, p. 2) define engagement as ‘energy in action, the connection between person and activity’ and indicate that ‘students will engage with tasks they find interesting, challenging and important’” (p. 229).

For me, a learning object should be the following things:

  • A good balance of visuals and text, more visuals preferably
  • Linear navigation, with transparent links
  • Clear links to curriculum and 21st century skills
  • Practical and easily applicable to something further

What a learning object should NOT be is:

  • A completely text-heavy activity
  • Complex set of hyperlinks to a variety of different areas
  • A long set of pages that do not flow or seem to work towards developing knowledge or understanding, or a specific outcome
  • A collection of videos and images that do not correlate to a common purpose

I feel that a learning object need not be much more than learning outcomes, a brief contextual/content outline, a multimedia file, and reflection activity.  This, in my online learning experiences, is very effective and follows Bloom’s taxonomy as well.

Lowe, K., Lee, L., Schibeci, R., Cummings, R., Phillips, R., & Lake, D. (2010). Learning objects and engagement of students in Australian and New Zealand schools. British Journal of Educational Technology41(2), 227-241.